Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tommy Bolin - 1972 [1999] "Energy"

Energy were formed in 1971 in Boulder, Colorado when Tommy Bolin and Bobby Berge left Zephyr. The members in the most well-known lineup were:
Tommy Bolin: guitar
Jeff Cook: vocals, harmonica
Tom Stephenson: keyboards, vocals
Stanley Sheldon: bass
Bobby Berge: drums

Other players included:
Kenny Passarelli: first bassist (quickly left to join Joe Walsh)
Jeremy Steig: flute
Gary Wilson: first vocalist (replaced by Jeff Cook)
Max Gronenthal: keyboards, vocals (replaced Jeff Cook and Tom Stephenson)
Russell Bizzett: drums (after Bobby left, then second drummer after Bobby returned)
Archie Shelby: percussion (intermittent)

Bassist Stanley Sheldon and his cousin keyboardist Tom Stephenson arrived in Boulder, Colorado separately. Sheldon had been playing in a psychedelic blues band in his home town of Ottawa, Kansas. Stephenson was from Kansas City and had been playing in horn bands in the style of Chicago. Tommy Bolin and drummer Bobby Berge were still in Zephyr, but that band’s end was near. Stephenson had not yet met Tommy, but knew people who knew him. Stanley Sheldon had talked to Tommy on the phone in late 1970, introduced by the singer in Sheldon’s band’s singer, but had not yet met him in person.

Sheldon’s band then moved to a house on the beach in the Pacific Palisades in California, supported by a backer. Zephyr were doing their last show opening for Mountain at the Santa Monica Civic Center, and Tommy and Stanley finally met face to face. This resulted in a jam with Stanley, Tommy and a drummer named Frosty from Lee Michaels’ band that Tommy knew. Tommy returned to Colorado, followed shortly by Stanley and his band after the withdrawal of their backer.

Tommy and Bobby were set on forming a jazz-rock fusion band, bolstered by Tommy’s experiences meeting players such as Jeremy Steig and Jan Hammer while Zephyr was recording Going Back to Colorado at Electric Lady Studios in New York City at the same time that Steig was working on his Energy album. Tommy and Tom Stephenson had finally met through Sioux City guitarist John Bartle, who had played with Stephenson in a band in Kansas.

At this point all the players in what would become the band Energy knew each other, but the first order of business for Tommy was to form an instrumental band with Jeremy Steig on flute, Bobby Berge on drums and Denver bassist Kenny Passarelli (who went on to play with Joe Walsh and Elton John). This lineup played some shows in Colorado including a residency at Chuck Morris’ club Tulagi in Boulder. Tommy, Jeremy and Kenny then went to New York City, where Steig’s name had more market power. Shows there included over a week at the Gaslight with Marty Morell on drums, ending on May 24, 1971. The last gig with Steig was played after a week at Slugs, in the East Village, a dangerous place where some of Steig’s friends were mugged on their way to that final show. Passarelli soon took a job offer from Joe Walsh. Passarelli has related that he was made to feel a lot less than comfortable during the period of the NYC shows, the competitive nature of the New York scene was brutal. Though it was short lived, audio from the the band provides some excellent examples of playing from the entire band. The music is very jazzy, but there are plenty of guitar excursions by Tommy that are held in high esteem by Tommy’s rock fans.

Tommy then went back to Colorado and got together with Tom Stephenson on keyboards, Stanley Sheldon on bass and Bobby Berge on drums. They chose the name Energy for the new band, taken from the title of the Jeremy Steig album. It was quickly decided to add a vocalist to enhance the band’s commercial appeal. The first vocalist was Gary Wilson, who can be heard on Energy recordings such as “Red Skies” on the CD Tommy Bolin: From the Archives Vol. 1. Wilson was more into soul and R&B than fusion, however, and was replaced by Jeff Cook, who had sung in American Standard with Tommy.

Manager Barry Fey set them up as backing band for some of the major big blues acts that came to Boulder, mainly at Tulagi but also for some road work. Along with names such as John Lee Hooker, Sugar Cane Harris and Chuck Berry, they played with Albert King, who would have a profound effect on Tommy’s blues chops.

The band took the opportunity to save money when it came to finding places to rehearse. Bobby Berge relates that “Energy used to practice at Garth Weber’s farm, in the chicken coup! It’s funny that later on when I reunited with Zephyr for some shows in 1973 we practiced in a converted chicken coup at a different farm.”

Tommy played a number of different guitars, including the well-worn Fender Stratocaster with the Telecaster neck that he is often identified with. On other equipment, Rob Bagg remembers “I moved Tommy’s equipment for him on occasion during the time he was fronting Energy. I remember he had a Marshall speaker cabinet that had eight 12" speakers in it. What a bear to move. Later I found out that Jim Marshall only made a handful of these cabinets before switching to two 4x12" cabs in his stacks. They were originally sold to Pete Townsend of The Who and Bill Wyman of the Stones.”

Chuck Warriner tells the story of the fabled brown Strat: “I traded that brown 1956 Strat to Tommy in Dave Brown's kitchen at 948 South Vine Street when I first got to Denver and stayed with the Brown brothers until I set up my shop at 1st and Broadway. Dave put the Tele neck on at Tommy's request, and when I saw "Shoepolish" a week or so later I was surprised because an old Tele Neck and an old Strat neck pocket are not compatible."

