GLENN HOLLY STUDIOS - THE TOM NIKOSEY INTERVIEW
by John Herdt
Tommy Bolin fans and collectors have a special place in their hearts for recordings Tommy made at Phillip Polimeni’s home studio on Glen Holly St. in Los Angeles near the big Hollywood sign. Tommy engaged in jams and rehearsals with such luminaries such as Stanley Sheldon, Bobby Berge, Jeff Beck, Todd Rundgren, Alphonse Mouzon and more. What follows is a conversation with guitarist Tom Nikosey, who heard and participated in some of those jams. Polimeni and Nikosey collaborated with Johnnie Bolin on the "Tommy Bolin - Captured Raw" CD before Phillip’s passing away on February 4, 2014. Polimeni and Nikosey had history together in Majic Ship 1967-71, a band who’s self titled album brings high prices on the collectors circuit, and in their band Fox which formed after the breakup of Majic Ship and continued after their move to Los Angeles in 1972.
JH: Phillip related that he first met Tommy Bolin around 1965-67 in the Sioux City area while Tommy was playing in Patch of Blue and Phillip was playing guitar with The Hangmen while his family lived at a nearby Air Force base. Did you first meet Phillip when he replaced Ray Rifice on lead guitar in Majic Ship in 1968?
TN: Actually I asked Phillip to audition to replace Rifice who was moving to Florida.
JH: Majic Ship broke up in 1971 when the band’s house in Staten Island caught fire and wiped out all your equipment. You and Phillip then with Jim Ayoub formed the Brooklyn-based acoustic trio Fox and recorded an album titled Simple Songs. The band moved to Los Angeles in June 1972. Did you all move to the Glen Holly house and was the studio built as a band resource or was it mainly Phillip’s place?
TN: 6166 Glen Holly St. was Phillip Polimeni and Cyndi Peters’ rental house. Jim Ayoub lived on Glen Holly and I lived around the corner on Beachwood Drive.
JH: Tommy Bolin moved from Sioux City to Denver in 1967 and then to Los Angeles in late 1974. Did Phillip and Tommy stay in touch between Sioux City and 1974 or did they not see each other again until Tommy first played at Glenn Holly while passing through Los Angeles with James Gang in 1974?
TN: Actually they stayed in close touch. In 1971 before Fox moved to Los Angeles Tommy came to NYC with Zephyr to play the Fillmore East. Tommy came to a Fox recording session in Brooklyn and sat in on bass guitar on Phillip’s “Family Song.” That was the first time Jimmy and I met him. Fox were special guests of Tommy at the Fillmore and we met David and Candy Givens after the show, they were amazing! Tommy was unbelievable!
JH: Was there a period where Tommy lived at Glenn Holly or did he just crash there sometimes after long sessions.
TN: Tommy mostly crashed there at times, and he may have stayed for a longer period after Cyndi moved, but that was a bit unclear to me. It was a small bungalow style house.
JH: The technician who helped Phillip with the studio’s acoustics had credits including setting up a studio for Stevie Wonder. Did you think he did a good job and like the sound in the space?
TN: People need to understand Glen Holly Studio…it was a small converted garage under the cabin/house that was partially dug into the hillside. It was tiny, it was all we had to work with. Remember we were barely 22 years old and had virtually no funds. We managed to get insulation, old rugs and used everything we could find for padding and soundproofing. The goal was to remain incognito and didn’t want to upset the neighbors. Glen Holly St. was a tight little street. There were actors, writers, and musicians in every apartment and house in that Beachwood Canyon neighborhood. We secured the garage door and padded the inside heavily. The entry door was the same treatment, very heavy. The sound inside was a result of what the Beyer microphones picked up. Phillip changed the arrangement constantly. The machines were a Sony and a Teac reel to reel. Phillip bought a Nakamichi portable cassette player eventually. Cool piece of equipment that I traded him a Sony reel to reel for later on. The sound in the space is what you hear on the Glen Holly tapes. There was no doctoring or changes. That was the point. Whatever amps or equipment different people brought in is what you hear, and things changed regularly as far as amps and instruments. Phillip’s idea was always to eventually release the tapes ‘as they were recorded.’ He was bit of a purest, and I agreed. There are some volume fluctuations and amp crashes and some talking and screwing around and again, that’s the point of Captured Raw. Nowadays you can sample any sound available through MIDI or devices, but Glen Holly recordings was what was available then in the early 1970s.
