By Scott Mervis
It was tough for Tommy DeCarlo to leave his job at the Home Depot in Charlotte, N.C. -- he liked his co-workers and rather enjoyed helping people find hardware -- and he doesn't rule out going back to it at some point.
For the time being, though, he's the lead singer of Boston.
It's the first band he's ever been in.
In what is becoming a semi-familiar story, Mr. DeCarlo got the gig by posting a video on the Internet -- in this case it was Myspace -- that caught the attention of the band due to his vocal resemblance to the late singer Brad Delp.
Like most kids who came of age in the late '70s, Mr. DeCarlo, 47, was struck by Boston in the summer of '76 when the band released that momentous debut album, which perfectly packaged progressive rock with melodic pop.
"Back when I was around 12 or 13, a friend of mine bought the debut and lent it to me, and I never gave it back," Mr. DeCarlo says. "I fell in love with the music and especially Brad Delp's vocals."
Mr. DeCarlo was in his elementary school choir and then when he was 15 or 16, he was at a party and Boston came on the stereo. When he started singing, the room got kind of quiet. "After the song was over somebody said, 'Man, you really sound like that guy in Boston.' I could go out and sing a number of other artists' music, but home for me was always Boston. Going out and singing Steve Perry? Never. But I never sang with the intention of sounding just like Brad. I just wanted to have a tone that's similar."
Boston, led by MIT mastermind and guitar geek Tom Scholz, never toured as much as its '70s counterparts, so Mr. DeCarlo didn't get to see Boston until the mid-'90s, while he was living in Florida.
"My first Boston show," he says, "I was able to meet Brad Delp. I wasn't among 30 or 40 people at a meet and greet. But after the show I hung around by the buses, and I yelled Brad's name, and we talked for a minute. I'm really thankful I got to meet him."
He got to tell him how much he loved Boston, but he was so wrapped up in the moment, he didn't even remember to have Delp sign the CD he was holding in his hand.
On March 9, 2007, Delp took his own life at age 55, leaving a note clipped to his shirt that said, "I am a lonely soul." The band posted on its website, "We've just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll."
The only musical equipment Mr. DeCarlo had at the time was the microphone to do his Boston karaoke, but he went over to his parents' house to care for their animals while they were on vacation, and he sat down at a Casio keyboard and started playing "A Man I'll Never Be" (a song from the second album) and used that as a basis for a tribute song to the Boston singer.
His son Tommy insisted that he record it and his daughter Talia helped him load it onto Myspace along with his cover versions of Boston songs.
Then, he says, "I saw that there was a tribute show being planned, and Boston was one of the bands on the ticket to perform. I was thinking how much I wished I could sing at that show. I made a contact through Myspace and sent them a blind email, saying, 'I love to sing Boston. Here are MP3s.' "
A few weeks later, he got an email from Kim Scholz, Tom's wife, and then a call from the guitarist praising his voice and its resemblance to Delp's. The guitarist flew Mr. DeCarlo and his family up to Massachusetts and invited him to the rehearsal at an industrial building. When he walked in they were playing "Don't Look Back" -- which he took as an omen -- and they asked him to come up and sing "Smokin' " and "Party."
"The thing I remember the most was how laid-back everyone was, but I did notice some ears perk up at the rehearsal, and I was wondering, 'Why is everyone listening so closely?' After the song, Tom came over and gave me a high five. He enjoyed what he heard."
The next thing he knew he was on stage at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston in August 2007 in front of nearly 4,000 fans for the fundraiser concert called "Come Together." It went well enough that the following year he was invited on a Boston tour with Mr. Scholz and longtime Boston guitarist Gary Pihl, plus bassist Kimberley Dahme and drummer Jeff Neal. He was sharing vocal duties with Stryper's Michael Sweet.
Suddenly, he went from karaoke to a real stage where he not only had to sing but perform.
"Back in 2008 I didn't know how to approach it. Fortunately, I knew the lyrics, and I stood at a mic and sang the songs. Going from helping people locate nuts and bolts to an arena was crazy. The challenge was never the audience, though. It's getting your mind past it. That took a little doing, even now, but it's starting to settle in."
Mr. DeCarlo has returned for the 2012 tour on which he's sharing vocals with David Victor, and drummer Curly Smith and Stryper bassist Tracy Ferrie make up the rhythm section.
"I left Home Depot about a month before the 2008 tour and have not been back," he says. "It was with a little bit of apprehension that I left because I didn't know what the future would hold. Thankfully, Tom has kept the band going."
In terms of lifestyle, not much has changed. "We live in the same house, and the best part of my day is my wife and kids. I get a lot of support from the people at the store."
In terms of what is happening with the long-awaited follow-up to Boston's 2002, album "Corporate America," he says, "My best answer is that it's a question better for Tom Scholz. I'm clueless. Boston has been a band that was Tom Scholz-driven. He's done everything. There's nothing new on the tour, but we're doing stuff that hasn't been done in a long time."
By Scott Mervis