Band Founder Tom Scholz Puts Troubles Behind Him
By Steve Morse
Boston is trying to salvage a lost year. Not the city, but the band. The band experienced a year from hell, fighting with its record label, fighting a former manager in court, scrapping a summer tour and watching in horror as a new album sold only 1 million copies. That's a dream figure for most bands, but was only 25 percent of what any of Boston's three previous discs had sold.
"One million sales is not a total embarrassment," says Boston producer/ guitarist Tom Scholz. "And it got extremely good reactions from the people who actually managed to find out there was an album released. It was a very well-kept secret."
Scholz has reason to fume -- he lost his battles with MCA Records, which did little to promote the album; and lost his court case with former manager Paul Ahern, who won a half-million dollars for alleged breach of contract. But Scholz is determined to be optimistic, so he's booked two shows at the House of Blues on Monday (a Globe Santa benefit) and Tuesday. They're Boston's first local shows since selling out the Worcester Centrum for a record nine nights in 1988.
"It's going to be fun, believe me," says Scholz. "There's going to be some comedy to these shows. . . . It's pretty comical just trying to fit our production into the House of Blues. It's amazing what can grow out of a simple, 'Hey, let's have a Christmas party and jam at it.' "
Scholz has already asked -- and the House of Blues complied -- to have the club's sound system rewired. "You know, we might as well stay all week once we get our equipment in there. It's going to be so hard to shoehorn it in," says Scholz. "We're tearing it down a bit just to fit in."
If all goes well, it should be a treat for fans and set the stage for a shed tour planned for the spring and summer. The band will debut new lead singer Fran Cosmo (formerly of Orion the Hunter), but another treat is the addition of original singer Brad Delp for these shows. (Other players include guitarist Gary Pihl -- formerly of Sammy Hagar's solo band -- and bassist Gary Sikes and new drummer Curly Smith.)
"We'll all play together. Brad is not just going to join us on the older songs. We're an actual group," says Scholz. As for whether Delp, whose urgently high-pitched voice graced early Boston hits "Amanda" and "Don't Look Back," will tour next year, though, Scholz is noncommittal.
"We never think that far ahead," says Scholz. "These days, I'm just trying to get my amp to work. I really don't know one way or another about him touring with us this spring or later. I would find it hard to believe that, at some point, he would not be doing other projects with us. However, I certainly wouldn't want to mislead anybody about expecting him to be on this spring tour. But there will always be a spot for Brad if he shows up. . . . Even though his interests diverge a long way from Boston, I think he finds it refreshing once in a while to get back into that kind of rock 'n' roll."
The new singer, Cosmo, handled the vocals on Boston's latest disc, "Walk On." He won the job when Delp opted to work on other projects such as RTZ (with Barry Goudreau, a former guitar player with Boston) and Beetle Juice, a Beatles cover band that's kept him busy.
Scholz tried out "dozens" of new singers before settling on Cosmo, whose tenor voice fit the lush, multilayered "Boston sound." Cosmo was also a huge Boston fan and "that tipped the scales in his favor," says Scholz.
Criticism ensued when Scholz, who produces 90 percent of the group's music in his home studio in the western suburbs, wouldn't identify the new singer until the album came out. Some observers found this tactic deceptive, but Scholz claims that wasn't the intent.
"Van Halen did it the other way. They made a big deal of it when they changed singers," Scholz says of Van Halen's switch from David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar. "I'm not finding fault with that, but they made a big deal out of it to get some added promotion for their record. Which is fine. But Boston is not a band of personalities. At least it isn't perceived that way publicly. It really is a band that just has a sound and a style that is perceived publicly, but not the personalities.
"Also, we weren't making a wild departure in style. It wasn't like Michael McDonald stepping into the Doobie Brothers, where there was a big departure in sound. Plus, I wanted fans to hear the album without a lot of attendant thinking like, 'Does this song sound different from before?' There's been a positive reaction from fans, so that's worked out well."
What didn't work out well was the relationship with MCA Records. "What relationship?" Scholz says snidely. "Let's put it this way. I killed myself to finish the record 'Walk On' in December of last year. But MCA didn't put it out until June. We had planned a spring and summer shed tour and that whole thing went down the drain when MCA waited so long to put it out."
One thing that didn't change was the painstaking way that Scholz recorded ''Walk On," fussing over it like his previous records. He tinkered in his basement studio for three full years, trying to forge the multitracked sound he wanted.
"There are no shortcuts for me in the studio. It's always the same procedure -- three steps forward, two steps back," says Scholz, a former Polaroid engineer. "There are a thousand different ways to play a single note on a guitar or a single chord. And I've probably come close to trying all 1,000 of them on every note.
"The time I take to write, arrange and record a song has always been limited by my stamina," he says. "And I have good stamina. I have a lot of wind. I can experiment a long time."