Friday, June 4, 2010

Johnnie Bolin!

Tommy and Johnnie Bolin - Mile High Stadium, Denver
August 29, 1976

I was in Dayton, Ohio two weeks ago doing a workshop, and on what was supposed to be my last night in town (Thursday), I was sitting in a restaurant having dinner. I got a call from Johnnie, and without mentioning where I was, asked him where he was off to next:

"We're playing in Dayton on Saturday."

"Dayton? That's where I am!"

I hadn't crossed paths with Johnnie since the NAMM show in January of 2008, so I hung out for a couple days. And glad I did! It was great to see him, especially looking so healthy and happy. Black Oak Arkansas was playing Dayton's rock & roll club, McGuffy's, so I also got to meet rock icon Jim Dandy and the rest of the band. Too good to pass up. :)

This gives me an opportunity to post a few of my favorite pics of Johnnie, such as the one of him with Tommy when they were little kids. Even then, music was obviously going to be the family occupation. I love the photo of them together (see above) many years later when Johnnie was playing drums in Tommy's band, and performed for over 50,000 people at Denver's Mile High Stadium on August 29, 1976, only a few months before Tommy's death. Also on the bill for this show were Gary Wright, Steve Miller, and Peter Frampton at the height of his fame. You can read more about this period of the Tommy Bolin Band on the Tommy Bolin Archives site. There is some rare surviving footage from the Mile High show, where Johnnie can be seen drumming. (it was shot on silent 8mm film, so the audio has been dubbed from another concert)

Johnnie has played with too many bands to list here, and has been pretty much everywhere. He can really tear it up, as you'll see on the video I shot during the BOA gig the other night. Not great audio, but I wasn't expecting to see him or I would have brought a good camera. Johnnie became a sponsored DDrums artist recently, and soon there will be a page for him on that site.

Besides the colorful musical career Johnnie has lived, he has also endured a lot of personal tragedy, and survived. Tommy's death at age 25 devastated not only the family, but the entire town of Sioux City (the whole state of Iowa, actually), not to mention legions of music fans. Johnnie's younger brother Rick died at an early age in the 90s, followed by his father and mother. Johnnie's the only one left, but he has a spirit of optimism and kindness that rubs off on all those who know him. He is blessed with a son, Bobby, who just may have some of the Bolin musical genius in him as well, and must be the best-looking kid in the Midwest!

My frienship with Johnnie is one I cherish, and I think about him everyday.


Anonymous said...

Tommy Bolin was an innovative master of guitar and a brilliant composer, on the cusp of huge
commercial success. One can only
imagine what might have been. Just look at the confidence in his stance as a child, in the photo on your site. Doing gigs at age 14. He
knew exactly what he wanted and achieved it. Surely one of the greatest. - Rick

William K. Moore said...

Nicholas thanks for bringing the story here - death and tragedy followed closely to many a rock journeyman. In the 70s drugs were a badge of honor and just normal operating procedure for most the youth (at least the people I knew). I only mention this as it played a role (usually negative) in so many bands of the time. However, it does not deny the talent and magnetism of our rock heroes - and this I believe is what is important in your story - the virtuosity of the Bolin brothers.

Nick said...

Rick - good to see you here, comrade. It's tough to see great legends such as Tommy or Ronnie Dio exit the stage..but perhaps a bigger show awaits.

Bill - I know you remember the Good Old Days - many are not so fortunate, or did not even survive them. Hard to believe the Dandy is still going out there and loving it, without the benefit of the financial and material comfort of other dinosaurs such as the Stones. One person who has seen it all, and been there: Johnnie B, who not only plays better than ever but keeps it all in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nick,

Neat post. Dang, I'm sorry I missed you in Dayton. McGuffy's is a place we went to now and then in the OLD days to see some decent bands. Glad it's back. Saw the Rev. Horton Heat there the weekend before you were in town - he absolutely tears it up. Hope the workshop went well. Let me know if you're ever back in town - there's usually good music around if you look hard enough, including a GREAT blues guitarist, Michael Locke - I'm going to try to do a painting of him in action one of these days...
Mike D.