JH: Looking at the street on Google Maps the street view does look really tight.
TN: Glen Holly St. is extremely tight. Glen Holly Studios was at the very end of the drive after passing through a small cul-de-sac circle and up, what appears to be a small alley extension. Richie Zito lived across the alley from Phillip and Cyndi, and Joey Carbone lived next to Richie. Jim Ayoub lived in the Glen Holly circle in a studio apartment. Jim also had a reel to reel and Tommy would stop in there from time to time and play on Jim’s Gibson 335. It was a very small community. Around the corner and across from my place at 2684½ Beachwood Drive is a village market. Linda Ronstadt lived on Glen Alder with J.D. Souther. We’d always see her, walking barefoot, to the village market.
JH: The recording equipment at the studio has been stated as a Beyer microphone and 4-track reel to reel deck. Was only one microphone ever used? On one hand it seems like a waste of three channels, but I’m also a fan of putting up one mic when a live band is playing.
TN: Phillip had three Beyer mics. Mostly used two. One always mic’d the drums and one for the center of the room. Sometimes the acoustic recordings were one mic, sometimes two.
JH: Phillip stated that Tommy left his equipment at Glen Holly. For part of his time in James Gang he still played the famous brown Fender Stratocaster with the Telecaster neck, but moved to a pair of Strats in sunburst and black if I understand correctly. I associate Tommy during that period with Hiwatt DR-103 heads and Sound City cabinets. Lots of Tommy’s fans are gear heads, can you relate anything about his guitars, effects and amps?
TN: I’m not a gear head but my best memory was Tommy’s brown Strat. He used Phillip’s acoustic Yamaha on the raw song sketches. Phillip also had a Twin Reverb at the studio. There were so many instruments coming and going, especially guitars. But for some reason when I think of Tommy in that little studio I see that brown Strat and how lightning fast he was.
JH: Tommy and the studio itself attracted a lot of famous musicians. Do you have some favorite moments to relate from jams you attended or played in?
TN: I didn’t play on very many. I was concentrating on my acoustic writing and my art career by 1974-75, but I was in on a jam with Tommy, Phillip, Richie Z. and Joey Carbone. I wouldn’t have been much of a guitar contribution, especially in the presence of Tommy, Richie and Phillip, so I’d play bass or congas. It wasn’t anything planned but rather spontaneous. I was actually intimidated by Tommy and Richie’s abilities. I remember clearly when Rick James came over…pretty impressive and funny. I was there when Stanley played and a couple times when Bobby Berge was too. These guys were intense.
JH: One of my favorite albums with Tommy Bolin is Alphonse Mouzon’s Mind Transplant recorded in early December 1974 in Hollywood. Alphonse rehearsed at Glen Holly in October with Tommy on guitar, Rocke Grace on keyboards and Stanley Sheldon on bass (only Tommy appeared on the final album). Do you know if those rehearsals were the only time Alphonse played at Glen Holly or was he there other times just to jam?
TN: Unfortunately I don’t know that answer. Remember Glen Holly was not a formal studio, in the traditional understanding of recording studio setups. From my view everything was spontaneous there. Many musicians had recording contracts and Glen Holly was an experimental musical escape.
JH: Drummer Bobby Berge and bassist Stanley Sheldon had significant history with Tommy and both played with Tommy at Glen Holly. Did they play the most often with Tommy when he was working on more formal demos or sessions, or were there other musicians to note who also worked with him with regularity?
TN: Bobby and Stanley were there a lot as they were Tommy’s favorite collaborators, but Tommy was becoming a ‘world figure’ and guitarist extraordinaire and there were so many people who wanted to just jam with him. In all hours of the day and night, mostly night, people would show up. Stanley and Bobby had their own careers and status too and were playing with different groups.
