A deeper look into “Private Eyes”: fallen guitar hero’s archives uncover tapes previously hidden from history.
Checking out too early to even apply for the “27 Club” and be unequivocally considered a genius, Tommy Bolin may have left a meager solo legacy yet, in his short span on this mortal coil, the American guitarist managed to bridge the gap between blues, fusion and hard rock without ever changing his individual style – no matter which genre was there to tackle. Of course, the two albums Bolin released under his own name remain most faithful reflection of Tommy’s conflicted persona; so the briefest of glances into what didn’t make the final cut on those records’ is bound to reveal – first of all, to aficionados, although any part the late artist laid down can interest the uninitiated too – a rich vein (no pun intended) of creativity. But while there was a lot of extra material around the home-prepared “Teaser” that saw the light of day in 1975, 1976’s “Private Eyes” has always seemed to be set in stone, since only a few alternative tracks from the longplay surfaced in subsequent decades. Until now.
The pieces gathered on “Shake The Devil” encompass the entire album, albeit in apparently random running order, yet the variants in which all the numbers are presented feel different – often drastically different – from the compositions Bolin’s listeners got used to, the rough mix of the titular song being the least dissimilar to the final result, and bass-and-voice demo of the would-be heavy “Post Toastee” baring the ballad-like beauty of this funky tune in the sharpest way. If, stripped of Del Newman’s strings “Hello Again” still retains its honeyed tenderness, and “Sweet Burgundy” flows rather vulnerably here sans slider rolls but with overtly solemn arrangement, thanks to Norma Jean Bell’s glorious brass, whereas “Bustin’ Out For Rosey” sounds crunchier and punchier than before, with ivories very frontal, up to Mark Stein’s cosmic synthesizer solo in the midst of it.
However, three attempts at shaping “Gypsy Soul” – acoustic tryout, electric rehearsal and a jazzy outtake – don’t transform the melody as cardinally and stress the simple strength of the originally issued version. But boy, how much vigor is in “Tommy’s Instrumental”: a syncopated jive with a stinging guitar assault and no clear topline that would have landed on Bolin’s next record… which wasn’t to happen, so this cache of studio gems is extremely precious – and joyous as well. A true treasure trove.