They came from Cleveland, which is enough to give them some rock cred, and they featured one of rock’s great guitar players in Joe Walsh, but I didn’t pay much attention to The James Gang until my friend Tommy Bolin joined the group in 1974. What the band had lost in grittness when Walsh left the group was made up for in a more metallic and glammy approach with Bolin on guitar and Roy Kenner (with grooming tips from Bolin) on vocals.
At the time of this performance on Rock Concert, the center wasn’t holding for The James Gang. Line-up changes had taken its toll (the only original member left was drummer Jimmy Fox), the group had lost its identity and Bolin wasn’t patient enough to stick around and re-invent the band in his own image. Deep Purple was calling.
The James Gang on Rock Concert in 1974. You got to agree that Bolin was one cool motherfucker (even though the cameraman seems to have a thing for Kenner).
Yesterday (August 1) was Tommy Bolin’s birthday and I had intended to post this video then…but it slipped through the net. My bad. Anyway, better late than never.
Here’s a promotional video for Zephyr, Bolin’s band in Boulder, Colorado during the late 1960s/early 70s. You can’t imagine how fucking radical Zephyr were at a time and place in which everybody was on a perpetual rocky mountain high and grooving to easy listening music for hippies like Poco, Firefall and John Denver. Loud, badass and dangerous, Zephyr was the first genuine hard rock band to originate in Boulder. Mine was the second. But Zephyr flamed-out as quickly as they hit the scene, leaving very little behind other than a couple of impressive albums (Zephyr and Going Back to Colorado) and some shitty looking videos.
I knew Tommy when we both lived in Boulder. We were the same age, musicians, freaks, and shared similar vices. In a town dominated by well-to-do backpackers in hiking boots, students and ski bums, we were the only ones wearing platform shoes and dyeing our hair in pinks and blues. Even in a city known for being somewhat open-minded, we managed to shock and appall the locals. It was Bolin that inspired me to purchase a pair of leopard print high heeled boots. I wore them in a video for my band The Nails, 15 years after first buying them.
I remember visiting Tommy at a suburban ranch house in a very unhip part of Boulder. It was the only time I spent with him alone. The house was as dark as a vampire’s nest, heavy drapes covered the windows and the hum of Bolin’s amplifier penetrated the heavy air with a pentode om. He came to the door wearing a black silk robe. He was as pale and ethereal as a ghost. I laid out a few lines of Peruvian flake and hung out while the shit kicked in. He nodded his head approvingly and we did a half dozen more hits. The coke was pure and smooth and we felt young and unstoppable… at least I did. Tommy, though, had this haunted quality about him that made him seem much older than he was. He was barely in his twenties, but he could appear ancient, a being of multiple incarnations. If, as the brujo Don Juan claims, death is astride our left shoulder at all times, than Bolin was wearing his mortality like a swashbuckling pirate wears a majestic parrot. It wasn’t hard to miss.
When Tommy died in 1976 I wasn’t surprised. Deeply sad but not surprised. I try to imagine what he would be like as an old man, but I already know. Like I said, he was ancient.
Candy Givens - vocal
David Givens - bass
John Faris - keyboards
Robbie Chamberlain - drums
Tommy Bolin - guitar