Tommy Bolin, the guitarist who replaced Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple. Ok, that’s got the obvious out of the way, but of course there was a reason he was offered the job in the first place, and many more sides to this gifted guitar slinger. From his early days in Zephyr, through his stellar performances on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum album to his work with the James Gang, he proved in a few short years what a great talent he was, and how varied his musical repertoire. In all his various bands, he played with the unique tone and personality which made him so recognisable.
It’s debatable whether joining Purple was a good career move, but his playing on the one studio album they made together speaks for itself. Come Taste The Band is less a Purple album, and more a Tommy Bolin and Glenn Hughes album. And then of course there was his all too brief solo career. Just two albums before his untimely death, the first, Teaser finished about the same time as Come Taste The Band, and so eclipsed by it. The second was Private Eyes, recorded just months before his demise in 1976, and was almost, but not quite as good as Teaser. This newly released collection comprises demos and alternative versions of songs from that final album.
If you are a fan of Tommy, you will already have Private Eyes, so the question is, do you need this album? The answer to that depends on how big a fan you are, because I have to say that this will only appeal to hardcore fans and nobody else. Even hardcore fans might feel a twinge of disappointment at how similar some of the versions included here are to the album versions, but there are moments which perhaps make this a worthwhile release. For instance, Hello Again is basically the same song but without the strings of the album version, and is arguably the better for that. Elsewhere, there is an instrumental jam (Tommy’s Instrumental) which is quite interesting, and an acoustic demo of Gypsy Soul played slowly by Bolin alone which is very different.
Many tracks, though, are very similar to the original versions. Shake the Devil is slightly raw without the production sheen, but otherwise much the same, and Bustin’ Out For Rosey has a different mix accentuating Bolin’s guitar on the main guitar break, but is missing Tommy’s overdubs leading to the fade, which is a big miss. Similarly Gypsy Soul seems to have the same acoustic guitar solo although the overall feel is warmer than the produced version. There is also the rather misleadingly labelled Post Toastee which is billed as an acoustic demo, but it’s played on an electric. Worse, there is none of the instrumental section which made the original so interesting, it is just the basic head of the song played by Tommy alone. So you get the idea, it could be a fun game for Bolin nuts to ‘spot the difference’ or argue over whether the studio sheen is better, or the rougher but more ‘in your face’ renditions presented on Shake the Devil, but for anyone with only a passing interest in the Tommy Bolin phenomenon, you need not bother with this. If you want to check out one of the best guitarists taken way too soon, you’d be better off trying Billy Cobham’s Spectrum, James Gang’s Bang, the aforementioned Come Taste The Band or the original solo albums, either of which are great. If you get hooked and want to look further, then by all means this may then be for you, but approach with caution. What would have made this a really worthwhile release would have been coupling this disc with a remaster of the original Private Eyes. Had that been the case, I could have wholeheartedly recommended it, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. I wonder if the masters have been mislaid? I think we should be told.
01. Shake the Devil (alternate mix) (3:53)
02. Bustin’ Out For Rosey (alternate version) (3:48)
03. Hello Again (outtake, no strings) (3:35)
04. Gypsy Soul #1 (outtake) (4:52)
05. Sweet Burgundy (alternate version) (3:31)
06. Someday Will Bring Our Love Home (instrumental demo) (3:14)
07. You Told Me That You Loved Me (instrumental demo) (5:45)
08. Post Toastee (acoustic demo) (3:04)
09. Tommy’s Instrumental (outtake) (5:09)
10. Gypsy Soul (acoustic demo) (2:37)
11. Gypsy Soul (rehearsal demo) (3:15)
12. Someday Will Bring Our Love Home (instrumental demo) (3:49)
Total Time – 46:32
Tommy Bolin – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Mark Stein – Keyboards, Vocals
Norma Jean Bell – Saxophone, Percussion, Vocals
Reggie McBride – Bass, Vocals
Bobby Berge – Drums & Percussion
Bobbye Hall – Percussion
Record Label: Cleopatra Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 12th February 2021