Never Looking Back: An Interview With Boston's Tommy DeCarlo

By Jeb Wright
Classic Rock Revisited

Boston vocalist Tommy DeCarlo has had a few years to get his feet back down on earth since going from a regular guy working at Home Depot to singing Boston's greatest hits on the band's 2008 tour. Fairytales do happen and dreams do come true and no one knows that more than DeCarlo, who sent a chance email to Boston offering to sing at Brad Delp's tribute concert and ended up becoming the band's lead singer.

During Boston's downtime, DeCarlo produced two singles and released them on the Internet. One song he wrote for his wife and the other he wrote about Brad Delp. In fact, it was the Delp tune that began the process of Tommy's incarnation from home repair guy to rock singer. The tune is titled "A Man I'll Always Be" and Tommy wrote the song only days after Delp's tragic suicide.

Oddly enough, several years prior DeCarlo met Delp after a Boston show in Florida. Neither man knew then the connection that would one day link them together forever.

The interview that follows is an inspiring look into the past, present and future of Tommy DeCarlo.


Jeb: You have two new songs, the first is titled "A Man I'll Always Be" and is a tribute to Brad Delp, written only days after his death. Tell me the story behind writing the song.

Tommy: I didn't have any music equipment at the time. I had a microphone and some cheap software that I would do my Boston karaoke on. My parents live down the road and were on vacation so my son, Tommy, and I went over to look after their animals. My mom has a cheap Casio keyboard. I sat down and started playing the Boston classic "A Man I'll Never Be" but I just didn't feel right about playing it since Brad had just taken his own life and it was really sad.

To me Brad was an awesome man and I had the thought of "A Man He'll Always Be." I played around with a few chords and my son said, "Dad, that is really good. You should really record that." By that time we were done feeding the animals and I said, "Maybe another time. Let's go home. I don't really feel like dragging Grandma's keyboard home." He kept pushing and I said, "I tell you what, you go in the house and load up the keyboard and I will record it.

The original recording took me about twenty minutes and then I took the keyboard back to my parent's house as I didn't want my mom to be mad that I took it. I reference a number of Boston songs in the lyrics. I thought it was just a nice thing to do and I just did it because I was a fan. I wanted to share it with other fans and that is how my daughter got involved. She helped me upload it up to MySpace and we also uploaded some of my Boston cover songs.

Jeb: So this is how the seed was planted concerning you contacting Tom and Kim Scholz about the tribute show.

Tommy: I heard about the tribute show through the Boston website. I remember thinking how much I wished I could sing at that show. I even went so far as to say that I belonged at that show. I wanted to go just as a fan but I couldn't afford it. I was just a regular guy and I had bills to pay. I remember going home from work one day and that someone had contacted me on MySpace. Her name was Melissa and she had an email address for the band. She told me it was a great song and that I should sent it to Boston. I put it out there and sent it but I was like, "Yeah, sure. Like anyone is ever going to read this email." To make a long story short, a couple of weeks later I got an email from Tom's wife, Kim. She listened to it and thought it was great and she said that Tom wanted to speak to me about performing at the tribute show.

Jeb: Did you fall over?

Tommy: I was excited but at the same time really nervous. I knew I was good at singing in my bedroom when nobody was around but I would have to go out there and sing in front of a bunch of hardcore Boston fans. I returned the email and I got a call from the band's publicist and then I got a call from Tom. We discussed the tribute show and it all went forward from there.

Jeb: Did you let them know you were just singing in the bedroom? It would have been tough not to just let him assume you were in a professional band.

Tommy: At the time it really wasn't discussed. It came up after the tribute show. I came home after the show and Tom was calling everyone and thanking them for coming up and participating in the show. Tom said, "After seeing you sing I am going to guess that you are in a cover band down there in Charlotte." I replied to Tom, "I hope you can appreciate honesty but I have never been in a band in my life. The first time I stepped out onstage with Boston was the first time I had ever played with a live band." Tom just started laughing.

About a month later Tom got ahold of all the band members, including me, and said that he might take it out on the road. He told me to keep it under my hat and not tell anyone. I was going to work at Home Depot and on Friday afternoon people were going, "Tommy, what is going on this weekend?" I would say, "Nothing. I am just going to hang around the house." In reality I was getting on a plane and flying to Boston to rehearse with the band. This went on for four or five months. Finally, I had to go in and tell my job that I had to go.

Jeb: Tell me about the first rehearsal you had with the band.

Tommy: I was at the hotel with my wife and my kids and I was a nervous wreck. I was going to be singing songs with people that I used to see on posters and who I idolized as a kid. I got a call at the hotel and they told me that the band was getting ready to rehearse and that he would come and pick me up. I asked if my son could come and he said, "Sure."

We drove across Boston and we came up to this very average looking industrial area. The driver said, "Isn't that something? All these people are driving by and they don't have any idea that band is right in that building over there." We got out of the car and the band was rehearsing "Don't Look Back." I only had a couple of songs to sing and they had to rehearse songs with other singers. I looked at my son and said, "Can you believe that we are going to walk through those doors and Boston will be onstage playing "Don't Look Back." There were tech people and crew guys all around. I looked up and saw the band playing the song and I was in awe.

