Guitarist looks back on 20 years in Boston
Thursday, July 10, 2008
By Dan Craft
Pantagraph

Don't look back where Boston is concerned. If you do, you might get lost trying to keep tabs on the way things have twisted-and-turned over the course of the band's infamous 32-year history -- the latest chapter of which is about to play out on the stage of Bloomington's U.S. Cellular Coliseum (7 p.m. July 20).

One of the reasons it's an infamous history is that few bands that have lasted this long have produced fewer albums with more people involved along the way.

Boston recorded just three LPs over the course of its "classic" period, from 1976 to 1986. All of them, it should be noted, were multi-platinum sellers.

In the 22 years since, just three more recordings have followed, and one of those is a "Greatest Hits" package.

So: Five albums of new material over 32 years of active duty, or an average of one every 6.25 years.

And: a constantly fluctuating membership with 18 musicians coming and going, and going and coming (see the accompanying chart).

Guitarist Gary Pihl, currently the second longest-running Bostonian, joined the band near the end of 1985, and made his segue at one of the pivotal events in Central Illinois rock annals (more about which shortly).

He chuckles when some of these facts and figures are tossed his way.

Asked if Boston holds the record for the fewest albums for a band of its duration, he pauses for a moment, and then asks, "Hmmm -- what about Steely Dan?" (Close, but no cigar: the notoriously low-profile duo has almost twice as many recordings to its credit.)

Pihl does seem to acknowledge, with another chuckle, that the band has had a rather astonishing run on drummers, few of whom have been kept behind the trap set very long.

"I have no idea if that's just a random effect or not, but there have been seven over the years" -- or a new one less than every half-decade.

At a March 2007 tribute concert to late lead singer Brad Delp, who took his own life that month, most of the band's past membership turned out for the memorial, that huge drummer brigade included.

"I have to say that everybody was as friendly as could be and in good spirits," Pihl recalls. "There was no animosity. The main question was, how do you get seven drummers on stage at the same time?"

One more question: Does having so few albums make it tough to come up with variety when setting out on a tour like the one that set out a month or two ago with two brand new lead singers -- Stryper vocalist Michael Sweet and MySpace fan-boy Tommy DeCarlo (see accompanying story)?

Pihl notes that while the albums may be few, the hits from each one were many, with even the non-Top-40 cuts from "Boston" (1976), "Don't Look Back" (1978) and "Third Stage" (1986) receiving heavy rotation on album-oriented FM stations.

"Because the first two were especially successful -- 'Boston' is still the biggest-selling debut album in history -- audiences still want to hear most of those songs," Pihl says. "And when you've got Styx or Lou Gramm on the bill as we do for this tour (Gramm will open the Bloomington show), that means, when you come down to it, you can only play 15 songs."

He notes the new tour contains several Boston songs "that we've never played before," but declines to divulge their identities, preferring that fans be pleasantly surprised at the show.

As mentioned earlier, Pihl is the one Boston member with a deep Illinois connection: He was born 57 years ago in Chicago, and performed one of the pivotal shows of his career 45 minutes to the east of Bloomington.

That moment came in September 1985, at the legendary first Farm Aid concert in Champaign.

The occasion marked Pihl's final live performance as part of Sammy Hagar's band, which he had joined in 1977. Hagar's appearance at the concert also represented a new career move, into the lead singer slot of Van Halen, who were also on the Farm Aid bill.

Within hours of Hagar moving into Van Halen, Pihl was taking a flight directly from Farm Aid to his new gig with Boston. "So I wasn't out of work for even a day!"

His long-term Hagar history was such that he could recall the days when the West Coast band would travel eastward and find Sammy mistaken for one of the "Hee Haw"-singing Haggar Twins.

During that late-'70s period, recalls Pihl, Hagar's band opened for Boston on the "Don't Look Back Tour," which is where Pihl forged his lifelong friendship with Boston overlord, Tom Scholz, the sole original band member still on board.

"Their (Boston's) fans were very kind to us on that tour, I have to say," recalls Pihl. "With some opening acts, they don't want to see you; they just want you off the stage. Nobody knew who we were out there on the East Coast -- but it turned out the Boston fans were very receptive."

Though Scholz has a reputation as a reclusive control-freak more at home obsessing over multi-track guitar sounds than on stage performing live, Pihl begs to differ.

"He's a really smart guy, a genius, in fact, who likes the anonymity of walking down the street and not having people bother him," says Pihl. "He's never been one to want to be on the cover of a magazine or be a part of that sort of rock star thing. He wears a T-shirt and shorts on stage; he's not a Spandex kind of guy. And, like most musicians, he's a perfectionist."

