Zephyr was formed in Boulder, Colorado in the early 1969. The original lineup consisted of:
Candy Givens: lead vocals, harmonica
David Givens: bass, vocals
Tommy Bolin: lead guitar, vocals
John Faris: keyboards, flute, vocals
Robbie Chamberlin: drums, vocals
That lineup remained intact until mid-1970 when Robbie was replaced by Bobby Berge on drums. After Tommy and Bobby left in early 1971 the band continued with first Jock Bartley and then Eddie Turner on guitar.
David Givens met Candy Ramey in Aspen, Colorado in the fall of 1967 while Candy was performing with a local jug band. Impressed by Candy’s performing abilities and charisma, David got a band together to play jobs in Aspen, and they quickly began rehearsing material with Candy while she was still in the jug band. Their paths crossed once with Tommy Bolin during a jam set up by a mutual friend, but they didn’t hook up with Tommy for real until later.
David and Candy married in 1968, then moved to Boulder and started working in a band called Brown Sugar. Tommy and John Faris arrived in the fall of 1968 with their band Ethereal Zephyr, which they had formed after Tommy’s return from a short stint away from Denver to Cincinnati. Tommy’s influences at the time were Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and a wide range of older rock and blues. He was very fond of Wes Montgomery’s guitar work, having worked on playing octave runs as far back as A Patch of Blue. Faris was well versed in music theory, and introduced Tommy to jazz greats such as John Coltrane. Also during this period Tommy was learning more about blues playing from Denver musician Otis Taylor, whose modern take on the blues and beyond is currently enjoying a high degree of respect in critical circles.
According to David Givens, Tommy jammed with Brown Sugar at a one of their regular Wednesday night gigs in Boulder at the Buff Room, and the results were so inspiring that within a few weeks they played again with Tommy, John Faris and an unidentified drummer. They then decided to break up their current bands and reform with a new drummer. That search ended with Robbie Chamberlin after a jam at the Folklore Center in Denver. With the firm lineup intact, they dropped the “Ethereal” from the name of Tommy and John’s band and became Zephyr. Their first gig was in Boulder at the Sink, a club owned by future manager Chuck Morris.
In April, 1969 the band played an audition for promoter Barry Fey at a bar in Denver owned by Fey’s friend Nat Feld. Barry already knew Tommy from his nightclub, The Family Dog, where Tommy’s band American Standard had opened some shows. Fey was very impressed with the audition and immediately booked the band into the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. It should be noted that Fey went on to concentrate on promotion with Zephyr rather than on typical “manager” activities, which were left to a string of people who contributed to the eventual breakup of the group.
Zephyr was booked mainly for showcase gigs in ballrooms and theaters with only the occasional club gig, rather than lots of one-night stands in bars. The intent was to present the band as an established act who had paid their dues. Individually though, the band members still continued to jam around the Boulder scene just for fun, learning and growing, as well as increasing their popularity and mystique. It can’t be over-emphasized that that period and place saw many people playing together just for fun and for the raw musical experiences, which lead to a period of incredible quality in musicianship and scope.
Record company interest in the band began after their second show with Fey at the helm, a special showcase gig at the Whiskey in Los Angeles. Atlantic, Columbia and ABC all made bids based on that performance and a demo tape recorded at a little studio in Denver. The band signed with Probe, a subsidiary label of ABC.
The band was quickly playing some of the biggest venues from coast to coast, sharing stages with the top groups in the world. The whole band was sharpening quickly, with Tommy gaining incredible focus on guitar and initiating jaw-dropping solo spots that featured his incredible creativity with the Echoplex tape delay effect.
It has been reported, however, that Zephyr shared the bill at Led Zeppelin’s U.S. debut in Denver, Colorado on December 26, 1968 at the Auditorium Arena. This was actually not the case, though Candy and David Givens had heard Led Zeppelin on FM radio in Isla Vista, California in when they were still in Brown Sugar. Impressed, they returned to Colorado and told people about this new great band. Their recommendation to Barry Fey led to Barry booking Led Zeppelin as an opening act on that U.S. debut show. Later in 1969 Zephyr opened for Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party. After their set Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones came up to their dressing room and introduced themselves. Page sought out Tommy and Plant hung with David and Candy. Plant was the same age as David, 21, and was new to the big time, just a guy who loved to sing. The bands became fast friends, Jimmy Page recommended famous producer/engineer Eddie Kramer to David, which would later lead to Zephyr working with Kramer on their "Going Back to Colorado" album.
Barry Fey’s 3-day Denver Pop Festival featured Zephyr on both Saturday June 28 and Sunday June 29, 1969. Their Sunday show was not scheduled, they were filling in for an act that dropped out. It is interesting to note that the final show for the original lineup of the Jimi Hendrix Experience was on that Sunday, so Zephyr had been on the bill with Led Zeppelin for their first ever show in the U.S., as well as on the bill with the last ever show for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Saturday show is also famous for the police tear-gassing the crowd while Zephyr was on stage.
Work on the first album commenced in mid-1969 with the selection of a producer, resulting in Bill Halverson, who had engineered for Cream and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Recording began at the Wally Heider Studio, where the band was forced to work around time given to larger, established artists. Halverson turned out not to be an optimal choice, as he clashed in many ways with the band’s tastes. One thing that caused problems was that he had the members all record their parts separately while they were used to playing together, giving each other energy.
