"When they said they wanted him, he couldn't get out of it," Brown says. Soon Bolin was leading an artistic double life, recording most of his solo album Teaser in Los Angeles, then flying to Germany to record Purple's Come Taste the Band. Despite the schizophrenic schedule, Bolin managed to write or co-write most of the material on the Purple LP as well as his own. And in return, Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes sang the last two lines on Teaser's moving "Dreamer," which had been written by Jeff Cook--and were out of Bolin's range.
"It started as an obligation, but we enjoyed it, being able to run to London to mix Teaser and then to Germany to do Come Taste the Band," Brown says.
Being part of Deep Purple gave Bolin the headiest taste yet of rock-and-roll stardom. "Nobody ever paid a dime for drinks or drugs, and we met some crazy ladies," Brown recalls. During the recording sessions in Germany, the musicians regularly sniffed heroin. Brown says he remembers a shipment of cocaine mailed to the band from the U.S. in a hollowed-out book.
"We experimented a lot in those years," Brown adds. "In the beginning we had ground rules: no needles and no junk." But those rules went by the wayside. By the time he joined Deep Purple, Bolin was occasionally injecting drugs even though he was afraid of needles, Brown says. "He was very secretive about that. Sometimes it was speed, sometimes coke."
And sometimes it was heroin.
When Deep Purple took off on a world tour late in '75, Bolin was having the wildest time of his life. But the trip was plagued by technical difficulties and bad publicity. During a stay in Jakarta, a roadie was killed when he fell into an elevator shaft. The tour was so out of control that Brown abandoned his post as Bolin's personal guitar tech/bodyguard and returned to Colorado, "When I left it was because things were crazy, and I couldn't handle it." Brown says. "The person I saw scared me to death. This guy was tired of his own company - the only thing he heard was 'wild dogs' (the title of a haunting song from Teaser)."
When Bolin finally came off the road and returned to California, the two friends were estranged. "I was still in Colorado, and Tommy got a new guitar man," Brown says. "I didn't even know this guy."
In the spring of '76, Brown was convinced to rejoin Bolin for part of the tour promoting Teaser, which had been released about the same time as the Deep Purple album.
But he soon quit again, citing Bolin's increasingly wild lifestyle. "We worked together but I never felt we were best friends anymore," Brown says. "This guy definitely had gone Hollywood on us. He'd lost that charm where when he touched his guitar you forgot everything bad you ever thought about him. He was believing his own press."
IN THE SPRING of '76, the Tommy Bolin Band entered the studio to record Bolin's second album. Joining him were his old friends Bobby Berge from Energy and Zephyr, as well as ex-Vanilla Fudge keyboardist Mark Stein, bassist Reggie McBride and saxophone player Norma Jean Bell. Throughout the year, Bolin played with variations of the group with Bell the only constant player.
He also broke up with his girlfriend of almost ten years, who hooked up with Bolin's friend from Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes. Friends and bandmembers all say Bolin was very upset over the breakup, although he'd had screaming overseas phone arguments with Ulibarri while he was touring with Deep Purple.
Bolin briefly dated Exorcist star Linda Blair, for whom he wrote the propulsive "Shake the Devil" on Private Eyes. By summer, though, he had a relationship going with Valoria Monzeglio, a Swiss woman he'd met on the road.
Despite his personal problems and increasing use of drugs, Bolin could still play with amazing fire. In May, the Tommy Bolin Band made a triumphant return to Denver with a performance that's now legendary. The concert was at Ebbet's Field, a tiny downtown Denver club owned by Chuck Morris and booked by Barry Fey. That night, Bolin was backed by Bell, who'd played with Frank Zappa and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Stein, McBride and drummer Narada Michael Walden, who had replaced Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. The music was impeccable, unbelievably kinetic. Even when Stein sang lead for two of his own songs and Walden offered an extended drum solo (he left Bolin soon after to record his debut solo album and is now an acclaimed producer), the set didn't skip a beat.
"I'd played with some of the best guitar players in the world, but I liked Bolin best," says Bell, who's now recording an album with her own Detroit-based band. "He could go from rock and roll to jazz to blues to funk, and he had a wonderful tone, his own distinctive sound. He didn't read music at all, but he had wonderful ears.
"Tommy used to play with great speed and articulation; he could play mellow, but he could also play some really, really fast riffs. And unlike most rock musicians, he could play out - outside the chords for jazz improvisations."
That night at Ebbet's was one of the best shows she ever played with Bolin. "We held hands and meditated ahead of time," Bell says. "We did that kind of stuff a lot with Narada in the band. We felt so happy."
