By David Spatz
There's no getting around it: Tommy DeCarlo is the first rock star of the social media generation.
Were it not for his page on the now-passe MySpace, DeCarlo would probably still be a credit manager for a Home Depot in North Carolina, and the 1970s power rock band would likely have a different lead singer.
DeCarlo was 12-year-old kid growing up in Utica, N.Y., when he became a major Boston fan in the 1970s. He bought their albums, memorized the songs and played a mean air guitar. And like many Boston fans, he was heartbroken when the band's lead singer, Brad Delp, committed suicide in 2007.
DeCarlo only real singing "experience" came from the occasional karaoke performance at a local bowling alley. As a memorial tribute to Delp, he posted a few of his karaoke songs on his MySpace page.
"I always liked to sing, it was kind of just a hobby, a bedroom hobby, (but) I never (sang) anything outside of the house," DeCarlo, 50, says during a recent phone call from his North Carolina home. But that was about to change.
DeCarlo's MySpace page made its way to Boston founding member Tom Scholz, who was stunned by what he heard. DeCarlo sounded so much like Delp that Scholz initially thought he was hearing Delp's voice coming through the computer.
"(Scholz) invited me to come and sing at the Brad Delp Come Together Benefit Concert back in 2007," DeCarlo remembers. "He told me a couple of songs that he wanted me to sing at the show. That's what really got the ball rolling for me. After the show, I went to say goodbye to Tom, and he said he'd be in touch, and I'll be damned if he wasn't in touch."
Scholz phoned him two days after the benefit, and after a lengthy conversation, he made DeCarlo the proverbial offer he couldn't refuse. He asked DeCarlo to join Boston as its lead singer during the band's 2008 tour.
As if in a dream, DeCarlo left his Home Depot gig. He rehearsed with the band and -- having never performed for more than 30 people in a bowling alley -- he found himself on stage, bathed in blinding white spotlights in front of 5,000 screaming fans, singing the songs he had memorized as a kid: "More Than a Feeling," "Foreplay/Long Time," "Don't Look Back" and "Amanda."
"That was probably the most intimidating thing. Going from singing at a couple of karaoke things in bowling alleys to singing to sold-out venues was quite a big change from what I'd done in the past," says DeCarlo, who'll be out in front when Boston performs Saturday in the Etess Arena at Trump Taj Mahal.
"It took a little getting used to," he adds, "but fortunately it worked out and I kind of settled down and I found my way around stage and what I needed to do. It's been a blessing ever since, so I'm really thankful to Tom Scholz for that opportunity."
DeCarlo never imagined himself as a rock star. Baseball star, yes -- at 18 and 19, he tried out twice for the Pittsburgh Pirates but failed to make the team. Competitive sports were always a big part of DeCarlo's life, which is why he uses a baseball analogy to explain why his singing voice is so much like Delp's. It isn't an impression, he says.
"I just got so used to singing along with (Delp) that I probably molded my voice around what I heard, which of course was Brad's voice," he says. "So I kind of use the analogy of it would be a young kid playing Little League (baseball) that wanted to pitch like his favorite pitcher and he would just do that over and over again until it finally became second nature, you don't even think about it. I would say back when I was probably 12 years old, maybe I did try to sing and sound like Brad Delp. But once I started doing it, that's what I sounded like when I sang. My voice just went to that particular place and that's how that happened. When I sang those cover songs eight or nine years ago that (Scholz) heard, I was just doing what I had been doing my whole life."
Where music was once a small part of DeCarlo's life, it's now the center of both his world and that of his son, Tommy DeCarlo Jr. Together, father and son have a cover band called DeCarlo that works regularly in the Charlotte area.
"I grew up on Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Night Ranger and Toto, so we tend to play right in that genre," he says.
"We do Boston (because) people see that there's a member of Boston performing, they're going to want to hear some Boston songs, so we do them. But we also do a lot of the hits that I grew up listening to. It's amazing how many of the DeCarlo fans come out and our setlist is almost all songs from the bands I've mentioned. And we like to play the iconic hits of each of those bands."