Spirit of the Music ~ Tommy Bolin

“It was an honor and a privilege to play drums with one of the greatest guitar players and songwriters on the planet.” This quote from respected Sioux Falls drummer Bobby Berge encapsulates how many musicians and fans remember Tommy Bolin.

Tommy was born in Sioux City, IA, on August 1, 1951. He loved rock and roll as a young boy, idolizing Elvis Presley. Bolin got his first guitar at the age of 10, and soon was organizing his own band. He and other pre-teen musicians used to attend Velaires rehearsals. His Patch of Blue band played frequently at the Broadway Ballroom in Centerville, and he appeared several times with the Vermillion-based Chateaux, led by Bob Ellison. Tommy even played organ with the group at the Varsity Pub as a 14-year-old. He is said to have appeared on guitar on “Reference Man,” released by the Chateaux.

This restless, precocious young man grew tired of the local rock scene. As a 10th grader Tommy was expelled from school because his hair was deemed too long. After getting it cut once, he was sent back home for not having enough trimmed off. With his parents’ blessing, 15-year-old Tommy hitch-hiked to Denver to find fame. His brother, Johnnie, refers to the event: “To let a kid hitch to Denver, it’s not like they didn’t care. They knew that it was what Tommy had to do.”

Soon after arriving in Denver, he met singer Jeff Cook and joined Crosstown Bus. Cook said, “Tommy was very humble about his gift, and he never made any of us feel that we weren’t as good as he was. We grew and became better players and better people.” In 1968, Tommy joined Zephyr, but his love for jazz caused problems with the rest of the group. Tommy and Bobby Berge left to form Energy. Headquartered in Boulder, Energy was one of the first jazz-fusion bands. They backed John Lee Hooker, Albert King, and Chuck Berry.

Tommy discovered glam rock. He wore flashy clothes designed by his girlfriend, Karen Ulibarri. His hair was multi-colored and he wore leopard skin platform boots. Tragically, this era started Bolin’s attraction to hard drugs.

Drummer Billy Cobham visited Tommy’s apartment to ask him to play guitar on his “Spectrum” album. That led to the James Gang asking him to replace Joe Walsh when Walsh left the group. Albums in 1973, “Bang,” and 1974, “Miami,” featured Tommy’s guitar virtuosity.

Jazz-fusion drummer Alphonse Mouzon asked Bolin to play on his 1975 album, “Mind Transplant.” That led to an invitation from Deep Purple to join them. He recorded “Come Taste the Band” with Deep Purple, and was able to finish his only solo album, “Teaser,” that year. He had begun work on a second solo disc, “Private Eyes,” but that was cut short by his tragic premature death in Miami from a drug overdose. Tommy Bolin, a guitar legend whom Jimi Hendrix’s manager referred to as the next Hendrix, was gone.


2017Spirit of the Music Award