But unhappy times lay just ahead. The group continued touring, and the personnel kept changing. At one point Bolin's brother, Johnnie (who now plays with Black Oak Arkansas), sat in on drums. During the summer, the Bolin Band opened at Mile High Stadium for Gary Wright, Steve Miller and Peter Frampton. It was the first gig for a new bass player, Jimmy Haslip, who remained with the group until Bolin's death. "It was a young, hungry band," Haslip says. "We were into playing music. Tommy liked that about the band - we weren't polished veterans, and we had a raw attitude."
The keyboard player during the last months was Max Groenthal, who'd been with Energy several years before. "We literally bumped into each other on a corner in L.A., and Bolin asked me to play with him," Groenthal says. That fall, Johnnie Bolin was replaced by Mark Craney, an associate of Groenthal's.
By now, Groenthal recalls, "Tommy had lost the thrust for music. He was only looking for the next high. It was apparent he was killing himself. People were bailing on Tommy because they were scared. He had gone past his peak and his control, and he was caught up in a big thing: drugs."
The drugs had their effect on Bolin. "'There were times when it was not cool on stage where he'd lose track of the progression and look down and go, 'Where's one?'" Groenthal says.
Bell remembers otherwise, insisting Bolin could play "high or sober."
Bolin had been playing hard all summer and into the fall when the band finally took two weeks off in late November. The final performance before the break was a welcome-home concert in Sioux City, where the Bolin family celebrated the return of its most famous prodigal son with Mid-Western feasts for the entire entourage. After the celebrations, the musicians flew to their respective homes for Thanksgiving; they'd regroup in Miami for their first date as the opening act for Jeff Beck. Bolin spent the rest of November in Iowa.
That Thanksgiving was "a whole lot of being with the family, a whole lot of playing and a whole lot of partying," recalls Rick Bolin, Tommy's younger brother who was eighteen at the time. "I was in a party stage; we'd go to the local clubs and have fun with the bands on stage." When Bolin wasn't sitting in with amazed and delighted Sioux City bar bands, he spent time with his family.
"On Turkey day, Tommy picked up a stupid old guitar and played songs my dad liked," Rick recalls. The family circled around Tommy as he picked out a note-perfect rendition of the Carter Family's "Wildwood Flower", with other Bolins joining in on spoons and harmonica. "We were always tight - he loved coming here," Rick says.
But he was also ready to go back on the road. Tommy Bolin flew to Miami several days earlier than the rest of his band was scheduled to arrive. Before he left, he autographed a photo for his parents: "To my Mom and Dad who gave me the faith to at least try to make it. And I will 4 your sake I love you both so very much. Please don't forget it."
"I think even he knew he wasn't coming back," Rick says now. "I said 'What're you doing?' and when he told me, I said, 'That's cool, just don't leave me out, you dog.'"
So his brother added this postscript to the photo: "Johnnie and Ricky, no one had better brothers. I am proud and very lucky 4 the family of mine. So lucky"
"When he split for the airport, I said, 'If I don't see you no more in this world I'll see you in the next and don't be late,'" Rick says. "He said, 'Ricky I'm never late.' I knew he was never coming back."
MIAMI'S NO PLACE for a drug-using musician to try to clean up his act.
A rock star on the rise attracts hangers-on happy to supply anything he needs, especially free drugs - and especially in Miami.
Bandmembers Jimmy Haslip and Mark Craney, both strict vegetarians, didn't use drugs - "We were addicted to these things called 'Guru Chews'," Haslip says. They'd convinced Bolin to start taking health supplements and eat ginseng. "He thought there was something to it," says Haslip, who's now the bassist for the Yellowjackets, a pop-fusion group. "He was making some sort of effort to stay straight."
Bolin started telling acquaintances he was going to take care of himself. At an October dinner with Barry and Cindy Fey and other friends, he discussed the virtues of ginseng. "He seemed terrific to me; he talked about taking ginseng and feeling really good," says Allan Roth, who manages local nightclub Herman's Hideaway.
"Two weeks before he died, Tommy came by the office and he seemed great," says Chuck Morris, who had joined forces with Feyline, Fey's concert-promotion company. "He was taking vitamins, and seemed really together."
It didn't last long.
When Haslip arrived in Miami, Bolin took him aside. "Tommy confessed to me he had got some blow and did some drinking. He apologized," Haslip says. "He wanted to do it but at that point, he knew he had a problem."
By now, Bolin's wild excesses were common knowledge. "The industry was rampant with rumors that he was a problem," Fey says. "I guess it reflected on me, but I didn't give a fuck. Everybody got disenchanted with Tommy, and at that time we were trying to turn it around, just to get him out of there to play. I was the last to find out; I never saw anything erratic or unusual for a long time, and he swore to me he didn't do anything."
