Album of the Week 30-2012: Tommy Bolin – Teaser Deluxe

Often criticized during his stint with Deep Purple for not being Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Bolin deservs all possible recognition for his powerful, cross-genre and intuitive guitar playing. He didn’t get most of it until he sadly passed away of drug overdose in 1976. Since this was a decade prior to my birth, I am not able to view this musical injustice in its own time, but Bolin is truly one of my all time favorite guitarists. And though he was a great band guitarist, as evidenced during his stints with Zephyr, Energy, The James Gang and Deep Purple, it’s his solo stuff where he really shone. His debut album ‘Teaser’ in particular. And this collection of alternate versions of the ‘Teaser’ songs is probably even more awesome.

My initial doubt about the necessity this release was quickly blown away by the extended jams on these verions of the songs. One of my favorites, ‘Wild Dogs’, which is slightly under 5 minutes on the original ‘Teaser’ album, here gets an almost 14 minute rendition during which Bolin is simply on fire. It stays exciting all the way through and that is exactly what makes Bolin so good. Both his songs and his playing combine equal parts Funk, Latin and Fusion with slightly larger parts of Rock and Blues into an exciting mix with fantastic songs like the Jazzrock instrumental ‘Homeward Strut’, the exotic Latin Rocker ‘Savannah Woman’ (eat that, Santana!), the Reggae-crossover atmosphere of ‘People People’, the scorching Bluesrock of the title track, the spacey psychedelia of ‘Lotus’ – also treated to a heavily extended jam here – and the aforementioned homesick epic of ‘Wild Dogs’ as as result.

Playing-wise, Bolin was one of a kind. Despite his young age – Bolin was 25 when he died – he had a technique that even in that particular time of guitar heroes, many of his colleagues would kill for, but the true power of his playing lies with how intuitively he plays. His playing is audibly unschooled, but undeniably expert, accounting for an exciting sound which – to these ears – was at the time only rivaled by the already deceased Hendrix and Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel. He shared their genius of combining lead and rhythm guitar in one guitar track. Genuinely American in terms of Rock ‘n’ Roll approach and fiercely funky and rocking in sound.

All the songs of the original ‘Teaser’ album are included here. The booklet doesn’t provide any information as to what these versions are exactly. My thought is that these are either pre-production demos or different takes from the ‘Teaser’ sessions, since the source material is obviously very good. I actually prefer some of these versions to the original ‘Teaser’ versions due to the lack of distracting synths. Greg Hamptons mixes are vibrant and powerful and sound like Tommy Bolin is right there in the room with you (imagine that!). I sometimes find the drum sound a bit too modern – my guess is that he used contemporary compressors – but a lot better than on the ‘Whips And Roses’ compilations. And as a bonus, there’s yet another exciting Jazzrock instrumental called ‘Crazed Fandango’…times two!

So if any of you is still fixed on Blackmore, please get your head out of your ass and realize that ‘Come Taste The Band’ is one of Deep Purple’s best albums and Tommy Bolin was one of the best guitarists ever to have graced this planet. This posthumous release revives him once again. It’s almost impossible not to wonder what could have been, but as long as his music is still alive, that is enough to keep his spirit remembered.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wild Dogs’, ‘Dreamer’, ‘Teaser’, ‘Homeward Strut’

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