When Zephyr was released in October the results weren’t totally satisfying to the band, as they felt that it failed to capture the essence of their exciting live performances. Though it didn’t set records, the album was selling and their momentum continued to build. On January 31, 1970 Zephyr appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, lip synching to “Cross the River.” Candy and Tommy played it up to the max, and the rest of the band broke out laughing.
The band’s relationship with Robbie Chamberlin had been deteriorating, and at Tommy’s suggestion drummer Bobby Berge was summoned from Sioux City, where he was playing with The Velaires. Berge pushed the band even harder than Chamberlin, and had dynamic stage presence.
Michael Drumm, who went on to form the Tommy Bolin Archives with Johnnie Bolin in 1995 recalls, “The first time I saw Zephyr play was after they switched to Bobby Berge on drums. They performed on a Friday in October 1969 at The Glenn Miller Ballroom on the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus. Tommy’s playing that night was, as usual, awe-inspiring in its creative complexion and execution. I left the show almost breathless and exhilarated by how the band in general, and Tommy’s playing specifically, had expanded my musical consciousness. In this experience I was not alone.”
The power of the band can be seen in footage that exists of Zephyr playing at Mammoth Gardens in Denver. Candy prowls the stage like a panther, squatting and leaning and throwing shapes. Tommy is at stage right, to the back, but shakes his hair, throws his guitar over his shoulder to emphasize licks and walks over to face Bobby during some sections. Bobby’s kit is open in front and he can easily be seen, shaking his hair, throwing sticks up spinning and catching them, and obviously playing up a storm.
Shortly thereafter Drumm was hired by The Record Center, a hip record store “on the hill” in Boulder. Tommy often delighted the staff there by stopping by to hang out and listen while they played him entire Hendrix bootleg albums over the store PA. Drumm would continue to be associated with Tommy for the rest of the period that he was in Boulder.
Also around this time Tommy hooked up with lyricist John Tesar, who he had met while gigging in South Dakota shortly before his move to Denver. Tesar had moved to Boulder to attend Colorado University, and when Tommy was in American Standard in Denver he called him for help with lyrics. The following year after Tommy had formed the band Energy the two lived close together in Boulder and often worked on songs. Tesar would be connected with Tommy for the rest of his life.
In September, 1970 the band went into Electric Lady Studios in New York City to start recording their second album with famous engineer/producer Eddie Kramer at the helm. They were now signed with Warner Brothers, as Probe had folded. Kramer had worked with some of the top names in rock, such as Led Zeppelin and especially Jimi Hendrix, with whom Kramer had an extremely productive relationship. The sessions for the second album, Going Back to Colorado, were marred by Kramer’s distraction due emotional fallout following the death of Hendrix as well as a climactic romance with Carly Simon. The sessions for the album wrapped in October, and the album was released in January, 1971.
Going Back to Colorado was in many ways an improvement over Zephyr, in large part due to better presentation of Candy’s vocals, but it still wasn’t the commercial breakthrough that the band was hoping for. Both are extremely valuable and engaging documents, however, to fans of Tommy and of musical power and adventure. Going Back to Colorado is more song-oriented and polished, while Zephyr offers more raw exposure to Tommy’s guitar work.
Whatever difficulties Tommy faced during the recording of the album were mitigated by the important contacts he was making with important fusion musicians such as Jeremy Steig and Jan Hammer, who would soon play major roles in Tommy’s successful move into fusion.
This lineup persevered until early 1971, at which point Tommy and Bobby left together to form Energy. Their last show opened for Mountain at the Santa Monica Civic Center. The reasons for the breakup centered around frustration with not having their hard work pay off more solidly, and the desire that Tommy and Bobby had to pursue fusing rock with jazz in the manner of John McGlaughlin in Mahavishnu Orchestra. Zephyr continued on for two more albums with other guitarists including Sunset Ride in 1972 with Jock Bartley (later of Firefall) on guitar and Heartbeat in 1982 with Eddie Turner (albums and tours with Otis Taylor) on guitar.
Tommy and Bobby crossed paths again in 1973 with Candy, David and John Faris when they came together to perform a spectacular show at Art’s Bar & Grill in Boulder on May 2, 1973, documented on a Tommy Bolin Archives release. That reunion was preceded by their adventures with a band called The Legendary 4Nikators. In 1970 Flash Cadillac (seen in the classic American Graffiti) drummer Harold “Marty” Fielden had recruited Tommy, Candy, David and John Faris along with Dave Brown (Tommy’s friend and roadie) to play with him at Tulagi for a one night special. They played a material such as Yardbirds, rockabilly and Elvis tunes. It’s been reported that Mick Manressa played that night, but David Givens indicates that was not the case, though they played later with Mick in the Art’s Bar and Grill days. After the Tulagi show they split up, with Harold attending and graduating from law school in Washington state. In 1973, just as Energy was winding down, Harold returned to Boulder and recruited Tommy, Candy, David, John Faris, Otis Taylor, Mick Manressa and Dave Brown to play every Monday night during the summer of 1973. They played party music that got joints jumping and packed clubs. That led to the Zephyr reunion at Art’s Bar & Grill with Bobby Berge returning on drums. Tommy left to join the James Gang in August 1973, taking Dave Brown with him.
Candy Givens died in 1984, drowning in a jacuzzi after passing out from a mix of alcohol and quaaludes. She had been singing and performing well right up the end.
Copyright ©2005 John Herdt.
Zephyr (1969, Probe)
Going Back to Colorado (1971, Warner Brothers)
Live at Arts Bar & Grill (1973, released 1997, Tommy Bolin Archives)