Tommy Bolin was a blistering guitar player who had mastered everything from '70s boogie rock to jazz fusion with real grace. He was an up and comer with a reputation and a personality, and he looked like a rock 'n' roll star, a chick magnet with feathers in his hair. He was an easy fit for sessions or band scenarios.
(His ear-bending work on drummer Billy Cobham's '73 album Spectrum was appreciated by his peers and fans of fusion.)
Quick backstory: Bolin moved from Sioux City, Iowa to Boulder, Colo. in his teens. He pieced together a pretty spectacular bar band called Zephyr that signed to a major label and with him put out two albums, both collectable now. In a seemingly odd pairing, James Gang hired Bolin (post Joe Walsh) and he appeared on their last two albums, which are underrated and both worth seeking out. Bang came in '73, and featured FM staples "Must Be Love" and Bolin's "Alexis." Miami came the next year. Bolin's strong-yet-tasteful playing and songwriting boosted the band and those albums.
He soon quit the James Gang and signed a solo deal with Nemperor records. His debut, Teaser, showcased him as a guitar hero with soulful range and heady songwriting chops. With help from his muso pals David Sanborn and Jan Hammer, among others, the album captured a funky, edgy sound. It really found him rising above the fray of the typical guitarist-for-hire who couldn't write music that moved people. It showed Bolin to be much more than some youthful virtuoso who traded in notes and riffs instead ideas and soul. A true Teaser diamondis its opener "People People," a reggae-tinged welcome to the listener. It's filled with musical intricacies and simple touching lyrics that are natural and rhythmic. A muscular saxophone wails inside the mix and drums and percussion clash about the chorus. Bolin croons and scats between the beat and his confidence is infectious. Teaser is Bolin's high-water mark, still sounds tough today.
He'd also join Deep Purple to fill Ritchie Blackmore's shoes—a feather in his cap he couldn't refuse because for whatever reason guitar slingers had to prove themselves a cut way above the rest.
He'd last one album with the Purple (the underwhelming Come Taste the Band). He regrouped to record his second and final album, Private Eyes, which featured the mighty "Poast Toastee" and other FM-radio staples. Sadly Tommy Bolin died in '76 of a drug overdose as he was fighting to hone his craft and stay alive.
Tommy Bolin remains a studied player not only because he was frighteningly good at a tender age, but also because he was a total original.