Take off with Boston
Thursday, July 17, 2008
By  Jeb Wright
Goldmine

Tom Scholz on the Boston album Third Stage:
Back in the '70s, the audiences were so stoned that they didn't know if we were playing or not. In '87, we had Third Stage, and that was much more difficult music. The entire band was on the album. We turned a corner for performing at that point.


On March 9, 2007, Boston vocalist Brad Delp sealed himself in his bathroom, lit two charcoal grills, pinned a note on himself that read "Mr. Brad Delp: I am a lonely soul," lay down on a pillow and inhaled a lethal amount of carbon monoxide.

Delp's suicide was a shock to family members, close friends, his band and the music world alike. What made the event so perplexing was that Delp had spent his career as a health-conscious vegetarian and promoted and donated to several charities. In music circles, he was known as one of the good guys. He was fan friendly and spent time after every Boston show signing autographs and taking pictures with his admirers. Delp was engaged to be married and was preparing for a tour with Boston at the time of his death.

Boston bandleader Tom Scholz, a friend of Delp's for more than 30 years, admits that while no one could predict Delp would end his life, the vocalist was suffering much emotional pain.

"No one saw it coming — I certainly didn't see it coming. Brad wasn't a happy camper. He had a tough life in a personal sense. He went through two divorces and he had a couple of engagements that never led to marriage. That part of his life was not very good."
Scholz goes on to reflect on his relationship with Delp.

"We were work friends; sometimes your work friends are your closest friends. We shared a lot of things together. We spent a lot of time together when we were not working, during our breaks and when we were on the road. You talk about a lot of things, and a lot of things come out. We had some really unusual parallels. We both had serious relationships in the '90s that left us both in not a very good state of mind. Ten years later, I ended up marrying somebody and being happier than I have ever been. Brad was not so lucky," Delp said.

Cinderella story
Aside from one album, 1994's Walk On, Brad Delp had always been the voice of Boston. He was the perfect person to translate Scholz' musical visions vocally.

Boston would not have been Boston without his distinct and dynamic voice. The rock world mourned Brad's death, and, along with it, the death of Boston as no one expected at this stage of the game for Scholz to pick up the pieces and move ahead. A drastic turn of events occurred that not only kept the band together but actually brought renewed life to Boston.

From the wreckage of Delp's suicide came two people who found Scholz by pure chance. The first was Michael Sweet, the guitarist and vocalist of the band Stryper. The second was an unknown singer named Tommy DeCarlo, a credit manager at Home Depot.

"Brad was the most talented musician/singer that I have ever known. No one person could replace him. We could have looked for a lifetime and never found that person," Scholz admits, "I have to say that both Michael and Tommy have done a great job filling his shoes."

Scholz' wife, Kim, actually discovered DeCarlo.

"That story reminds me of the Cinderella story that is Boston," says Tom. "We appeared out of nowhere. I knew about it, because it was in my basement, but we got no attention from anyone. When it hit, it really hit. Tommy DeCarlo is the same way. He is a regular guy who works a regular job. He was married for a while and has a family. He has not played in bands, but he is a phenomenal singer. He sent us an e-mail and a link to a file.

"The last thing I was interested in at the time was listening to files someone had made on MySpace. Somebody sent it to my wife, and she was playing it as I happened to be walking by. I asked her when that recording was made. She said, ‘This is some guy.' I said, ‘That is Brad. What show is this from?' She said, ‘It is not Brad,' and I said ‘It is Brad.' We plugged the computer into some big speakers, and the only way I could tell it was not Brad was because of the background music. I quickly realized this was neither recorded Boston or live Boston; it was a stored track. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this isn't Brad.' I couldn't tell. I have been listening to Brad in the studio for 30 years, and I know every little nuance of his voice. I know what it sounds like when it works and when it doesn't work. It was shocking."

Scholz was so impressed with DeCarlo that he contacted him.

"We were doing a tribute to Brad. We were lining up singers to do the show, and he had offered to come up and sing. We didn't know what his background was. Anyone who sang like he sang had to have experience. He had to have played in bands and have recorded. It wasn't so. The biggest crowd he had ever sung in front of was 40 people at a karaoke bar in a bowling alley. His first real appearance on stage with a rock and roll band was at the tribute in front of 5,000 people. He came on stage and didn't have a sound check. He came out like he had been doing this his whole life; he wailed. He is a natural singer — like Brad."

The second piece of the Boston puzzle that needed to be put in place to replace Delp was Michael Sweet.

"He contacted us with a condolence. He is a Boston fan. When
we were putting together singers to do the tribute, we sent him an invitation. He said he would be happy to do it. He lives down in the Cape, so he was close. He came up and ran through a song with Gary [Pihl, Boston guitarist] and I. We all looked at each other after we played, and we all agreed this Boston song had never sounded better. We had him play backup guitar and sing harmony for the entire show. It sounded so good that we knew that these two guys were the future."