JH: Tommy auditioned for Deep Purple at Pirate Sound in late June 1975 and got the job. At the same time he was also finishing his own first album Teaser at the Record Plant after working on demos at Glen Holly. He got real busy real fast. Did he still stop by Glenn Holly while he was in Deep Purple or was he pretty scarce until recording demos for Private Eyes at Glen Holly in 1976.
TN: Tommy and Phillip stayed in close touch. Some of the Tommy’s acoustic song sketches Phillip captured on tape. Tommy would often come over to Glen Holly late at night with an idea and he wanted to get it down and dirty and develop it later. That happens quite often with songwriting. The nucleus of an idea comes to you in a lyric or melody or riff and you want to isolate it so you don’t forget it. We didn’t have iPhones or Walkmans in those days. But Phillip was always available for Tommy, they had that kind of friendship. Tommy also lived in Malibu for a short time. Phillip and Tommy were best friends, that’s no secret, and the substance use was no secret either back then, but 1975-76 is when I started showing up less and less because of that and because I was so busy with album covers and my business.
JH: Tommy sounds great on all of Glenn Holly material that’s been released. His playing is sharp and with that great signature tone, healthy and enthusiastic. During and after Deep Purple his sound changed and there are reports of incidents where it could be perceived that an increase in the strength and quantity of his pharmaceuticals and stardom affected his personality. Did you sense differences in Tommy or did he seem like the same fellow to you all the time you knew him?
TN: My memory of Tommy, from the moment I first met him in Brooklyn, was one of warmth and admiration. He was the sweetest guy. I knew I was in the presence of a genius but there was something very vulnerable about Tommy. He did use too heavily at times and that’s no secret either. When Tommy played at Glen Holly there was no pressure or expectations on him. He was extremely comfortable and loose. He was in his best friend’s home. When an artist is comfortable and loose experimentation takes place and with Tommy he pushed the musical limits when he was safe and comfortable.
JH: What was the last time you saw Tommy?
TN: Last time I saw Tommy was at Phillip’s in late 1975 maybe. I was starting to do some big name album covers and Tommy asked me to draw up a logo for him. I did and brought him a color sketch. He liked it but nothing ever came of it, that was early 1976, I remember because I was working on Eric Clapton’s No Reason To Cry album package.
JH: How long did Phillip keep the Glen Holly studio going after Tommy was gone?
TN: I’m not clear on that one, Tommy died in late 1976. I hooked up again with Phillip briefly in the early 1980s and Phillip was remarried and living in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles then. So somewhere between 1976 and 1982.
JH: You’ve had an impressive graphic arts career, having designed logos for bands and businesses as well as album covers for the Bee Gees, Kenny Rogers the Commodores and more. Had you continued to play music with Phillip until his passing?
TN: No, not music, but we reconnected in 1997 when I was putting together the Majic Ship Complete Authorized Recordings CD. And later the Glen Holly tapes of Fox on CD.
JH: Do you have any final thoughts about Glen Holly, Phil or Tommy you would like to include?
TN: First I’d like to thank you John for taking your time and creativity and keeping Tommy Bolin’s legacy alive, it’s a tremendous amount of work and labor of love. I wonder how many fans really understand that? On Glen Holly? This whole ‘garage studio’ concept was Phillip’s brainchild and ‘ahead of his time’ he was in seeing it through with the insight to provide a haven for creativity and a sanctuary for Tommy Bolin especially. Phillip was a gentle soul, a classy individual, and an incredibly humorous character. My only regret is that you didn’t get the opportunity to interview him. Phillip did get to realize this first Captured Raw volume from his collection and absolutely loved it. He also loved our little Fox-Simple Songs CD from the Glen Holly recordings. And Tommy Bolin? Who knows what he may have continued to create had he lived longer. I can still hear his voice. I’m also very pleased that Johnnie has kept his brother’s legacy alive. What an incredible gesture of love that is, considering Johnnie has had such a marvelous career of his own. I feel like I was touched by Tommy’s magical personality and talent just being a friend.
Interview ©2014 John Herdt and Tom Nikosey. All rights reserved.
Photos provided by Tom Nikosey. All rights reserved.