Fey finally realized the extent of Bolin's problem when "Tommy almost fell off the stage at the Bottom Line in New York," he says. Bolin had just switched labels from Nemperor to CBS, and the audience that night was packed with company executives.
"I was very disheartened," Fey says. "He said he was real uptight about being in New York, and he was sorry. He always had an explanation."
When Bolin signed on for the Beck tour, the band's road manager expressed concern about the opening date. "He said we have to go to Miami, and that's a dangerous place for Tommy to go by himself," Fey recalls. So Fey sent L.C. Clayton, a Feyline security guard, to travel with the band. "L.C. volunteered to go down there," Fey says. "Not to be a bodyguard, you know, but to keep Tommy out of trouble."
Clayton was no stranger to trouble himself: He'd been arrested for possession of narcotics in the early Seventies. Associates say he used and gave out drugs, and even arrived in Florida carrying a case full of prescription pills.
Fey says he was unaware of Clayton's record. Westword was unable to reach Clayton, who reportedly lives in Denver.
Clayton flew to Miami on December 3, on the same flight as Dave Brown. Brown had received a call the day before from Bolin, who'd begged him to take care of the guitar equipment for this important tour "just like I used to," Brown remembers. "And he said, I already have somebody else who'll take care of me.'"
When members of the entourage arrived in Miami, they discovered Bolin had been on a several-day partying binge. "At the coffeeshop, someone asked me if I was with someone's band, because the guy had passed out there the night before," Brown says.
BUT BOLIN made it all right through the opening act. After watching Jeff Beck's band play part of it's set, Bolin headed back to the Newport Resort Hotel in north Miami, where his band was staying. Dade County police reports contains many conflicting recollections of that night, but everyone there agreed on one point: Bolin was ready to party.
"Tommy wasn't even that high on stage." says Bell. "But after, he had a fifth of Scotch at the bar, and that was just the start. Then we did a little bit of cocaine, and then....He was saying he was trying to eat better and do better; he was probably trying to do better.
"It was an accident that night; he wasn't ready to check out, but Tommy probably just sniffed up everything in the place and then said, 'Oh, I forgot I was supposed to share this,'" she adds.
"In the dressing room after the concert there was a lot of drinking going on," Haslip says. "A lot of people there I could tell were leeches". The last time he saw Bolin alive was about ten o'clock, when the guitarist was in his room. Haslip says, "I made a brief appearance, I didn't stay very long. There must have been two dozen people there. Tommy was high, but he was fine. He was drinking champagne out of the bottle. He didn't look any more outrageous than he did any other time." Haslip left and went to his own room, where he practiced on his bass and went to sleep.
According to the police report, at one point Bolin's party moved to Clayton's room, where Brown says he purchased some cocaine from a man he didn't know, but remembers as "Art." "He had three kinds of junk (heroin) and six kinds coke," Brown recalls.
It was a typical Seventies rock-and-roll scene, drugs and drinking everywhere. Art had arrived with a childhood friend of Bolin's, Phillip Tolimeni, who passed cocaine and a rolled-up five-dollar bill around the room.
Fey told police he had met Tolimeni several times. Tolimeni told the promoter he could "get Tommy anything that he wanted [and] to make sure that he did not get anything that wasn't good." Mr. Fey wasn't sure what was meant by Mr. Tolimeni but thought that he was referring to narcotics, one report states.
Sometime after midnight; Tolimeni, Art and Bolin went into the bathroom for a few minutes to discuss an investment in a limo service; Clayton went to the door and told Tolimeni not to give Bolin any heroin, according to police reports. Then the threesome headed for 902, Bolin's room, to discuss business in private.
About twenty minutes later, Tolimeni came back to Clayton's room looking for papers concerning the limo service. When he couldn't find them, he returned to Bolin's room. Valoria Monzeglio, Bolin's new girlfriend, went with him. Bolin passed out in his room at about three in the morning, while he was on the phone. Monzeglio went to Clayton's room and asked Jeff Ocheltree, one of the band's roadies for help. Clayton followed and found Bolin kneeling in the bathtub, the water running. Bolin's potential business partners couldn't agree on whether Bolin had shot any heroin, but they said he might have snorted five or six lines of heroin by himself. The autopsy noted four recent needle marks on his left arm, but no tracks indicating longterm addiction.
Since Bolin's breathing was shallow, Clayton gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Then he and Ocheltree undressed Bolin and laid him in bed. When Bolin defecated, the sheets were stripped and tossed outside; Bolin's body was wiped clean, then covered to the waist with a clean sheet.
