By Kirk Baird
Tom Scholz was just another teen out of Toledo when he enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965. And now everybody knows his name -- or at least his band, Boston.
But while growing up in Toledo, Scholz was mostly known as Don Scholz's son. The elder Scholz was a successful Toledo builder and developer who, as founder of Scholz Homes, took part in the prefabricated housing boom of the 1950s.
"My dad was a brilliant home designer and driven," Scholz said in a recent phone interview with The Blade. "He was a paraplegic who became a mogul in the house engineer industry and built I don't know how many tens of thousands of homes and had a huge plant in Toledo. So when I grew up in Toledo, when I would go places and they would hear the name, they would say, 'Oh, you're Don Scholz's son.'
"I didn't know what that meant, to quite understand that as a kid because he was very down to earth and just another guy doing his job."
It's an ethos the younger Scholz inherited from his father, who died in 1999 at age 80. He also inhereited a brilliant engineering mind; Scholz is an inventor who holds numerous patents.
But to most of us who didn't know him as a skinny kid growing up in West Toledo, Scholz is the maestro and everything-but-lead-singer of Boston (the lead singer was the late, great Brad Delp) who, with his band's eponymous debut in 1976, established overnight a musical reputation for clean and polished guitar work, technical precision, and exacting production standards in the studio.
Boston was the top-selling first album by any rock-pop artist until Whitney Houston's debut claimed the title almost a decade later.
Boston's second album, 1978's Don't Look Back, and the long-in-the-making Third Stage from 1986, were multiplatinum sellers as well. The band has since released three more albums -- the latest was 2013's Life Love & Hope -- and is on The Hyper Space Tour this summer, including a Saturday concert at the Rose Music Center at the Heights in Dayton and a show July 9 at the DTE Energy Music Theatre in Detroit. For more information and to purchase tickets to either show, visit bit.ly/2sj5US5.
The current live iteration of Boston features Scholz on lead and rhythm guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals; Tracy Ferrie on bass guitar, and backing vocals; Jeff Neal on drums, percussion, and backing vocals; Tommy DeCarlo on lead vocals, keyboards, and percussion; Beth Cohen on keyboards, vocals, and rhythm guitar; Gary Pihl on rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals, and Curly Smith on drums and backing vocals.
Scholz began the interview noting that "It was actually very fun to dial a phone number starting with 419 ... something that "hasn't happened for a while." It was a natural lead-in to our Q&A session.
Q: There are rumors that you aren't fond of your hometown, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
A: No, that's not true at all, actually. Growing up in West Toledo was probably one of the best things that ever could have happened to me. My dad was a brilliant home designer and driven.
He was a paraplegic who became a mogul in the house engineer industry. ... People in Toledo knew exactly who he was and a lot of them worked for his company, which was Scholz Homes. And I worked for him too, actually, when I designed a gadget that helped him with some sectional home building that he was doing. It was one of the first things that I invented.
I thought growing up in Toledo was just an excellent background for me. Frankly, it set me up to be able to do the things that I've been lucky enough to have a chance to do.
I lived in two different neighborhoods. One [was] in the Rogers School District, which was more blue collar. I went to an elementary school that had ink wells and a desk, the basketball court was dirt with plywood on a pole and a hoop. The second half, in Ottawa Hills, which of course was one of the nicest and best schools in the Toledo area and probably in the state of Ohio. That experience [of] having gone to the school system and through that high school, that is what made it possible for me to basically excel and get to M.I.T. and make it through M.I.T. I was very well prepared. They didn't make as big deal of it as OHHS. They offered the courses and they taught you, and I realized when I got to school that I was surrounded by people who were mostly smarter than I was, but I was very well prepared.
Q: If you hadn't gone to Ottawa Hills, would this have not worked?
A: I doubt I would have gotten into M.I.T. I doubt I would have succeeded at M.I.T. I think it really set me up. They did things there that they clearly did not do in a lot of other school systems. When I got to M.I.T. I had already had the first half of freshman physics -- I already knew it. It had been covered in my senior physics at Ottawa Hills High School. I was able to play basketball.
The whole experience of being on serious teams and working in that kind of environment as a kid, it was all an excellent experience. I realized only much, much later as an adult how lucky I had been. I would tell other people and [hear] the horror stories of their years trying to get an education in high school or all the awful things that had happened, and I thought, 'Oh my God, this was a gift.'
No, I have very fond memories of Toledo, actually. It was a small enough place that I wasn't scared to go driving to downtown Toledo. And it had things that were important to me. My mother used to take me to the Peristyle at the Toledo Museum of Art for classical music concerts. That was sort of the beginning of my really serious interest in music.
Q: Talk about that beginning ...
A: When I was a little kid -- I mean really little, like 4 or 5 -- my parents actually turned me loose with their record collection. Back in those days most of it was still glass in these big albums, all of these classical records, and they would let me sit there and put them on and listen for hours and hours and hours in front of what then was called a hi-fi because there was no stereo. And I did that, and I did it so much that I became exposed to all these great masters and all of their work. I wasn't really old enough to read the labels at first, so I don't even know what I was listening to, but it's all stored in my brain. All of this classic music is what I called upon as I was writing and arranging the music that eventually became known as Boston.
... I don't know if [my mother] planned it that way, but she would take me to concerts featuring Beethoven or Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, these real power mongers that to me as a little kid it was very thrilling. That's what got me interested in music. It was the power of the music. Later to be only eclipsed by the Kinks, the Yardbirds, and a few other people like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and what they could do and the power they could get out of a guitar.
Q: When did you first pick up the guitar as a instrument?
A: Not until I was 21. I played keyboards, I had a few years of classical piano training as a little kid. And then I played a few years occasionally by ear for the fun of it. I was playing in a band, a terrible band, in college just for the heck of it. The guitar player was absolutely destroying Steppenwolf, and I thought, 'How hard can that be?' (Laughs) So I bought a $25 beat-up guitar and an amp and it really was actually hard; I'm still trying to figure out how to play that instrument 50 years later. So it wasn't that easy, but that's what got me into it, was wanting to hear these songs that I really liked with these powerful guitars and I wanted to make those sounds once I got that bug.
Q: Boston hasn't played your hometown in decades. Will that change?
A: I actually tried to do some arm-twisting to try and get a show in Toledo this year. I think they either couldn't fit it in or there was some other problem, so we ended up on both sides of it once again.
I would love to play Toledo; I think the last time we played there may have been at Toledo University [Memorial] Fieldhouse, which was a really good show. It was quite a while ago.