With Sweet and Decarlo firmly in place, the band has hit the road for a tour that will take them across the United States. In addition to the tour, Sony will also be releasing a new greatest hits album that Scholz has personally remastered.

A big gamble
Scholz took time to discuss how he first became interested in music.

"I learned piano when I was a kid, but I didn't do much with it. When I was in college, I started banging around for my own amusement. At some point I bought an electric piano and a little organ. I got in a band at the dorm. Being in the first band I was in is what inspired me to play the guitar. I knew what I wanted to hear the guitar player do, and I wasn't hearing it. I went out and bought a $25 really bad Japanese guitar. I started learning how to play, and in a few months, I was able to play rhythm."

Music, however, was not Scholz's only calling. After receiving his master's degree from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology., he went to work for Polaroid as a senior product engineer. He married and was saving money to buy a house. While it may have appeared from the outside looking in that Tom was getting ready to settle down, music was never far from his heart.

"In 1974, I basically blew all of my money," says Scholz. "I had been working for five years at that point, and I took all of the money and spent it on recording equipment that was good enough to record the demos that landed the Epic Records deal.

"I had been bumming around playing in local bands that didn't have a future. I even started a couple of bands, but they didn't play the music that became the music I wrote with Boston. I knew that I was going nowhere unless I started doing what I knew I could do and started doing it myself. I quit playing with bands at that point, and I set up in my basement and went to work. Out of that came ‘Peace of Mind,' ‘Rock and Roll Band' and ‘Hitch a Ride.' It was completely done by my drummer friend Jim Masdea and myself. I played all of the instruments, and by doing that, I could finally get everything that I was imagining and hearing. I could experiment and find the sounds that I needed. I was never able to do that when I tried to work with other musicians. It was the old adage, ‘If you want it done right, then do it yourself.' I knew that if it failed, then I would have no one to blame but myself.

"It was a huge gamble. I was married at the time, and that money was supposed to be for a down payment on a house. It was very uncomfortable. I knew that Brad could do all of the singing, and that he would do an awesome job. He did even better than I imagined. He came in after I had all of the instrumental tracks –—oddly enough, I heard years later that Brad did not realize he was just singing to me playing a bunch of overdubbed tracks. He thought there had been a band. He wasn't there for the recording of the instruments — it was just me and the tape deck. We finished it up the following year with ‘More Than a Feeling' and ‘Something About You,' and that is when we got the deal. All five of those songs were on the first Boston album.

"I think it is very hard for people to get their head around the idea that this band was actually some guys overdubbing in a basement. They like to think that a band plays together and hangs out and writes songs and gets a contract and goes into the studio and then they jam out in the studio and an album comes out of that. This was not like that at all. It was many, many years of long nights playing along with a tape deck."

Scholz shopped his demo tape and met with many rejections before finally finding a friendly ear in Epic Records. Epic had only one demand: The label wanted the band to go into a proper studio to re-record the songs.

This news angered Scholz. He knew he had done just as good a job recording his music in his basement as a professional producer and studio could offer. Boston's future hung in the balance as the defiant Scholz, an unknown in the music industry, was going to buck the big boys at a major label. The producer hired by Epic, John Boylan, had enough sense and instinct to know that Boston was the real deal, and behind Epic's back, he cut a deal with Scholz that would allow him the freedom to do as he pleased.

"The funny thing is that they thought that it was being re-recorded by a real producer in a studio somewhere," says Scholz. "The only difference is that Sib Hashian played the drum tracks on those versions. I did the exact same thing. I went back to work, and I played all of the parts myself. When you hear ‘More Than a Feeling,' that is a couple of weeks of me laying the guitar tracks down just the way I did on the demo. Brad did the same thing with the vocals. It was done entirely just like the original, but the record company didn't know it.

"I have to give John enormous credit, because I told him that the only way I was going to do this was if I could do it in my basement. I told him I was not going to L.A. and do it in some studio, because I knew it wouldn't work. He was the chosen producer, and he didn't want to lose the deal. He told me to record it in my basement and then bring it to LA and mix it. He said, ‘You do that, and we will split the producer's royalty.' I was ready to say, ‘Yes' before he said he would split the producers' royalty. I was just thrilled to be getting paid to do this."

The other band members went to Los Angeles and recorded the Delp-penned "Let Me Take You Home Tonight," while Tom stayed home in his basement. The completed album was handed to Epic, and the album was released to immediate and massive success. The self-titled debut took only three months to go platinum and ended up selling over 17 million copies.

Fight the power
Epic knew they had a hit and encouraged Scholz to quickly get back in the studio and do a follow up. Epic expected the band to release an album a year, but Scholz had not yet let loose of the second album, and it was now 1978, two years after the debut was released.