When Dave Brown arrived a few minutes later, he called the hotel's physician. An answering service forwarded the message to a doctor on call; he phoned room 902 and spoke with Brown. After hearing Brown's description of Bolin's state (Brown left out most of the drugs, and told the doctor only that Bolin had consumed alcohol and valium), the physician recommended Bolin immediately be taken to a hospital.
Then some color returned to Bolin's face, and he mumbled a greeting to Clayton. Tolimeni and Art left. They were never contacted by Miami police.
Brown debated, then decided against calling an ambulance. The adverse publicity might hurt Bolin right when he was poised for stardom. "He played really well, this was the first night of the tour - did we want a big cloud of ugliness? In seven or eight years I had seen him pass out fifty times. How did I know this wasn't fifty-one?," Brown asks. "Yeah, I should have called an ambulance. God, I'd like to make that phone call again."
Bolin seemed stable when Brown left and went to his own room. Clayton massaged Bolin to keep his circulation going, then also left. Over the next few hours, Monzeglio watched Bolin slowly suffocate. She finally called an ambulance at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, December 4, when she saw mucus oozing out of Bolin's nose. Tommy had stopped breathing.
He was pronounced dead on the scene.
BARRY FEY'S PHONE rang around 6 a.m., Denver time. The road manager called me and said, "Tommy's gone." I said, "Well, can you find him?" He said, "No, Tommy passed away." "I started crying," Fey says.
Over the years, rumors have cropped up that Fey was somehow involved in Bolin's death. He denies them all. "People really say those things? Fuck them, cocksuckers," Fey says.
Any dispute over Bolin had nothing to do with music, but with money. Long after Tommy's death, Rick Bolin says, the family received notices from Columbia Records saying, "You owe this amount, you owe that amount."
Columbia executives declined to comment on Bolin's financial arrangements.
"Bolin was always asking for money," Fey says, "$3,000, $4,000 at a time, and I just couldn't tell him no. He used to say, 'Barry, I'm gonna make it, I'm gonna make it.' It was never a question of if, it was when."
Many of Bolin's friends remember Fey giving the musician money, even during the lean year of 1974 when Feyline almost went bankrupt. "Tommy loved to have a good time and he also loved to spend money. He thought he was a star and he should be treated that way," says Chuck Morris. "Barry loaned him a lot - Tommy was one of the few people who could get anything he wanted from Barry."
By the time Bolin died, Fey estimates Feyline had advanced him over $400,000 for expenses and to purchase a lavish home in Los Angeles. That's why the company was named as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy it had taken out the previous year at Bolin's insistence, Fey says. In the event of his death, Bolin asked Fey to give any money that was left over to his parents. There wasn't any.
"What we think and what happened could be two different things," says Barbara Bolin, who remembers an insurance company checking Tommy's family history the year before he died. "Tommy called me from L.A. once and said, "Barry Fey is here, thank him for taking care of everything if something happens to me." She won't comment on her late son's business affairs, except to say, "It's a sad thing, but it would have taken lots and lots of money to pursue it."
Rick Bolin says the family only saw one royalty payment after his brother's death. But that may change with Geffen's new release. According to Jeff Cook, who's been in contact with the label, "Geffen has gone to great lengths to make sure the family gets a share of the money."
Geffen didn't contact Fey regarding the retrospective, although the company collected remembrances and photos from many other Bolin acquaintances. Now, memories and music are the only things left of Tommy Bolin.
"He was one of the first guys doing fusion, a rock-and-roll guy playing jazz," says Chuck Morris. "Hey, we were all out of control in those days. I didn't remember him being any more desperate than anyone else I hung out with - including myself. I got high with him all the time; I'm just lucky I didn't die."
"I remember when he was in Deep Purple, and we saw him, he was real fucked up," says David Givens. "He was real serious. When we walked away, Candy turned to me and said, "Man, he's going to be dead within a year." Bolin lasted another two years; Candy herself died a decade later.
"We're very close to attaining an incredible success in the music industry," says Jeff Cook. "It stopped me dead in my tracks." After Bolin died, he quit playing in bands and entered the record-company end of the business. "To me, he was a very curious person, but not a very good judge of character. When he hung out, he fell in with the wrong people."
Bolin's death has haunted Dave Brown for thirteen years. "I was working for a friend at first, but then I knew that I was working for someone who had something," he says. That something was what brought him to Miami for Bolin's last concert. That something, Brown says, was talent: "That's why I stayed - there were shows I had tears in my eyes after, just because of the way he played."
END "Shooting Star: The Rise and Fall of Tommy Bolin"
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