Largely forgotten today, Tommy Bolin is arguably one of the greatest blues-rock guitarists of his generation, who had the technical ability of a Hendrix and Jeff Beck all rolled into one. In his late teens he opened for Led Zeppelin, with the band Zephyr, before forming a jazz-rock group called Energy, after which he eventually went on to record with Billy Cobham in 1973 on the drummer’s debut LP Spectrum, as well as performing with numerous other jazz-fusion outfits around the same time. After two albums with The James Gang (Joe Walsh having decided to depart for a solo career), the time had come for Bolin to do his own record. Brought into the sessions were no less than two different bassists and four separate drummers. Phil Collins played only percussion, strangely enough, but saxophonist David Sanborn was also enlisted, along with Tommy’s old sparring partner and synthesizer wunderkind Jan Hammer. Released in 1975, Teaser was Bolin’s first and finest solo release, and one which saw the guitarist infuse everything he had learnt and had been exploring over the previous few years, all performed in a dizzying display of styles.
The LP starts off with the “The Grind”, a thumping up-beat glam-rocker which Bolin must have imagined as a potential single. It’s certainly memorable, although this is due more to the quality of the musicianship than the actual tune itself. Not so “Homeward Strut”, where Bolin seems to be in his own natural element, namely jazz-fusion. Very much a funk driven composition, one gets the feeling that quite a bit of jamming must of taken place before they finally nailed down the version we have here. “Dreamer” is a plaintive rock-ballad, with reflective lyrics and some soaring guitar courtesy of the maestro himself. As a note of interest Glenn Hughes (of Deep Purple) sings the last lead vocals taking the song out to its climactic conclusion. And what can one say about “Savannah Woman”, which was for some reason ignored by radio, even though it had hit written all over it. A very classy piece and one which was perhaps a touch too sophisticated for the masses.
The title song which launches side two (in old speak) is obviously another attempt by Bolin to write something that would please the FM crowd. But on closer inspection, if you listen to the instrumentation, there’s something a little more intelligent going on. The mid-section is especially striking, due mainly to the multiple guitar overdubs and sound effects coming out of his instrument, which proves that there was potentially no limit to what he could play. On “People, People” we hang out in Jamaica, where David Sanborn steals the show, with a sax solo that simply dominates over all the other players, and remains for me the one reason this song succeeds. On “Marching Powder” Bolin sounds as if he was attempting to write his very own classic riff in the vein of Jimi Hendrix, a sort of hybrid of “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze”, but by the one minute mark that’s about where it ends, because now we’re back into jazz-fusion territory, and the band are on fire. After about a minute and a half, Hammer and Bolin lock in together to provide the listener with an extraordinary workout of virtuosic proportion that defies belief, and one which unfortunately ends all too soon. “Wild Dogs” is a thoughtful and reflective country-rocker, where Bolin laments about life on the road touring, where all he can hear are “wild dogs howling in the night”. His guitar certainly reflects that image, and after three minutes, he takes off on a multiple six-string attack which might have made even Hendrix stand up in his grave. The album ends on another philosophical note with “Lotus”, a song which alternates effortlessly between languor and hard-rock pugilism. Unfortunately it fades out just as it begins to get interesting, as if the listener is being robbed of hearing the most exciting part of the composition.
Teaser was a triumph musically speaking, but obviously didn’t speak well enough to the crowds. Whether that was due to lack of effective promotion, or general indifference on the part of the public, is difficult to say. Certainly Bolin agreeing to go on tour with Deep Purple that same year probably didn’t help. What can be said is that Bolin had achieved something great, and had he lived beyond his twenty-five years, and not had his plectrum in too many pies, he might well have found the sort of mass recognition which he deserved. That is if he hadn’t of also entertained such a proclivity for heroin and barbiturates, which not only took his life, but also stole from the music world an unusual and astonishing talent, I dare say shall never be repeated.