By Jim Harrington
San Jose Mercury News
Gary Pihl became an official member of Boston in 1985. Yet his time with the multiplatinum classic-rock band -- which performs Saturday at Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View -- stretches much further.
"I've been on every Boston tour," the Bay Area-raised guitarist says during a recent phone interview. "But on the first two tours, I was in the opening act."
Pihl was a member of Sammy Hagar's band, which opened a batch of shows on Boston's first tour in 1977. Things jelled between the two acts, so Boston invited Hagar and crew to open all the dates on its second headlining trek.
That turned out to be a pivotal moment for Pihl (pronounced "Peel"), although the guitarist wouldn't fully realize it until years later. Fast-forward to 1985 -- and Hagar's announcement that he's joining Van Halen -- and Pihl suddenly needed to find a new job. It didn't take him long.
"Tom Scholz from Boston called and said, 'Well, why don't you come and help me to finish the "Third Stage" album?' " Pihl says. "I left from Farm Aid I, which was our last concert with Sammy, and flew directly to Boston to start working with Tom."
It wasn't initially an offer to join the band, but it soon turned into one. Scholz and Pihl have been working together in the band Boston ever since.
"How lucky can a guy get?" Pihl says. "I wasn't out of work for a day."
Of course, working in Boston isn't like working in other bands. Scholz, the band's undisputed leader, is a legendary perfectionist who seemingly refuses to be rushed. A new Boston album comes along just a little more frequently than Halley's comet. The current pace is roughly one-record-per-decade, which means that the arrival of a new Boston album is viewed as a near-historic event by fans.
Last year, the group released its sixth studio album, "Life, Love and Hope," the long-awaited follow up to 2002's "Corporate America." It's the band's first offering since the 2007 death of original lead singer Brad Delp, although the album does feature his vocal work.
Those coming out to see Boston on Saturday -- when it joins the Doobie Brothers, Don Felder and thousands of classic-rock fans for the annual Bone Bash -- can expect to hear two "Life, Love and Hope" cuts. Pihl says the group has added the album's title track and the instrumental "Last Day of School" to the set list for this tour. Otherwise, these gigs should be heavy on the hits, which probably means plenty of time spent on the band's first three records -- 1976's eponymous debut, 1978's "Don't Look Back" and 1986's "Third Stage."
That first album, in particular, is an amazing achievement. It features such Top 40 smashes as "More Than a Feeling" and "Peace of Mind," but every single song on the disc qualifies as a true staple of the classic-rock radio format. It's one of the most successful debuts of all time, having moved more than 20 million records worldwide, a tally that seems all that more impressive in these days of dwindling record sales.
"That is hard to believe," Pihl says in apparent awe of that debut album, which was recorded before he joined the band. "It makes it seem like every teenager in the country must have had one of those."
The Shoreline show marks the first time that Boston has performed in the Bay Area since 2008, when it played a two-night stand at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. It also represents a kind of homecoming for Pihl, who relocated from Chicago to the Peninsula at a young age and graduated from Hillsdale High School in San Mateo in the late 1960s.
The Bay Area still clearly holds a special place in his heart. It's where his interest in music blossomed and his career first took off, especially once he joined up with Hagar. Pihl says he still loves getting the chance to talk with his old boss, the Red Rocker.
"He's such a nice guy," he says of Hagar. "With Sammy, what you see is what you get. He's always in a good mood and always ready for a good time. And, of course, he's a terrific singer. I really enjoyed my eight years in the band."
Pihl has plenty of stories to tell, especially when it comes to the music scene. As the talk turns to the Peninsula, he recalls taking guitar lessons as a teen with some friends in Palo Alto. The instructor was a nice young man named Jerry.
"He was in a band called the Warlocks," Pihl says. "We saw him play at Magoo's Pizza in (Menlo Park). About six months later, the band changes the name to the Grateful Dead. So that was Jerry Garcia giving us lessons."
That's a great Bay Area music story. Hopefully, Pihl will have more to tell after performing at the 2014 Bone Bash at Shoreline. Showtime is 7 p.m., and tickets are $30-$106, www.livenation.com. The Bone Bash is presented by local radio station KSAN-FM 107.7 (The Bone).
Speaking of Jerry: Here's one that Deadheads definitely won't want to miss:
The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Birthday Celebration is set for Friday at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. Showtime is 8 p.m., and tickets are $39.50-$85, www.ticketmaster.com.
This orchestral program will feature interpretations of both Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band classics. The concert is being curated by the Garcia family and will feature the Berkeley Symphony.
The concert will also feature vocalist and immensely talented guitarist Warren Haynes, who is known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band and Gov't Mule. Haynes is very familiar with the Grateful Dead songbook, having performed in the post-Garcia spinoff The Dead.
The concert marks what would have been Garcia's 72nd birthday. The master musician, who ranked as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, died of a heart attack in 1995.
The setting is certainly appropriate for the occasion, given that the Greek hosted so many legendary Grateful Dead shows.