Tommy also took part in many jam sessions around Colorado during this period. As remembered by Mike Reininger, who first saw Tommy with Energy at Massari Gym in Pueblo around Thanksgiving 1971, “In the early 1970s everybody jammed with everybody. Going out on Sunday night to sit in was a ritual. This is how Tommy met my brother Blaine (of Tuxedo Moon). They were jamming in Manitou Springs on a Sunday night. Tommy just loved to play. I hear stories of him jamming in music stores here in Denver. Trying out guitars all afternoon, drawing a crowd. He hung out at Colfax Music all the time I’m told.”

Michael Drumm, who went on to form the Tommy Bolin Archives with Johnnie Bolin in 1995, had become friends with Tommy while he was in Zephyr. A CU student, Drumm was working The Record Center, a hip record store in Boulder that Tommy visited often. By the time Tommy was in Energy they had become even firmer friends, and Drumm bought a 4-track reel-to-reel tape deck for Tommy to use to to record acoustic songs and demos.

Drumm relates that though Energy was a great band, they were not pulling crowds and making money like Zephyr had. Zephyr had been extremely popular with the adventurous young party crowd, but Energy was more of a players band with a smaller but very intense following.

Energy didn’t release any official albums or singles, but did complete a number of studio recordings, some of which appeared later on Tommy Bolin ArchivesCD releases. The first lineup of the band featuring Steig concentrated on long intense jams, often featuring Steig’s flute more than Tommy’s guitar. The band’s appeal was notably widened after adding a vocalist, beginning with Gary, then Jeff and later Max. The greatest amount of existing live material features Jeff Cook, and shows the band ranging from slow blues to rocking blues to hard rock to marathon fusion jams, often in one performance. Their studio output showed a band that would have made the big time if they had the power of a record deal. Some of the material written by Tommy with John Tesar and Jeff Cook went on to be used by Tommy in later bands. “Got No Time for Trouble” and “Praylude/Red Skies” were used in James Gang, “Lady Luck” with Deep Purple and “Dreamer” was used on Teaser.

Tommy’s appearance was beginning to change, partly with the influence of his girlfriend Karen Ulibarri. She dyed psychedelic colors into his hair and made stage clothes such as a silver lamé suit that he would wear into the James Gang days, and a pair of leopard skin-covered platform shoes. Tommy also pierced his ears and wore the feathered earrings that became his trademark for a while. Tommy was into glitter rock and loved David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, so androgyny becoming an acceptable form of stage presentation.

The lack of getting a record contract resulted in the group’s eventual demise, as they were having trouble making ends meet and becoming frustrated at not being able to move upward. Jeff Cook has related a story about the band being seen by record company representatives at a club on Colfax in Denver. The reps were blown away by the first set and told the band that a recording contract was definite. The reps then left and the band then celebrated by getting wasted during the break, and when they returned to to play they found that the reps had stayed and their second set was haphazard and the reps were turned off.

In the first part of 1973 Max Gronenthal came in on keyboards and vocals to replace Tom Stephenson, who left to join Joe Walsh’s new band Barnstorm, and Jeff Cook who was given his release by the band. Though the band would prove to work well with Max, the end was near. Tommy recorded Spectrum with Billy Cobham in New York City in May, 1973 and started getting national attention immediately, which included some shots at the big time.

After the band split, Tommy went on to join the James Gang as a replacement for the departing Joe Walsh. Tommy and Stanley would hook up again in Boulder after Tommy left the James Gang in August 1974. By the end of December they would also get back together with Bobby Berge in Los Angeles. Jeff Cook would continue to supply Tommy with song lyrics until his passing. In 1975 Tom Stephenson joined Tommy in guesting on the debut album from Moxy.

In spite of the lack of commercial success, the band is held in especially high regard by the band’s members, some considering it the musical highlight of their lives.

By 1972, Tommy Bolin had left Zephyr and was yet to join the James Gang. He had formed a band christened, aptly enough, Energy, but they broke up before releasing any recordings. Yet, time in the studio was spent, resulting in this collection of songs released 27 years after their recording. Some of the songs would be redone with the James Gang ("Red Skies," "Got No Time for Trouble") or solo ("Dreamer") in the next few years, while "Naked Edge" comes from the soundtrack to a mountain-climbing film called Break on Through, but most of the contents of the album see their first release here. The album is mixed: "Heartlight" and "Miss Christmas" are fairly generic hard rock, while "Hok-O-Hey" and "Eyes of Blue" have a very Allman Brothers sound/feel, yet all are elevated by Bolin's guitar playing. The neo-psychedelic "Limits," sung by keyboardist Tom Stephenson, is unlike most of Bolin's other work and the extended instrumental "Naked Edge" furthers this psychedelic jamming. "Sky Sail" is a cinematic piano/guitar duet and is a perfect album closer. In the end, the album works more as a compilation of Energy's various styles than as a cohesive album.

Track Listing:

  1. Red Skies
  2. Heartlight
  3. Hok-O-Hey
  4. Got No Time for Trouble
  5. Limits
  6. Eyes of Blue
  7. Dreamer
  8. Miss Christmas
  9. Naked Edge
  10. Sky Sail


Bass – Stanley Sheldon
Drums – Bobby Berge
Guitar – Tommy Bolin
Keyboards, Vocals – Tom Stephenson
Vocals, Harmonica – Jeff Cook


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