Anonymous said...

don't think this "took" first time but... more to the point, it's good to see Johnnie and others still having fun and looking healthy; glad you made the video. I think that's Lou Reed on Johnnie's shirt, isn't it? - speaking of old guys still having fun. I think Johnnie can inspire us to keep at the art/music/etc. even through the tough times - maybe especially then...

Nick said...

Mike - sorry we didn't meet up there, you could have witnessed Jim Dandy presiding over the Sacred Gathering!
That's Johnnie's brother, the incomparable Tommy Bolin, on the shirt. My all time favorite rock musician. That shirt is now available here:

Love that shot of him! Johnnie is one tough SOB, been through it all, and then some. But then, we've all got a story, don't we? thanks for dropping by!

perugina said...

Hi Nick, i wanted to leave a comment on the post above this one on your painting La Vida Breve - my absolute favourite of yours!!! I could not find the comment function - probably a prob on my end.. have had plenty of these computer glitches of late (grumble)
Anyhow.. the painting is magnificence personified and more so when you realise the size of it next to il creatore!

wayne said...

Hi Nick, Thanks for posting this tragic yet heroic background and tribute to Tommy Bolin and his family. It's great you have such a close friendship with his brother Johnnie. And also your involvement in the artwork for the limited release production of the Tommy Bolin tribute-guitar of a year or so ago is also a tribute to you and your art.

Around about the same time you posted this on Tommy and Johnnie, a guitarist friend invited me to a 'surprise music workshop' here in our home town -> it turned out to be Steve Morse(!), who, as you would know, is current lead-guitarist with Deep Purple, and had his own eponymous band back in the 90s amongst others. He struck me as a really great person and an incredibly talented musician (understatement). He studied music at tertiary level, and when he extolled the virtues and influence of JS Bach and the Baroque period on his music and compositions, he left me in no doubt that he was a guitarist who i wanted to hear. My friend informed me Steve Morse is revered by guitarists the world over, and that he can play with facility and flair in almost any genre/style you care to name. He may not be a 'household name', but apparently among guitarists he's considered by many to be right up there among the superstars. The venue was packed with musos, and rapidly filled to standing room only. And, wow, he was brilliant. He concluded the workshop with a retake of an old composition of his, 'Simple Simon'. Imo, you can pick up a subtle, wonderful and artful inflexion of a Baroque influence in this piece with it's unusual melodic structure and chord progressions. There's an old clip of him playing this back in the early 90s on youtube "Steve Morse, plays his comp Simple Simon". He still plays that same old blue electric guitar (you see in that clip) today, although it's now a bit roughed-up on the edges, and it's been re-fretted 9 times since then.

Tonight, it's off to hear the Canberra Symph's (CSO) annual gala concert: Verdi's Requiem. (Just for something a bit different!)
cheers, wayne

Nick said...

Patricia - sorry for being tardy in getting to this. I appreciate the enthusiasm re the painting, I still like it myself. A good sign, at this point! Doesn't always work that way. Maybe the drama and mystery of it appeals to your mediterranean soul? bella noche!

Wayne - it's true that Tommy continues to inspire me. He was so ahead of his time, and so incredibly sophisticated in many areas of music. For example, his solo on the jazzy "Savannah Woman" track from "Teaser" is so far off the charts it's not even funny. A 23 yr old kid from Iowa playing with the liquid phrasing of someone like Jim Hall who has been playing a lifetime.

Morse was at Miami when Metheny was, and studied with Juan Mercadal. He really can play in almost any genre. I'd have to say his best moment for me is on "The Road Home" from the "High Tension Wires" a kickass CD. Steve lived in Florida, and I played some of the Florida Guitar Shows on the same bill. Still playing the blue Music Man axe. I haven't heard much of him with Purple, I should do that.
I just saw you've got some new posts on your blog in a while, I'll be over soon. :) thanks Wayne!