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A combination of strength and exquisite beauty - remembering Tommy Bolin

"Tommy was the most beautiful person you could hope to meet. His music shone through! This is a case where beauty shines through..."

Remembering Tommy Bolin, one of the guitar's youngest legends

During the last live performance. Tommy Bolina at Jeff Beck's warm-up show, on 3 December 1976, the encore was recorded by "Post Toastee." - the song that Bolin sings in:

"Well, my mind was overflowing
Some things that don't seem right.
And my gun is cocked and loaded
I hope I can get some sleep tonight..."

Bolin then posed with Beck backstage - it was the last photo of him to appear in the Rolling Stone. One reporter said to him: "Take care of yourselves.". To this Tommy replied, "Don't worry about me. I'm going to be here for a long time." However, a few hours later he died in his hotel room - he had taken too much alcohol mixed with substances and other drugs.

Tommy Bolin
Tommy Bolin

He was only 25 yearsBut he had already established himself as one of the finest musicians of the era! He was still growing as a progressive rock and jazz guitarist with his own distinctive style, and was highly respected by his peers. But what was it, then, that brought him such great sadness?

The early years: from drums to guitar, and complete "ignorance"

Tommy Bolin
Tommy Bolin

Tommy was born on 1 August 1951 in the American city of Sioux City, Iowa. As a child, he showed interest in football, but an injury led him to his true passion - the to music. His early idols were Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley:

"I admired Elvis! Wore a leather jacket and slicked my hair back. I was always surrounded by music, and I always knew it was the only thing I wanted to do."

The truth is, Tommy originally planned to become drummer. Then he switched to guitar, then to keyboards, and then back again after that to the guitar.

"It was my instrument, I could feel it. My first guitar was a used Silvertone with an amp in a case. When I bought it - I was faced with a choice: it or a $75 Les Paul. I took the Silvertone, and that was my first mistake..."

Early drumming experience influenced the style Bolina:

"It gives me an advantage. I control my wrist and keep my eye on the rhythm."

Tommy was self-taught - he took guitar lessons several times, but was not too interested in learning scales. He learnt the art by jamming and experimenting. As he modestly said later:

"See, I can't read or write music, so I really don't know what I'm doing. I just go out there and rock out!"

Blues influence and introduction to Deep Purple

deep purple mk2
Deep Purple

Before joining Deep PurpleBolin gained experience in a number of bands. He was also a sought-after guest musician, and spent a year touring with Albert King! This period brought him not only fame but also valuable experience.

"At the time, I was playing everything I knew when I took the lead, but King said: "Dude, just say everything in one note." He taught me that it's much harder to be simple than it is to be complex during a solo. The blues is really good with that."

When, in 1975. Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple and Bolin was recording his own album, he got a call from the band asking him to come jam.

"I had heard two Purple songs before that, 'Smoke On the Water' and something else..."

But it did not matter, for four hours later he was offered a group work.

A sad stigma

Tommy Bolin
Tommy Bolin

Album "Come Taste the Band"The album, which Bolin co-wrote most of the tracks, kicked off an extensive tour of Australia, Japan and the USA. During the same period, Tommy released his own "Teaser."which received warm critical acclaim - although there were promotion problems associated with Tommy's involvement with Purple. After the collective, Bolin saw an opportunity to invest more energy and resources in his next album "Private Eyes."and most of the tracks on the album were jazz-orientated. In one of his interviews, the guitarist emphasised:

"Purple were great for a while, but they got too intense. I'm still friends with the guys, it was more of a management problem. They harassed me this and that... I just quietly withdrew. I was sick of diving into other people's pools."

In fact, despite all the virtuosity, Bolin got the "sad stigma". As his girlfriend said Karen Ulibarri-Hughes:

"A very unfortunate stigma that accompanied Tommy joining these bands was the fact that he was always a substitute. It was very hard for him to be on stage and hear things along the lines of 'Where's Richie?' That's something that haunted him on the England tour - he even got booed. He played terribly, he was just so miserable. The reception was terrible, so his attitude was terrible..."

"Beauty shines through."

Tommy Bolin
Tommy Bolin

With substances, Bolin tried to cope with the frustration that was choking him from the inside. But this way of "escaping reality" had become his fatal mistake. Tommy may have only had four guitar lessons in his entire life! However, this has not stopped him from creating sublime music and gaining respect amongst his peers for both his professional and personal qualities. As he once put it Geoff Cook:

"What Tommy did was capture the essence of what the great guitarists were doing and then adapted it to himself."

In turn Glen Hughes emphasised:

"Tommy was the most beautiful person you could hope to meet. His music shone through! This is a case where beauty shines through..."

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