TOMMY BOLIN INTERVIEW
ONGAKU SENKA, NOVEMBER 1976
by Kumi Mizuno (submitted by Damian Phelan, translated from Japanese)
Deep Purple have finally split up, and the members have gone on to pursue solo projects. Upon hearing this, I decided to make contact with Tommy Bolin. I wondered whether he would remember me, but when I phoned him and said my name, he replied “Are you still in Tokyo?” When I told him I was in LA, he replied “Well, I have a rehearsal with my band today, so why not come and have a look? It’s from 10 p.m. on.” I had a previous engagement that day, but I couldn’t wait to see him, so that evening I headed off. When I entered the rehearsal studio, he noticed me right away and called “Kumi!” while running over to me.
“Long time no see. How are you? How are your friends in Japan?” The flashy high-heeled shoes and scarf he wore in Japan were gone, replaced by a beret, a T-shirt, white jeans and trainers. The beret, I have to say, suited him well. This was the first day of rehearsals, so the manager told me that had I not been specially invited by Tommy, I wouldn’t have been allowed in!
It was a light rehearsal, with not even a saxophone in sight. But even so, Tommy and the band had a lot to work out. They were going to be starting a tour in four weeks, but had yet to make their debut so unfortunately I had yet to listen to their new album.
There was not much time on that day, so we agreed to meet a few days later. From the rehearsal, I got the impression that Tommy was already looking forward with his new band, and that Deep Purple had become a thing of the past.
A few days later, we met up again and started reminiscing about Tokyo, such as the people’s kindness and his love of Kobe beef. Before, he had gone to a fortune-teller in Nagoya who had told him “You will work as a member of a group, but in the near future you will set up your own group, and be much happier. This will lead to your success.” When I asked him if he remembered that: “Like it was yesterday. When it came time for Deep Purple to split, that’s what I remembered. She knew nothing about me, and then she came out with that.”
KM: What was the reason Deep Purple split? I was so surprised when I heard that David had left, I thought everything was going so well for all of you.
TB: Yeah, David’s in London now, making an album. I’m not sure why we split up either, to be honest. Nobody really said “Well, we’re splitting up, because… ”, so it was very much left in the dark. As soon as David left, he recommended that Glenn and I do the same. Before Glenn went to Japan last year, he’d been having thoughts about going back to Trapeze. So when the split was announced, he was already recording with Trapeze. Actually, he rang me a while ago. Apparently, they’ve just finished a double album.
KM: Did you discuss the split before the actual breakup?
TB: Well, I have to tell the truth here. After the tour ended, we weren’t talking to each other at all, and nobody really knew what they were supposed to be doing. So that phone call from Glenn was the first in a long time. He also said that Jon and Ian were recording together.
KM: So nobody actually said “We should split up”?
TB: Well, in the end, it was the manager who decided it. After David left, he came to the decision that we should just end it there, instead of picking up a new member.
KM: Were you yourself more interested in working with your own band than with Deep Purple?
TB: I was actually working on my own things while I was in Deep Purple too. Not because I wasn’t interested in Deep Purple any more, but because I was really interested in doing my solo work.
KM: Have you finished recording for the follow-up album to Teaser?
TB: Almost. It’s called Private Eyes and will be released by CBS. The jacket actually looks very much Japanese style. It’s me and a Japanese girl showing our faces from behind a paper umbrella. And my name’s written there in Japanese. The reason I chose a Japanese style is because I liked it so much when I went there for the first time. So I did it like that to sort of… put myself in Japan again.
KM: What’s the style of music?
TB: Well, of course it’s different to Deep Purple’s. And actually a lot different to my first album too. It’s more of a blend of jazz and rock. It’s difficult to explain, but you’ll understand if you listen to it.
KM: Are you working with different musicians to when you released Teaser?
TB: No, I have Bobby Berge on drums, Reggie McBride on bass, and of course myself on guitar. We’re currently looking for a good vocalist. I’m really not confident in my singing!