When Pihl joined Boston, the band was in one of its periodic states of transition, with the long-awaited (eight years) "Third Stage" album in the works.

"All the other guys had left for new solo careers, except for Tom and Brad (Delp)," he says.

Pihl would be filling "the big shoes" of guitarist Barry Goudreau, who'd left the band several years earlier. He wound up contributing to the final recording stages of "Third Stage" and was unveiled to the public on the subsequent "Third Stage" tour.

There's been no looking back for Pihl since, never mind the continual membership changes and the major setback of lead singer Brad Delp's suicide a year ago.

That tragedy led to what he describes as a "bittersweet moment" in Boston history: the aforementioned March 2007 tribute concert in Delp's memory, a momentous occasion that brought most of Boston's past membership on stage for what turned out to be more than a simple feeling.

It was a milestone in the band's history.

"Gosh, I'd known Brad for 30 years...," Pihl begins as he addresses the sense of loss over Delp's untimely passing. "So it was a wonderful feeling to see most of the original members and the other members coming together, and singing together, again."



Band in Boston


The history of Boston is one marked by many arrivals and departures since the band's 1976 breakthrough. Following is an itinerary of the complex train of events from that point onward. Names in italics indicate present membership; names with (*) signify original membership.

Lifers

Tom Scholz, guitar/backing vocals, 32 years (1976-present)*

Long-runners

Brad Delp, vocals/guitar, 26 years (1976-89, 1994-2007); deceased*

Gary Pihl, guitar/backing vocals, 23 years (1985-present)

Fran Cosmo, vocals/guitar, 15 years (1992-2007)

Stripes-earners

David Sikes, bass guitar/vocals, 11 years (1987-1998)

Anthony Cosmo, guitar/vocals, 9 years (1998-2007)

Fran Sheehan, bass guitar/vocals, 8 years (1976-1984)*

Sib Hashian, percussion/backing vocals, 7 years (1976-1983)*

Doug Huffman, percussion/backing vocals, 7 years (1987-1994)

Kimberly Dahme, bass/vocals, 7 years (2001-present)

Jeff Neal, drums/vocals, 6 years (2002-present)

Sprinters

Barry Goudreau, guitar/vocals, 5 years (1976-1981)*

Jim Masdea, drums/keyboards, 5 years (1983-1988)

Curly Smith, drums/backing vocals, 4 years (1994-1998)

Freshmen

Anthony Citrinite, drums, 1 year (2001-2002)

Tom Hambridge, drums, 1 year (2002)

Michael Sweet, lead vocals, 1 year (2007-2008)

Tommy DeCarlo, lead vocals, 4 months (2008)



Special tribute brings fan-boy to center stage


By Dan Craft | This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tommy, can we hear you?

That mantra from a certain rock opera of yore certainly fits the bill for Boston's newest member, Tommy DeCarlo.

Tommy can be heard, seen and felt these days as one of the venerable Beantown band's new lead vocalists, alongside Michael Sweet, moonlighting from Christian rock band Stryper.

A year ago, he was just another Boston fan-boy with his own MySpace page -- probably one of thousands of Boston fan-boys with their own MySpace pages.

But DeCarlo did the right thing at the right time, and it's made all the difference in the world.

As the story goes, the 43-year-old Boston fan had been recording cover versions of the band's songs and posting them on his MySpace page, with himself on lead vocals.

When band singer Brad Delp took his own life in March 2007, DeCarlo was inspired to write and record an original song in the classic Boston manner.

The tribute was noticed by another Boston fan, who sent a link to DeCarlo's site to an associate of the band.

According to longtime Boston guitarist Gary Pihl, the page eventually found its way to group founder Tom Scholz's wife, Kim. As she was viewing it at home, DeCarlo's dead-on cover of "Don't Look Back" issued forth.

"It just so happened that Tom walked by while she was looking at it," Pihl recalls. "He stopped and said, 'Wow, that guy sounds great -- we should check him out!'"

As a result, DeCarlo was personally contacted by Scholz and asked if he'd be interested in performing the song at a Delp tribute concert planned for that same month.

Needless to say, when he got the call, DeCarlo flipped, says Pihl.

"He was shocked and blown away -- the biggest crowd he'd ever sung to before was around 35 or 40 people at a bowling alley's karaoke night," Pihl adds. The tribute concert drew 5,000.

In addition to performing in Delp's memory, DeCarlo's performance at the tribute concert was also serving as a "big test" of sorts, Pihl says, noting that he passed with flying colors and was asked to join the band full time.



At a glance


What: Boston and Lou Gramm

When: 7 p.m. July 20

Where: U.S. Cellular Coliseum, 101 S. Madison St., Bloomington

Tickets: $34.50 to $54.50

Box office number: (866) 891-9992
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