It's hard to imagine what musical heights Tommy Bolin would have reached had he not died tragically of a heroin overdose in December 1976, while touring as the opening act for Jeff Beck. Although he was only on the scene for five years, he had a prolific recording and touring career. Had he not died so young and so suddenly, there are many industry professionals who feel he could have been the next huge guitar hero.
He emerged out of the Denver area in the late 1960s in a blues-rock band called Zephyr, whose raspy female singer Candy Givens was often compared to Janis Joplin. Zephyr opened for several name rock acts, including Led Zeppelin, but fell apart after two albums failed to receive any real national attention. Eventually, Bolin ended up in The James Gang, who were determined to carry on after the departure of singer/guitarist Joe Walsh. Bolin recorded two excellent rock LPs with the group: 1973's James Gang Bang and 1974's Miami. His real interest, though, was the growing fusion scene that groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever were spearheading. He landed the gig as guitarist on Spectrum, Billy Cobham's acclaimed first solo album, and thanks to that job, the role of Ritchie Blackmore's replacement in the reconstructed Deep Purple.
While he was writing and recording with Deep Purple, he was also working on his first solo album, Teaser, for Nemporer Records, which he promoted while on the road with Deep Purple. When the group went on hiatus and eventually morphed into an early version of Whitesnake, Bolin went back into the studio to record Private Eyes, his second solo LP merging rock, blues, reggae and jazz-fusion. He had just begun touring again when, on December 4, 1976, he tragically died.