In 1967 Tommy Bolin was 15 years old and had just left high school in Sioux City, Iowa while in the 11th grade due to problems which included battles with the school over the length of his hair, which he had cut to the length of their requirements but then was told again to have it cut even shorter. Tommy was totally immersed in music by then and decided to commit himself to it.
With his parents approval he then moved to Denver, Colorado after hearing about the scene there from Brad Miller, who had been the second guitarist in Patch of Blue with Tommy, and who had subsequently moved to Denver after leaving that band.
The late Brad Miller was also known as “Morrie” and later formed an official fan club that was mentioned in the booklet included with the The Ultimate: The Best of Tommy Bolin box set that was released in 1989. That club later dissolved in dispute, though Miller continued to sell a 15-disc box set called Fever that sold for $500. The audio quality of the material on Fever was not very good, but before the Tommy Bolin Archives’ days of publishing CDs Fever made a mark in the historical chain.
Tommy lived with Miller and his wife for six months until his constant practicing drove them crazy and he was asked to leave. He then lived where he could around Denver, playing for change on the streets along Larimer Street by day and gigging at clubs by night. Living conditions were very bad, with Tommy sometimes sleeping in parks, but he was very happy and his enthusiasm was high. Some of these experiences would later show up in lyrics to his songs.
The area around Larimer Street that Tommy was in during 1967 and 1968 was rough and tumble compared to the way it is today, which is trendy and charming. For someone 15 years old to move there from another state and get by somehow is extraordinary, especially since Tommy never had a driver’s license. Tommy’s musicianship was impressive however, especially for his age, and it won people over.
He was meeting many musicians and club owners, but nothing was sticking together until his first late-night encounter in a blizzard with the members of what would become American Standard, and whose singer, Jeff Cook, would be associated with Tommy as a singer and later a lyricist for the rest of his life.
Shortly after that meeting Tommy played an impromptu version of Dave Brubek’s “Take Five” at the Denver Folklore Center, a popular music store and hangout for folk and blues musicians where Jeff Cook worked. His performance stunned the store crowd, such a young player displaying such confidence and musicianship. Many people in Denver still remember Tommy more for his playing around town than for the fame he was soon to achieve. He wasn’t making much money, but he was making a mark and a name.
Copyright ©2005 John Herdt.