Epic pushed Scholz to get the product to market, but Scholz again rebelled. Eventually, Scholz succumbed to the pressure and released Don't Look Back, a decision he still regrets.

"The album wasn't done," says Scholz. "The album was only 29 minutes; it had to be the shortest album that was released in 1978. I drew the line at that point. I could see all these people around me making lots of money. I was putting in most of the time and recording most of the tracks myself. That really annoyed me. It is one thing to do most of the work — I was engineering it, producing it, providing the studio, writing the songs and recording all of the parts. I wasn't necessarily getting paid for all of that. That was one thing, but it was another thing to truncate my creative possibilities by deciding that we were going to stop, because they could make the most money if it was released now. I made a mental note to self that I was not going to do that again."

The band went on the road in support of Don't Look Back, pushing the album to #1 on the charts. Instead of being a time of celebration, both Scholz and Delp became disillusioned with the music business.

"We had gone on a horrible tour in 1978-79," says Scholz. "It was long, and when I got off the road, I wasn't sure that I wanted to ever go on tour again. I was going to hang it up and just record. I took a little time off after Don't Look Back. I was drained. I was more than drained; I was demoralized. I wasn't sure I wanted to be in the music business. I didn't like what I had seen. Brad and I had made a lot of money for a lot of people, and I didn't like what they were doing. I began to feel guilty about enabling people to do things that I didn't approve of. I considered leaving the music altogether and going back to being an engineer."

Epic waited for Scholz to release the third Boston album, but weeks turned into months and months into years and no music was delivered. By 1983, Epic ran out of patience and parent company CBS sued the musician for failing to deliver the new album.

The court case dragged on and was not resolved for more than two years. Among its tactics, CBS withheld royalty payments to Scholz in an effort to put pressure on him and make him cave to their demands. Scholz recounts the ugly events.

"I basically got pennies on the dollar and they had most of it," says Scholz. "I was living in a teeny little house. I was happy, but I certainly was not well off. I think part of the misconception on their part was that they thought they could force an album out before I was finished with it. They were trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. I am sure that they did not know that those records they had released were made in my basement. They thought they were holding the purse strings to me for recording when the machine was in my basement. I knew as long as I could keep the machines running and put tape on them, then I could record forever."

Eventually, Scholz walked away victoriously from the case. He now had the freedom to change record labels and negotiate his demands to avoid repeating the same situation. One major issued remained. By the time the third album was released, nearly a decade had passed. The popular music culture had changed. While he may have had his freedom, he could not be sure the fans would still be there for him.

Scholz restructured the band, bringing back original drummer Jim Masdea and ex-Sammy Hagar guitarist Gary Pihl. The band forged ahead with a new set of songs hoping they would still be found revelvant by the record-buying public. They signed with MCA records and, in 1986, released Third Stage.

The band's fears were quickly erased as the album was a huge hit, largely due to the song "Amanda." Both the single and the album raced to the top of the charts. Boston was back. The next challenge was to take the band on tour.

Previous Boston tours had been criticized, as the band was unable to recreate all of the sounds on the first two albums in a concert setting. Scholz sets the record straight on early Boston tours and how the Third Stage tour changed the band's live reputation.

"It wasn't that great back in the day," says Scholz. "It was 30 years ago, and I don't think anyone was doing things as well then as they are now. Back in the '70s, the audiences were so stoned that they didn't know if we were playing or not. In '87, we had Third Stage, and that was much more difficult music. The entire band was on the album. We turned a corner for performing at that point. We had some good vocalists and some extremely confident musicians on stage. It was the start of being technically really good live as opposed to being really good in the studio. I don't want to take anything away from the guys who played in the '70s; they are all very good musicians, but it was a different time. You basically plugged in your amp and wailed away. Unfortunately, some of the tapes I have heard [from that time period] sound like that."

A back injury and resentful memories of the past made Scholz question whether he even wanted to tour in support of the new album. Gary Phil was the catalyst that got Tom and Boston back on the concert circuit.

"To be honest with you, he is the reason there is a Boston today," says Scholz. "I would not have gone out on the road again, but Gary talked me into it. Brad and Gary pulled things together and reassembled a rhythm section by themselves. I showed up for the first rehearsal, and they had already gone through the basics with them. At that point, my back was hurting really badly, and there was only so much I could do physically.

"That was an amazing tour. I have never seen crowds like that," says Scholz. "We set attendance records at stadiums. We played shows at a venue near Boston, and we set the record with nine shows in a row that were all sold out. We had a long set, and we did all of the sounds that were on the album, including all the harmonies and harmony guitars. It was a technical and an artistic success."
It was not an easy ride, however, as Scholz still had enemies in the music business who were trying to sabotage his success.

