THE BAND:

Tommy Bolin: guitar, piano, vocals
Mark Stein: keyboards, vocals
Norma Jean Bell: sax, perc, vocals
Reggie McBride: bass, vocals
Bobby Berge: drums, percussion
Bobbye Hall: percussion
Carmine Appice: drums on “Someday Will Bring Our Love Home”
Del Newman: string arrangements on
“Hello, Again”

TRACK LIST:

1. Bustin’ Out for Rosie (Bolin)

2. Sweet Burgundy (Bolin/Cook)

3. Poast Toastee (Bolin)

4. Shake the Devil (Bolin/Cook)

5. Gypsy Soul (Bolin/Cook)

6. Someday Will Bring Our Love Home (Bolin/Tesar)

7. Hello, Again (Bolin/Cook)

8. You Told Me That You Loved Me (Bolin)

THE STORY:

Tommy Bolin formed the Tommy Bolin Band in March 1976, immediately after the collapse of Deep Purple Mk 4. The band toured playing material from Tommy’s Teaser album along with a few songs from keyboardist Mark Stein and drummer Narada Michael Walden until the departure of Walden in late May 1976. Tommy has also just finished moving from the Nemporer Records label to Columbia Records, and it was time to come up with a new album to promote and tour in support of.

Private Eyes was co-produced by Tommy Bolin and Dennis MacKay. MacKay had first met Tommy in October 1975 at Trident Studios in London during work done there to complete Tommy’s Teaser album. At that time MacKay had been instructed to help Tommy play back the 16-track tapes of Teaser basic tracks so he could hear the sound of Trident’s mixing room, and they had developed a connection during playback that led to MacKay working with Tommy in earnest, receiving credit as Producer for “People People” and “Marching Powder” on Teaser.

After Teaser was finished Tommy played with Deep Purple and then formed the Tommy Bolin Band. During this period MacKay stayed in touch with Tommy and his manager Barry Fey, and before Tommy entered the studio to work on Private Eyes he contacted MacKay, summoning him to Los Angeles to stay at Tommy’s place so they could choose material and do pre-production. Tommy played most of the songs and ideas he had together for MacKay right in his living room in the course of one evening using an acoustic guitar. Once the tunes were selected the studio recordings were executed with what bordered on haste.

Collectors might want to note that Tommy had recorded solo demos of some of the songs that would appear on Private Eyes at Phillip Polimeni’s Glen Holly Studio in the Hollywood Hills. Some of these demos, including “Sweet Burgundy,” “Lotus” and multiple versions of “Post Toastee” appear on The Tommy Bolin Archives’ Naked Volume II CD released in 2002. Tommy played all of the instruments on those demos, including bass and drums, making them uniquely valuable for hearing some of the breadth of Tommy’s musical abilities on a number of instruments.

Unlike Teaser, which had a number of different people playing on various tracks, Private Eyes would be performed by one band consisting of members of the Tommy Bolin Band with Bobby Berge, who had played drums with Tommy in Zephyr and Energy, replacing the departed Narada Michael Walden. There were no rehearsals, the band learned the tunes in the studio on the dates of their recording. The only exception to that was that Bobby Berge had played “Shake the Devil” (which was originally titled “Pips Delight”) at Phillip Polimeni’s Glen Holly Studio. “Pip” was their nickname for Phillip.

Bobby Berge reports that the recording dates at Cherokee Studios in Hollywood included:

June 8: “Shake the Devil” and “Post Toastee”
June 9: “You Told Me That You Loved Me” and “Gypsy Soul”
June 10: “Hello Again”
June 11: “Someday Will Bring Our Love Home” (Bobby Berge was under the weather from a bout with some Scotch and Carmine Appice filled in on drums.)
June 14: “Gotta Dance,” “Sweet Burgundy” and Bustin’ Out for Rosie” (Bobby back on drums)
June 15: Tommy did a number of overdubs
June 16: Tommy did a number of overdubs

The English music production community was known for taking risks and experimenting with recording techniques in order to achieve unique sounds for their artists, and in MacKay’s case Private Eyes was no exception. Tommy’s guitar was in some cases, such as the rhythm guitar for “Post Toastee,” direct injected (plugged directly into the mixing board). This resulted in a different sound than could have been achieved by putting a microphone in front of a guitar amp. Bobby Berge’s drum sound was given unique power by recording him playing in a drum booth and applying reverb creatively. A young Gino Baffo attended the sessions and remarks that MacKay used the drum booth as a means of achieving sounds heard on albums recorded at Abbey Road such as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album.

After recording finished at Cherokee the album was mixed at Trident Studios in London. MacKay demonstrated great skill in editing and mixing the material, turning seven days of rapid recording by an unrehearsed band into an iconic album. Dennis MacKay would go on to engineer or produce a remarkable range of artists including Jeff Beck, Return to Forever, Brand X, Pat Travers, Al DiMeola and many more.

Private Eyes was released in September, 1976. it introduced many new fans to Tommy and became the favorite of many fans up to today and beyond. Up to Private Eyes it is arguable that Tommy was more well known for his incendiary guitar work than for his songwriting or his rapidly-improving vocals, even though he had written most of the new material during his tenures with the song-oriented James Gang and Deep Purple. Private Eyes would change that, these were great songs sung convincingly.

This author recalls hearing almost all the tracks at different points on FM radio after the album’s release. Those were the days when disc jockeys could play whatever struck their fancy rather than being restricted to singles. “Poast Toastee” is remembered as a major breakthrough track for Tommy, but “Shake the Devil” was also heard quite often. “Shake the Devil” is often thought to be written about Linda Blair, who dated Tommy for a while in LA. As a young girl Blair had starred in The Exorcist, so the connection is easy to make.

The whole band played great throughout, especially given the expediency of the recording sessions. Standouts, however, include Bobby Berge’s drums, which were augmented by remarkable production sound, and Norma Jean Bell’s outstanding sax work on tracks such as “Gypsy Soul,” where her solo perfect that it’s easy to hum along with after hearing it only a few times. There are loads of great guitar from Tommy, including the absolutely remarkable solo in “You Told Me That You Loved Me,” which starts out with a melody that would make George Gershwin proud and then races through twists and turns that only an advanced player can attempt, taking the listener on a thrilling journey in the space of a minute.

Tommy was back soon after recordings were completed, with the Private Eyes tour opening in Albuquerque, NM on July 16. The band was the core lineup that recorded the album, playing material from both Private Eyes and Teaser. Bobby Berge played through the end of July and then left the band, followed quickly by bassist Reggie McBride. The tour would then be on hold until August 29 when the band would introduce new bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Johnnie Bolin. It’s hard to calculate the impact on sales of Private Eyes by the month lag in the support tour, but the album is much-loved by Tommy’s fans and is still in print and easily available in CD format today. In contrast Teaser much harder to get on CD, even though it is the favorite of many who follow Tommy more for his kick ass guitar and wide-ranging styles of material. Private Eyes is an invaluable example of Tommy’s abilities as a singer and songwriter, and that gives it a unique strength in the mainstream market. Being a guitar hero who could also sing put Tommy in league with Eric Clapton for the potential of penetrating into the “household name” category. Tommy’s passing at age 25 later in the year makes it so we’ll never know how far he could have gone.

Copyright ©2008 John Herdt. Special thanks to my great friend Bobby Berge.

ARTICLES, INTERVIEWS AND WEBSITES

Bobby Berge’s Recording Notes
Tommy Bolin Archives Articles
Tommy Bolin Archives Interviews
Every Home Should Have One: Private Eyes Classic Rock, March 2003

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