This interview with Johnnie Bolin, the late Tommy Bolin´s younger brother (and one time drummer in The Tommy Bolin Band), was done by e-mail in November 2012, as I´m currently gearing up for the 100th celebration issue (which happens to be RETROFUTURE 6 – due out in the summer). If you are new to this blog, I used to run a Deep Purple club in Sweden for many years, but I publish RETROFUTURE these days, for my personal enjoyment really. This interview (and another with David Coverdale) will be published in English in the magazine, just for the hell of it. Why not? I want to thank Johnnie and Trace Keane for making this possible. Enjoy the interview, consider it a Christmas gift from me. MIKE
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Let us start with the Tommy Bolin exhibition at The Sioux City Public Museum. What is the story about that and how long did it take to set it up?
– In 2008 we had a small display in the old Sioux City Museum, we only had a few items: Tommy’s red velvet suit, his platform shoes, and a few other items. It was so well received that when the exhibit was over I offered a much larger array of items. We decided to wait until the new Museum opened so it could all fit in one display. Steve Hansen worked with me for months putting it all together and it really turned out great! They treated us first class all the way and I have been really proud of the outcome. We hope to have a permanent display up this spring.
Can you tell us a little bit about the reactions to the exhibition?
– When the people from the museum came over to my home we weren’t sure how much of the many materials they wanted to use, when they returned for a second visit I asked how much they wanted to take and they said all of it. The response has been terrific, people who came from all over the world to see the display. People are amazed that he accomplished so much in his 25 years. The staff at the museum have been so wonderful and supportive it really is a dream come true. The museum did over 65,000 people in the first half of this year, compared to 20,000 the entire year before they moved into the new facility. When we had the Bolin Fest last summer, fans from all over the country spent most of their day there and I received so many kind compliments on it I could not have hoped for more.
It ran from June to October 2012 with the promise of a smaller permanent exhibition. Can a tourist that visits the museum now still find something to view?
– At his time the museum still has many items in storage, beginning next spring there will be a permanent display of Tommy’s items that will be up for fans who come to town. We’ll be adding and subtracting items from time to time to keep it fresh.
I seem to recall having seen images of Tommy´s red suit on display before, is this your favorite piece to show if you are being asked to bring something along?
– Tommy’s red suite just got returned to us after being on display at the Atlanta Hard Rock Café. It is one of the fans favorites, along with his Gold Record Award from Deep Purple. That one is always requested by the fans when they come to town. The Prairie Prince shirt that is framed up is always something people enjoy.
Tommy´s sense of fashion was strong, do you know if somebody helped him create some of his stage gear or did he find the clothes he wore in regular stores?
– Tommy’s girlfriend Karen Uliberri (later married to Glenn Hughes) designed and made most of his outfits. She designes wardrobe for Kiss, Patty La Belle and many other well known artists. Tommy also loved to shop at Goodwill for used clothes.
It seems to me that there is a new interest in Tommy these days, is this something that you can sense as well?
– With all the CDs, guitars, fuzzbox, DVD documentaries and other projects, Tommy’s music is as relevant today as ever. It would have never been possible without the internet. We’re always looking for new ways to reach our fans throughout the world. The Tommy Bolin Archives was a great starting point in the 1990’s, it was very timely the way it has all worked out.
The “Great Gypsy Soul” project was amazing, with so many great players adding their touch to the music. Can you tell us a little bit about this, how long it took to make it happen etc?
– It started with Greg Hampton, Warren Haynes, and I in 2007 had the idea to do this, on April 17th 2010 the first session was complete. For some of the musicians that were hard to reach we had to do some traveling, a lot of it came together at the NAMM show in Los Angeles.
Do you have any favorite moments on the record?
– “Savannah Woman” with John Scofield, it was real jazzy. I also thought Steve Lukather on “Homeward Strut” is excellent. Glenn Hughes and Joe Bonamassa on “Lotus” really sticks out to me.
The press was very positive in Europe, do you feel that this release has been a key release as far as renewed interest and credibility is concerned?
– It’s done really well, and stands up as a really strong release. The fact that so many relevant players contributed to. Joe Bonamassa waited 5 hours to play his part, he was supposed to be on a plane to San Diego and stayed to make sure he was included.
There was also the “Phoenix Rising” project on the Deep Purple side of things. It won a prize for “Best documentary” in a German magazine poll. How do you feel about the documentary on this release, is there something that you would have liked to add to it?
– I thought it was very interesting the incident in Indonesia was covered. I was very pleased with the way the documentary was put together. Tommy was so busy traveling it was hard to understand all that was going on, I think “Phoenix Rising” helped clear that up.
There is this footage of Deep Purple MK4, in which Tommy wears the red jacket, that first saw the light of day on the “Heavy Metal Pioneers” video many years ago. The studio version of MK3´s “Stormbringer” has (sadly) been dubbed over it. Do you have any idea where this might have been filmed and if there just might be another MK4 concert in a vault somewhere?
– I know Glenn Hughes is working on locating a show tape from Hawaii. I’m not sure where the original footage was taped.
How common was it to film with Super 8 back in the day, how much material have you seen and would a proper DVD with history be a project that could happen someday?
– Every once in a while some footage will surface, I often wonder if some better quality video will surface. I hope someone will put together more projects of this nature.
In 2008 Greg Prato released a book about Tommy, “Touched By Magic”, what is your opinion on this book?
– Greg did a very nice job, many people had talked about writing a book on Tommy, but he actually followed through. I also thought he brought to light a lot of interesting stories I had never heard before.
Martin Popoff gave Tommy the cover to his first book on Deep Purple in 2009, it seems to me that many journalists really love the “Come Taste The Band” album. Is this something that you have seen as well over the years?