KM: You’re going on tour soon, so can you introduce the members you’re rehearsing with at the moment?
TB: Michael Walden was our drummer, originally from Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Reggie McBride was on bass. But we’ve had to change members around for this tour. This time, the bassist is Jimmy Haslip, and the drummer is my 22-year-old brother, Johnnie Bolin. On the keyboard we have Mark Stein from Vanilla Fudge, and Norma Bell is on the saxophone.
KM: You played in New York in May, right?
TB: That was a big failure. I wasn’t feeling well at all, and drank a little too much. So drinking while sick made me get drunk, and since there were lots of critics there to watch me… that was my worst moment. But next time we’ll be better. I think we’ll be different to how we’ve been up till now. I’m planning to divide it equally between songs from Teaser and Private Eyes.
KM: You announced this album hot on the heels of Teaser, so did you have plans like this from a long time ago?
TB: Yeah, I was thinking a long time ago that I wanted to go for this feeling. Before I’d sat down to actually compose the songs. But as soon as I sat down to do it, I had them done in a flash. And everyone I was working with was so great. Say I had a song finished on Wednesday. We’d practice it all day Thursday, then record that same night. So like that, the recording didn’t take much time at all. I was on a roll when I made this album, and all of the recording members were very good at what they did, so it only took us five days to put together eight songs.
KM: Have you any ideas about where you want the group to go from here?
TB: I don’t have anything clearly planned out, no. We’ll just have to stand up and try things out to see what works, but I’m thinking of moving towards more of a rock feel. More so than with Teaser.
(The conversation was starting to get a little stiff and I was getting nervous, so I decided to change the subject here.)
KM: Did you enjoy your time with Deep Purple?
TB: Yeah, it wasn’t bad. But all of the members were good people. Actually, something I just heard recently is that since we announced the split, English radio stations have been playing Deep Purple songs from the very first album to the newest ones. It’s the most Deep Purple songs they’ve ever played in England!
KM: Oh, by the way, since you left Japan they’ve set up a Deep Purple fan club, but also a Tommy Bolin fan club.
TB: You’re joking. Are you serious?
KM: I’m serious, they have.
TB: If you have a chance, I’d like to see some of the letters from that fan club. But they’re in Japanese, aren’t they? Then I’ll need to get someone to translate them… How about I send them and you translate them for me? Yeah, I really miss Japan, and I’m really looking for the chance to bring my band over there. Talking to you is really reminding me of Japan a lot. I’d just hurt my hand in Indonesia so I wasn’t exactly in the best of form, but I went over to Japan anyway. But Japan was such a beautiful country, I loved my time there. When you write this in your magazine, I really hope you can get that across. The Japanese fans were so kind to me and gave me so many amazing presents, it was brilliant. And my promoters took me everywhere to try and get my hand healed. Can you tell everyone in Japan? I’ll go back there soon, I promise. I’d love it if everyone liked my new album. Like I said, the jacket is Japanese-style. While I was in Japan, I went around looking at all of the pictures and carvings as much as I can. I couldn’t stay as long as I wanted, so I couldn’t see as much as I wanted, but that’s where the influence came for my next album jacket. I’d love if the Japanese liked it.
At the end of the interview, we went back to the rehearsal studio and I heard them play. It was so different to before, and Tommy was right up there playing a song that was probably from the new album. The keyboard was right in my ears, along with his fervent guitar-playing. It really had a strong jazzy feeling to it. After that, he started a song that I recalled was on Teaser. He’s looking forward with his new group now. He’s put Deep Purple behind him as a thing of the past, and will probably never do a Deep Purple song on stage again. I can still remember him playing in the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. Him playing then, and now looking ahead with his new band, it’s like a year hasn’t even passed. In the Nippon Budokan, I met tommy Bolin, *ex*-member of Deep Purple. This time I met Tommy Bolin the musician, and I sit with bated breath, awaiting the changes that he will bring to the world of music.