By Matt Wake
Tommy DeCarlo's last job involved wearing an orange apron at a Charlotte Home Depot and assisting customers with everything from their store credit accounts to locating nuts and bolts. DeCarlo's current job involves holding a microphone, singing lead vocals for classic-rock band Boston and belting-out arena-leveling notes on hits like "More Than a Feeling" and "Smokin'."
"It's really nothing I can say I've gotten used to yet," DeCarlo, 50 says, about seven years into the gig.
"I know what my job is and I know what Tom (Scholz, Boston guitarist/songwriter/mastermind) expects of me in terms of being a musician and vocalist in the band and what my parts are. But every night on stage I still find a moment to say, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm here.' I'm super-grateful that I've been given this opportunity to be a part of my favorite rock 'n' roll band."
Boston discovered DeCarlo electronically. More specifically via a long-shot email he sent the Boston camp leading up to a 2007 tribute concert for original Boston singer Brad Delp, who'd taken his own life in March of that year. DeCarlo was a huge Delp fan. He sang Boston songs at a local bowling alley's karaoke nights. His email expressed how he'd love to perform at the Delp tribute and contained a link to his MySpace page with MP3s of Boston covers.
Following a surreal phone conversation with Scholz and band rehearsals, DeCarlo went from singing in front of a few dozen folks at karaoke to thousands of fans at Boston shows. Boston was the very first band he'd ever been in.
DeCarlo still resides in Charlotte. Though he enjoyed his time at Home Depot he put in his notice when he began touring with Boston in 2008, perhaps with the lyrics to the group's 1978 smash "Don't Look Back" echoing in his head. When not working with Boston - the band's most recent album is 2013's "Life, Love & Hope" - the singer performs with a band called DeCarlo.
Boston performs 7:30 p.m. June 14 at the Von Braun Center Propst Arena, address 700 Monroe St. Tickets ($31-$81 plus applicable fees) are available via VBC Box Office, ticketmaster.com, Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 800-745-3000. The group's current lineup is still anchored by Scholz. Other musicians include guitarist Gary Pihl, drummer Jeff Neal, bassist Tracy Ferrie and singer Beth Cohen.
DeCarlo checks in for this phone interview from his son's pickup truck, between Boston tour dates.
Tommy, what was your reaction when Tom Scholz first called you to invite you to sing with Boston at the Brad Delp tribute?
I was at home at the time. I couldn't believe it ... I believed it but was in amazement he actually thought my vocals were good enough to go onstage with Boston and perform at that tribute show. I will never forget it. It was in the afternoon. One of the funniest things about that is, I've been a fan of the band since I was 12, 13 years old so talking to the guy that wrote all those songs for Boston I was just in awe. But I didn't want to come off like an over-the-top fan in that phone call. So I had to dial it down a little bit and answer whatever questions he asked about the songs he wanted me to sing and that was it. And it was very easy. Because Tom's very down-to-earth. We had a nice conversation and not only did he fly me up there for the benefit show for Brad Delp but he flew my whole family up there and we all stayed up in Boston for about three or four days so that was awful kind of him to do that.
Have you ever spoken with former Judas Priest replacement singer Tim "Ripper" Owens or the guy in Journey now, who have long-shot stories similar to yours?
Yeah, I sure did. I met Arnel Pineda and it was at a Journey concert here in Charlotte. I was fortunate to get all-access passes for that particular show so I got to go back and say hello to Arnel and we did talk about both our stories. It was nice to talk to somebody who actually knew the feeling I had because he actually felt the same way, being a part of our favorite rock 'n' roll bands. I was very happy for Arnel and he felt the same for me.
Which Boston song do the fans go the most nuts for when you sing it live?
I would say "More Than a Feeling" and for good reason. Not only for the fans to hear it but even us band members will look at each other in awe because it's an amazing song. It's one that everyone knows. And it's one of our favorites to do live as well.
There's a great high note Brad sings in the studio version of "More Than a Feeling" leading into the guitar solo, where it sounds like Brad's voice is going to fly out of the speakers.
Yeah, that one particular note going into Tom's solo is awesome. I love to do it and the fans love to hear it.
Back when you were singing karaoke at the bowling alley, what are some other groups' songs you'd sing besides Boston's?
I would probably sing some Loverboy. Maybe a little bit of Foreigner and then I did some R&HB stuff too. I would do some James Ingram. Kenny Loggins, I did some of his stuff. It really was a variety but Boston was some of the more fun stuff to sing.
You have a similar look to Brad and I was looking back to when you first got the gig and had a more clean-shaven look. I didn't know if you adapted the look to appear more the part, so to speak.
It's funny, I've had this goatee before I joined the band but I was working at Home Depot and trying to look the part, clean cut and doing my job because I was interacting with a lot of customers. No, it was something I didn't think about. I think after I joined the band Boston it was easy to say, "Well he's trying to look like Brad because he's got longer hair now and a mustache or whatever you want to call it." But that's OK. Brad was somebody I looked up to and admired. So I will take any comparison to him as a compliment.
You actually saw Brad sing with Boston in the mid-90s. What's your most vivid memory from that show?
I sat in the nosebleed seats. After the concert I walked back around the venue and saw Brad getting into a car. I had a CD of the first Boston album and even though I was nervous and didn't expect to get a reaction, something made me call out, "Brad you guys were great tonight." Brad stopped what he was doing, placed his duffel bag on top of the car, and walked straight over to me. He reached out and shook my hand. And even though I was speechless and tongue tied, I managed to say, "You're awesome, I love your voice." And that was it.