Jeb: How fitting that the first song you walked into was "Don't Look Back."

Tommy: Wow, Jeb, you know I had never thought about that. What a good point. I met Tom's wife Kim, who is a super person. She introduced me to Tom and the rest of the band members. They did a few more songs and I sat there nervously waiting. Finally, Tom looked over and said, "Are you ready to sing ‘Smokin'?" It was my first song of the day and I cracked a few notes to be honest with you. After the song was over Tom said, "Let's do it again." I was warmed up and I don't think I could have sung it better the second time around. We then sang the song "Party" and Tom came over and gave me a high five. All of the band members were pretty excited about it. There were crew members and family members there and they were giving me some nice compliments.

Michael Sweet sang "More Than A Feeling" at the tribute show and he was on his way over from Cape Cod to rehearse it and he had not arrived yet. Tom said, "Let's do ‘More Than A Feeling." Tom said, "Tommy, do you know this song?" I am like, "Do I know it?" Tom told me to fill in for Michael. When Gary started playing the acoustic guitar intro to that song and I actually said, out loud, softly to myself, "I cannot believe this." This was not a karaoke song and it was not a cover band; it was the real deal.

Jeb: I have been able to interview people who meant a lot to me growing up. Sometimes someone comes along where I am in awe of the person. I get nervous and right before the interview I have to swallow hard and just go in. Did you have a moment like that?

Tommy: Leading up to the first Boston show on tour was an experience. I remember having lyrics to songs that I had sang my whole life in front of me. I had them printed up purposely because I didn't want to screw anything up. Finally, one day, it was before our first show, which was in Canada I said, "I don't need these lyrics. I have been singing these songs my entire life. Let's go do this."

I have listened to a number of those early shows and there is a few times where I can hear nervousness in my voice. Once I got more relaxed then I was okay. I know that I ended the tour stronger than I started it. I learned that you really have to save your voice for the shows. People will actual plan a vacation around the shows. You have to make sure that your voice is in great shape because you don't want to let the fans down. I know I would be bummed if I was in the audience and the signer lost his voice.

Jeb: I have a friend who is a professional singer who told me that he doesn't even like to talk after a show because his voice is loose and talking can actually be hard on your voice.

Tommy: The band sent me to a vocal coach when I was in rehearsals and I learned that one rule is no talking. Everybody on the crew becomes friends with everyone since you are together all the time. They would see me at breakfast and say, "How are you?' Before I could answer they would say, "Don't tell me. I know you have to be silent." I just didn't want to seem stuck up but everyone knew I was just being quite so I could save my voice.

Jeb: Do you remember signing your first autograph?

Tommy: I do. I have two good memories of that. One was when we were at rehearsal. For each venue there was merchandise sales so there were a ton of 8x10s that we would all sign. We had to sign these huge stacks and I thought that was kind of cool. The other good memory was at a meet and greet after a show and someone brought a copy of the debut album. They complimented me on the show and asked me to sign it. I looked down and saw Brad Delp's signature on it. I could not believe that was happening. It took me back through the whole experience in the few seconds I looked at Brad's signature. I was really touched. It was amazing and I will never forget that.

Jeb: Did you ever feel wrong signing the early Boston albums?

Tommy: I would not say I felt wrong about it but I did feel a little uncomfortable signing something that I was not a part of. Someone on a fan site said that it wasn't right for me to do that. What was I to do? Am I going to tell someone no? If I do that then the message board will say what a jerk I was for not giving me an autograph.

Jeb: Did you ever meet anyone in the band back in the day?

Tommy: Everyone always said that Brad was the nicest guy in the music business and I got to experience that back in the ‘90's when I was living in Florida. I went to see the band. After the show I positioned myself where I could see the band members exciting the stage. I yelled out Brad's name and after he walked off the stage and into a backstage area he looked up at me and gave me two thumbs up. I thought that was as good as the concert.

After the show there was this long white limousine and everyone thought the band was coming out. I hung around for over an hour and the crowd thinned down and the driver told me, "Hey, this is for the concert promoters. If you want to get a glimpse at the band then you need to go back where the busses are." I was off to the busses. There were only about three of us standing back there hoping to get a glimpse of the band. All of a sudden a Cadillac pulls up and out walked Brad and Tom. They were maybe forty feet in front of me. I was really excited. Tom got into the car and Brad was coming around to his side of the car and I knew if I didn't say something now then I was going to regret it. I shouted, "Hey Brad, you guys were awesome tonight." He looked over and put his duffle bag on top of the car and walked over to me. We shook hands. I had a CD in my hand that I was going to ask him to sign but I was so jacked up that I forgot to ask him to sign it.

Looking back I really see this as an amazing moment. We both looked at each other never knowing that we would one day have such a connection. I am very thankful that I got to meet him. Now, I am so proud to be able to help keep the music that Tom and Brad created moving forward.

Jeb: You have another song out as well called "I Think I Fell in Love with You."

Tommy: I wrote that song two weeks after the summer tour. Just before the tour started, I didn't even have a keyboard. The Yamaha people heard about my story and they sent me a beautiful keyboard. I never thought I would ever be able to afford something as nice as that let alone get one as a gift. I didn't have time to play with it as the tour was getting ready to start.