"Part of the whole trauma of going through that period is that I had to beat an injunction to release the album," says Scholz. "They tried to block the release of Third Stage. I had to beat the lawsuit to even see anything from it. I had run up incredible legal fees. It was an enormously high risk — much bigger than using your down payment money to buy a house."

The risk paid off as the album went four times platinum. Third Stage also introduced new themes into Boston's lyrical content. Scholz had grown up a lot over the past 10 years, and his experiences seeped through into the album's message.

"It is about a lot more than adulthood," says Scholz. "Adulthood is about being old enough to drink, have sex and get married. It is a different thing. I considered the third stage in life the next step when you are supposed to get a better car and buy a house, which isn't really what's important in life. The intent with the Third Stage message is when you cross over that point and really realize what is going on around you and that the rest of the inhabitants of the earth are what is important."

Rebel with a cause
True to his message, Tom Scholz has been an activist for causes in which he strongly believes. Scholz, while remaining mostly out of the spotlight when it comes to his charities, feels passionately about them.

"In the early '80s, I realized that if I could channel money into hands that would do something good then that would be great," says Scholz. "It was a revelation. It was because of this that I knew I shouldn't quit music. If I had quit, then I knew that everyone who was into Boston or had been inspired by Boston — I don't mean to toot my own horn, but the music was intended to be inspirational and to make people feel better in some way — I thought that I would lose that if I quit. I decided to try to make it as successful as it could be, and I decided to do something good with the money — in the back of my mind that is when the idea for a charitable foundation started.

"Primarily it was set up as a vehicle for me to give my money away. I don't solicit donations for it. It has received some donations from some people who found out about it. Brad contributed a lot to it. The charitable foundation basically funds other charities that Brad and I were trying to support. They are mostly anti-cruelty and anti-suffering programs and vegetarian organizations trying to enlighten the public about vegetarian lifestyles and why they should consider it. Brad, Gary and I are longtime vegetarians. I think that is one of the things that sort of kept us in tune over the years. I don't think we have made any monstrous difference, but there are plenty of people who have thought about things that they would not have thought about if Boston didn't exist."

While Scholz has come to terms with the past and has been able to take control of his own destiny, there is still one thing that gets his ire up.

"The whole ‘corporate rock' thing really bugs me," says Scholz. "Here is a guy that wrote songs and fought every record company he was ever with and fought every manager he ever had and who didn't make a ton of money because he was trying to make some good records in his basement — how can you slap a corporate label on him? How can you pick that band to put that label on? How can anybody who has been in so much trouble with so many giant corporations be called ‘corporate rock?'"

In fact, Corporate America became the title and theme of Boston's 2002 release. Scholz wanted to see if his message would be accepted but didn't want to rely on his past success with Boston as a means of promoting the song.

He decided to call the band Downer's Revenge and release it on the Internet.

"Alternative was taking over the Internet as the method of delivery," says Scholz. "The song ‘Corporate America' is one of my few songs that has something to say that is critical to the point, and while it is not uplifting, it is important. I wanted to get that out there. It was shocking to see what happened. It was the #1 download at the time. That is one of the songs that I am planning to re-release with the new album. People in this country, and around the world, are starting to feel the effects of keeping their eye off of ‘Corporate America.' We had better start paying attention; it may be too late now."

Survival of the fittest
At the end of the day, Scholz remains a rebel. He fights for what he believes in both on stage, in the studio and in his private life. He is not afraid to take risks, whether it be spending his down-payment money for a house on recording equipment, taking on one of the industry's major record companies or hiring a guy who works at Home Depot to sing for his band.

At the heart of it all, Tom is a visionary who wants to make a difference in the world.

As outspoken and determined as he is, the death of Brad Delp nearly put an end to Boston. Scholz admits he thought of walking away, but what happened after Brad's death changed his mind.

"I think it went through everybody's mind," explains Scholz. "When something like that happens... it is hard to put into words the sequence of events that happened to keep this band going. I think we all felt the same way. It sounded too good to just leave on the doorstep and ignore."

Boston has survived the greatest tragedy to ever be bestowed upon the band, and this is not taken lightly by Scholz. He is keenly aware that the current lineup came together effortlessly, without his own involvement.

"I am not a mystical sort of person, but it is almost as if Brad is up there pulling some strings," says Scholz. "These two guys were left on our doorstep. We didn't go out looking for anyone, and we didn't do auditions for new singers. We didn't even know about either of them. Both of them, through their own efforts, showed up. They are both easy to get along with, and they are both really talented. It was the most serendipitous set of circumstances that I have ever experienced. I think this tour will have the best-sounding Boston performances of all time. I think Brad had something to do with it. For the way that things happened and all of the circumstances that came together, it was just uncanny."
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
©1999 - 2018 thirdstage.ca