– A lot of people didn’t care for “Come Taste The Band” at first, with time I think it has become recognized as a time honored classic. It broke a lot of standards at the time, as years go by I feel it has become more appreciated…like a fine wine.
I find it a little bit odd that the old James Gang albums that featured Tommy are hard to find (I have never seen these on CD here). Have you heard anything on this lately?
– Recently Atlantic Records have re-released the two albums on their Flashback label. That is now out of print.
Are you aware of any live recordings done by the James Gang, outside of that tv-performance that we have all seen?
– The only ones that I’ve heard are the Central Park tapes, other than that most are audience recording bootlegs, very poor quality.
Are you aware that Ritchie Blackmore saw Tommy on tv (must have been the James Gang show because he mentions the golden outfit in one of the interviews) and that he liked him? I have a magazine from early 1975 in which Blackmore gives Tommy a positive nod (and this was when he was still in Purple, before Tommy was invited).
– I’ve read articles about when Ritchie went to Tommy’s house and met him, but I don’t recall Tommy ever mentioning it. He had a lot of respect for Ritchie and his music.
Also, when Tommy passed away Rainbow (or Ronnie James Dio, as he was the singer) dedicated “Mistreated” to him in Japan where they were touring, and Blackmore plays it like I have never heard him before (or since). That guitar screams in pain. That touched my heart when I heard it many years ago on a bootleg, it was so obvious that Blackmore cared. Have you heard about this?
– I’ve heard that song any number of times, what a fine compliment to Tommy, one of my favorites.
How many concerts did you see Tommy perform with James Gang and Deep Purple and what do you recall from them now?
– I saw the James Gang in Sioux City, and with Johnny Winter in Des Moines, and Wayne Nebraska, three times total. It was after the “Spectrum” sessions, he was playing really well. I remember Roy Kenner sprained his knee in the Sioux City show. I saw Purple in University of Illinois, we went out for dinner with the band, my whole family went to the show. It was a great show for the whole family.
Incredibly, it seems that Purple broke up without their management telling Glenn and Tommy that it was over. The last show was in Liverpool on March 15, the official announcement came in July. Is it possible that Tommy wrote some tunes with Purple in mind during this brief period, for a possible second album?
– I think after the Liverpool show Tommy had quit in his own mind and had moved on.
Looking back, do you think Tommy felt compromised as Purple moved into 1976 and the US Tour? Since he had no time to plug his own record “Teaser” until the summer at the earliest?
– I think Tommy would have liked to promote “Teaser” more, he always wanted to be a solo performer. The opportunity with Purple was just too tempting to pass up as it all happened at the same time.
Overall, do you think Tommy would have stayed on for a couple of years had the band not split? I know that David Coverdale´s contract lasted another couple of years, which is why he didn´t perform until 1978 with his own thing. Did Tommy had a contract for three years in Purple?
– I think Tommy would have moved on regardless, he liked playing with Purple. I think he had a contract for other albums, but with the breakup there wasn’t any thought of moving forward with Deep Purple. When “Private Eyes” came out we went to Ian Paice & Jon Lord’s house partying all night listening to “Private Eyes” over and over.
To me, “Teaser” is the real start of what became the LA scene 8-9 years later. I know that members in Mötley Crue were great fans. Would you agree that “Teaser” has that underground perception among certain musicians?
– Tommy stood out in every band he was in, many knew him from “Spectrum” or Zephyr. Many, many, guitar players to this day cite “Teaser” as being their great influence.
To me, “Private Eyes” is a much darker album than “Teaser”, although it has some truly beautiful moments in it. In what direction do you think he was heading at the time of his passing musically? Was he talking about it?
– “Private Eyes” is a reflection of where Tommy was in life at the time, most of the material was worked up in the studio. He was to go into the studio again in March of 1977.
He jammed with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Wisconsin in 1976, did they have an interest in him joining the band? Did you hear about any offers like that after the Purple thing?
– We had 4-5 days off when that happened, no plans to ever join Skynyrd.
You were part of the Tommy Bolin Band, which must be considered your first proper gig. Can you tell us about your career since and what the future might involve?
– Mile High Stadium in 1976 opening for Peter Frampton, Steve Miller Band and Gary Wright, Natural Gas. I’ve been with Jim Dandy and Black Oak Arkansas for 23 years and we’re still going. I also recorded with DVC, The Richard T. Bear Band, and Rocky Athas. Black Oak has a new record coming out in 2013 called “Memphis Meantime”.
You played Sweden Rock Festival a few years ago, any memories about that trip? Was it you first trip to Europe and Sweden?
– Sweden Rock Festival was great! We were with Motorhead, Skid Row, and Focus, great reception from the fans. It was my first trip to Sweden, hopefully not my last, we weren’t there nearly long enough.
Is it true that the Bolin family has some connection to Sweden (?), it is a common name here.
– My grandparents were from Sweden, our family name was Erickson, my mother’s family was Syrian.
I always heard that your family treated fans that came into town to pay Tommy´s grave a visit and see his town of birth with a very open and friendly attitude. Very giving, caring. Is this an ongoing thing? How do you feel about it?
– My family has always had an open door policy to the fans, we’ve had countless people from around the world come and tour the family home. It’s kind of a museum to our family’s musical career.
Thank you for this interview, and for keeping Tommy´s legacy alive. Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview?
– I’d like to thank you and the fine staff at RETROFUTURE, I’m so excited about Tommy being on the cover of your publication, I’ve never been so flattered in my life. Thanks for everything!
Michael Eriksson (c)
(No part of this interview may be copied without permission)
RETROFUTURE (issue 6 – 2013)