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Remembering Tommy Bolin

Tommy Bolin
(Tommy Bolin.com)

I admit it, when I first moved to Sioux Falls in 1996, I knew very little about Tommy Bolin. He didn’t get the press of predecessors like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page or contemporaries like Joe Walsh, Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore, but once I started digging a little bit, I grew to admire a young man who had already been gone 20 years before I’d heard his music.

You can’t live in this area very long without someone bringing Bolin’s name up. He was born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1951 and formed several bands around the area before moving to Denver in his late teens to start his career. He formed a band called Zephyr that opened for some of the biggest bands in the world including Led Zeppelin.

In 1972 at just 20 years old, he formed a jazz fusion rock blues band with legend Jan Hammer. In 1973, he joined the James Gang, replacing Dominic Troiano who had replaced Joe Walsh. Bolin stayed for two albums before leaving to record a solo album which included noted session musicians like David Foster, David Sanborn, Jan Hammer, Phil Collins, and Glenn Hughes.

During the recording, he was called to replace Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple and recorded ‘Taste The Band’ with them while touring the world. He also released his debut solo record ‘Teaser’.

After Deep Purple broke up in ’76, he was back on the road with his solo band and recorded his final solo album ‘Private Eyes’.

His last show, December 3, 1976, Bolin opened for Peter Frampton and Jeff Beck. In the early morning hours of December 4, 1976, Bolin died of a drug overdose and is buried in the Calvary Cemetary in Sioux City.

I don’t know about you, but I look at all the people he played with, the world tours, the fact that he was asked to replace Walsh and Blackmore, did two solo records, and on and on and on…and he was just 25 when he died.

He was well on his way to being talked about in the same breath as some of the legends of rock, but was cut down in his prime.

I’m not going to preach about the ‘evils of drugs and drink’ since I know it was the era, the lifestyle, and everything else that goes along with rock and roll. How many ‘Behind The Music’ episodes have you watched that told the same story, except they survived and went on to have huge careers. Knowing what I know now about Tommy Bolin, I just wish he would have been one of those stories to see the other side.

Every year in Sioux City around his birthday (August 1) there is an annual BolinFest with musicians from Chris Duarte and Black Oak Arkansas to former bandmates like Bobby Berge, and Tommy’s brother Johnnie Bolin, to celebrate the life and music of the local legend that was cut short. Gone, but never forgotten.

The Chesterfield in Sioux City will also host a Bolin rememberance party this Saturday night featuring the Gypsy Souls (Johnnie Bolin, Bobby Berge, Jesse Christen, John Bartle, Sam Irish, Sam Irish Jr., Dave Napier and Terry Brooks) with Special Guests ShowBaby. Just a $3 cover!

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