By Kelley Simms
Forty years of doing anything is a magnificent milestone.
In 1976, the debut self-titled album from classic rock band Boston hit the record stores and radio waves and climbed straight up the charts.
The "band" is actually the brainchild of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Tom Scholz. The demo he recorded years before in his own basement studio -- in which he played all the instruments except the drums -- would become the band's debut album.
After 40 years, fans are still clamoring to hear those songs. On the band's current 40th anniversary tour celebrating the release of said album, Des Moines-area fans will have a chance to hear these songs played live when Boston, along with Kansas and Blue Oyster Cult, invades Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday, June 2.
"When you start a band and you first write songs, you're just hoping for that 15 minutes of fame," guitarist Gary Pihl (pronounced "Peel") said. "The fact that people still want to hear those songs 40 years later is really a testament to Tom Scholz."
Yeah, but does the band ever get tired of playing the same tunes over and over?
"People ask us if we get tired of playing the old songs," Pihl begins. "But I would get tired if I just had to sit in my living room and play them. But when you stand up on stage and look out in the audience and people are smiling and singing along … there's no better feeling than that."
As most Boston fans already know, original vocalist Brad Delp committed suicide in 2007, leaving behind a legacy that he created with his voice on several Boston albums. Of course those are big shoes to fill, and new vocalist Tommy DeCarlo has been doing a decent job of it.
"Tommy's doing terrific," Pihl said. "He'd never been in a band before in his life, but he always loved Boston. So he recorded some songs and put them up on his MySpace page and somebody somehow saw them and told us about him. So we called him up and I'm sure he thought it was one of his friends playing a prank on him. The crowd has loved him since the word go because he's just such a regular guy, he's like the guy next door."
Although Pihl's not an original member, he's been in the band since 1986 after an eight-year stint with Sammy Hagar's band, and he's been an integral part of the Boston ship ever since.
"To be a part of it is really a thrill for me," Pihl beamed. "I got my break because I was playing in Sammy Hagar's band and Sammy's manager knew Boston's manager. We opened up the end of Boston's first tour, and they liked us and we liked them, so we opened up the entire second tour across the country. When Sammy left to join Van Halen, Tom called me and said they were working on their third album and wanted me to come work on it. From my last gig with Sammy, which was in Champagne, Ill., at Farm Aid I, I flew directly from there to Boston and started working with Tom. How lucky can a guy get? I wasn't out of work for a day."
While Pihl joined the band in time for 1986's "Third Stage" album, Scholz already had most everything recorded by himself, but left one last song ("I Think I Like It") for Pihl to provide leads on.
"When I got there, everything else had been recorded except this one last song," Pihl said. "I was a little nervous going into it. When it actually came time to record the part, Tom said since I knew how to run a recording machine that he wanted me to do the part because he was going to lunch. So I did it myself because there was no pressure. He made it as easy as possible for me."
Besides being the guitarist, Pihl handles the technical aspects of the stage sound for Boston as well.
"I just sort of fell into it," Pihl stated. "I just started going to the factory (of Scholz's company Scholz Research & Development) every day and helping Tom and the engineers. So when it came time to tour, our crew guys didn't recognize this equipment, so it just fell onto Tom and me to teach them. Because I knew how to do the work, I ended up being the technical advisor for Tom. It's that team effort where everybody pitches in and tries to do what they can to make it all work."
On its current 40th anniversary tour, Boston is on a mission to play 50 shows in 100 days. And you can bet that the set list will be filled with a plethora of select tracks from the Boston catalog.
"We're going to mix it up," Pihl promises. "We'll be playing all the hits that people want to sing along with, but we're also going to throw in some deep cuts that perhaps they haven't heard in a while. But we're also going to throw in a song or two from the latest CD, "Live, Love & Hope."
New Boston albums don't come around very often, but Pihl did say they have been working on new material. However, he reiterated that the band's top priority is to play its classic hits for audiences around the nation this summer.
"Job No. 1 is to go out and tour and have a great time," Pihl concluded. "And we hope we have a lot of our fans there singing along with us and smiling out in the audience."
IF YOU GO
What: Boston, Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult
When: Thursday, June 2 at 6:30 pm
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, 730 3rd St., Des Moines
Ticket info: $36, $46, $66, $86, $96, $146, available at the Wells Fargo Arena Box Office, online at www.iowaeventscenter.com or by phone 866-553-2457.
Boston's debut full-length album was released on Aug. 25, 1976, and features the hit song "More Than A Feeling." The record peaked at No. 3 on the US Billboard 200 chart and went on to sell 17 million units, allowing the release to achieve Platinum status 17 times over. It ranks as one of the best-selling debut albums in U.S. history.