TOMMY BOLIN (1951–76). One of the greatest losses of the 1970s was the passing of guitarist Tommy Bolin, not so much due to what he had accomplished in his musical career, so much as what it seemed he was about to accomplish.
Beginning his career with the band Zephyr in the early seventies, the young, charismatic guitarist began playing fusion as well as rock in the band Energy, and as a result, came to the attention of superstar drummer Billy Cobham (of the Mahavishnu Orchestra), who tapped Bolin to play on his seminal 1973 solo album, Spectrum. Bolin established the beginning of his reputation with the album, tearing it up on tracks like “Red Baron,” “Quadrant Four,” and “Stratus.” The album was an important step in fusion’s bridging of rock and jazz and was a particularly influential work that encouraged Jeff Beck to embark on his own fusion efforts in the early 1970s.
Soon, Bolin found himself replacing Joe Walsh in the James Gang, at the latter’s recommendation. Bolin went on to record a pair of albums with the band, Bang and Miami, in 1973 and 1974, respectively. His next gig was replacing Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, a gig that gave him his greatest visibility. Bolin played on Purple’s Come Taste the Band in 1975 and toured with the group. Unfortunately, it was also at this time that it became apparent that Bolin was dealing with a serious addiction to heavy drugs. But as his longtime girlfriend Karen Ulibarri noted after his death, “The only person who could tell Tommy to cool it was Tommy” (Young).
It was after leaving Purple that expectations for Bolin really began to rise. Having released his outstanding solo debut Teaser in 1975, the album had brilliantly showcased the performer’s breadth and depth with an eclectic collection of inspired performances from Bolin on both guitar and vocals, on songs that ranged from hard rock to reggae and fusion to funk. Bolin had put together a crack band including ex-Frank Zappa saxophonist Norma Jean Bell and was touring in support of his second solo album, Private Eyes. On December 4, 1976, the day after the last night of a tour supporting Jeff Beck, Bolin was found dead of a heroin overdose. The guitarist was 25 years old.
Discography: Teaser (Nemperor, 1975); Private Eyes (Columbia, 1976); Naked, Vol. 2 (Tommy Bolin Archives, 2007); The Ultimate: The Best of Tommy Bolin (Geffen, 1989); Live! (Tommy Bolin Lives, 1994); From the Archives, Vol. 1 (Rhino, 1996); Live at Ebbets Field 1974  (Zebra, 1997); Live at Northern Lights Recording Studios 9/22/76 (Tommy Bolin Archives, 1997); Live at Ebbets Field 1976 (Tommy Bolin Archives, 1997); Bottom Shelf (Tommy Bolin Archives, 1997); From the Archives, Vol. 2 (Zebra, 1998); Come Taste the Man (Tommy Bolin Archives, 1999); Snapshot (Tommy Bolin Archives/ Purple Pyramid, 2000); Energy (Tommy Bolin Archives, 2000); Naked (Tommy Bolin Archives, 2002); Albany, NY 9/20/76 [live] (Tommy Bolin Archives, 2004); Live at the Jet Bar (Tommy Bolin Archives, 2004); Bolin (Lemon, 2004); Whips and Roses (Steamhammer/ SPV, 2006); Whips and Roses II (SPV, 2006); The Glen Holly Jams/After Hours (Tommy Bolin Archives, 2006); The Jet Bar (Tommy Bolin Arcives, 2006); The Bottom Shelf Volume 1 (Tommy Bolin Archives, 2006); Ultimate: Redux (Friday, 2008).