When I got home from the tour I had that keyboard waiting for me and I started messing around with it. I put some chords together and I thought about how I met my wife back when we lived in Florida. The story is very simple as we both ended up at the same restaurant one night. We didn't have cell phones back then --- it was about twenty-four years ago. I remember wanting to know her name before she left. I made that the first line of the song. I am sucker for power ballads like "Amanda" so I wrote the song. I sent the track up to Gary Pihl and asked him to add a guitar track. He listened to it and said, "I think you have really got something here." When I sent him the song I liked the song but all it had was a keyboard and a scratch vocal on it. When I got it back I loved the song. Gary added an element to the song that took it from something that sounded cool to something that sounded great. My wife really likes the song and it made her feel good. It makes me feel good to write it and it makes me feel good to share it with other people.

Jeb: Do you really feel it was love at first sight?

Tommy: As corny as it sounds I have to admit that it was. Every relationship has ups and downs but we have been married for twenty-three years and I couldn't be happier. I can't tell you what it has meant to me to share the life I have had with Boston with my wife and kids.

Jeb: How did the travel change things? You were used to coming home from work every day.

Tommy: We are a very close family. When all of this happened it was kind of tough. They all knew I had a great opportunity but I was away and we could only communicate with emails. I was able to get them out to some shows though so that did help. It really didn't change things all that much because we are well grounded people. The biggest bonus is that when I am at home I get to spend a lot of time at home. One tour does not set you up for life but it has allowed us to do a lot of things that we would not have been able to do otherwise.

Jeb: How have you been able to handle people recognizing you?

Tommy: There is some notoriety I have received around town. I don't live for that but I don't shy away from it. If someone says," Are you that guy from Charlotte who is in Boston?" then I am proud of that. It is not what you think it is, however. Most days I go around town and no one knows who I am. There are not autograph seekers waiting outside of my house.

Jeb: Your story really is a fairytale.

Tommy: It is something that we all were, as a family, able to experience together. I really have to give the credit to Tom and the band as they are as down to earth as you can imagine. Gary would bring a lunch from home at rehearsals; it is not like a wild and crazy time. I am telling you these guys are really that down to earth. I have never had to be anybody that I wasn't which was so wonderful. Not to sound corny but we are still living out that fairytale. Things are quiet and I am as anxious as the fans for the next Boston project to come out.

Jeb: I have talked to Gary and Tom and I know there is a new album being worked on.

Tommy: Tom is working on some new material. I have been fortunate enough to record a little bit on some of that material. Tom does a lot of music on his own. When he has something for me to sing then I am thrilled to get a phone call to go up there and sing. I was up there to do some vocals on one tune and the next day I went back to do a little bit more and I was amazed at how it sounded in just one day. It sounded like Boston and I was a part of it; how cool is that? I don't know how far along Tom is on the new stuff but I excited that at some point in the future there will be an album.

Jeb: You have two songs but do you have plans for an album?

Tommy: I would like to do more of my solo stuff but I will wait and see. Tom has come up with hit after hit after hit and I am lucky to even come up with a song. I just need to sit down and play the keyboard and act on the things I come up with. When you get to certain level --- and I don't consider myself to be a big deal in the music business --- but I would want anything I put out to be up to par with the two songs I have come up with. I don't want to just put something out there to put something out there. If I come up with some good ideas then I will continue to record them.

Jeb: At what point did you realize that you sounded like Brad Delp?

Tommy: I remember back when I was a teenager, I was at a party at somebody's house and some Boston music came on. I started singing and people started looking at me and getting quiet. After the song was over somebody said, "Man, you sound like that guy from Boston." I was probably fifteen years old. To be honest I never went into singing just to sound like Brad. When someone says that then I take it as a great compliment. I don't have a special technique that I do. I don't ever go, "I need to really sound like Brad on this part." When I sing Boston music I just tend to have a tone that is similar to Brad's. I can tell a difference between us. I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 I am a 5 or a 6. I wish I was exactly like him. I just sang those songs the way that I heard them growing up as a kid.

Jeb: Is there a song that Boston does not play live that you would like to take a crack at?

Tommy: I would love to sing "Used to Bad News" off of the Don't Look Back album. There are a few of them.

Jeb: I would love to see the band play "It's Easy."

Tommy: You're right that is a really, really great song. Brad does some great things on that song. I have been a Boston fan for the better part of my life and I am keeping my fingers crossed that one day I will get to be able to go out and do it all over again.

Jeb: My last one is silly. Kim has given up on my changing because I live in the Midwest and we consider meat the only real food group. But Gary, Tom and Kim are all very health conscious vegetarians so I am wondering if they have gotten you meatless yet?

Tommy: In their presence I am. You've got to respect them for that. I have never been a smoker but if you're around someone who smokes and they know you don't smoke then it is nice of them to respect you and not smoke. It is kind of like that.

Before we end this interview I want to say to your readers that the support I have received from the fans on both the Boston songs, and my solo stuff, is wonderful. I am very thankful to each and every one of them. I feel very blessed.


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