By Howard Cohen
Boston mastermind, guitarist, inventor Tom Scholz is about to blow up his studio in the city he named his classic rock group for when he remembers he has an an interview to do.
"I'm taking a break from working on a new stage effect. I was just about to blow something up before I stopped to call you," Scholz says. "It's a planned ignition so it won't blow up on stage. I'm finding out how far I can push it."
Scholz, 69, has been pushing it, believe it or not, for 40 years. His band's debut album, Boston, arrived in August 1976. The recording remains one of the best-selling debuts in history and one Boston plans to celebrate Friday with the opening of its 40th anniversary tour at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood.
Boston, with its hit singles More Than a Feeling, Peace of Mind and Long Time, became so ingrained in popular culture it wouldn't be a stretch to say if you went to junior or senior high school in late 1976, you were issued a copy of Boston along with your textbooks and hall passes. Boston's following five albums through Life, Love and Hope in 2013, sold well. But at 17 million and counting domestically, Boston has sold more than double the combined total of all the subsequent releases.
Thanks to the classical music influences Scholz says he soaked up as he listened to his parents' record collection of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff at ages 4 to 6, your parents probably liked Boston, too. When Scholz heard the Jeff Beck Group's Truth album in 1968, when he was 21, the MIT grad saw his future.
"That album did amazing things for me," Scholz says of Beck's hard rock guitar classic. After finding Truth and mining its influence, he delved into the Kinks, the Animals and the Yardbirds. "That is what got me into rock and roll and got me off classical music. That rock had the same kind of power the classical composers had."
For example, 30 years ago, when Third Stage, the third Boston album, made its way to No. 1, Scholz had adapted the chord progression of a Beethoven melody for its track To Be a Man. The tune has remained among his favorites.
Ditto Boston, which unfairly became tagged corporate rock. The album's genesis refutes that description.
"Epic was not about to release an album recorded in someone's basement on secondhand equipment by someone who had never made an album before," Scholz says of his handmade debut. But that's what happened. Boston is largely the work of Scholz, who played all the parts over a six-year period. By day, he worked for Polaroid -- a job he wouldn't quit until Boston was offered its first headlining tour months after the album started to sell on the heels of More Than a Feeling.
After nearly every label passed on Scholz's demo, Epic bit but insisted on a proper producer recording in a proper studio. In a ruse, Scholz had producer pal John Boylan run interference with the label. (Boylan was previously Linda Ronstadt's manager who had paired her with the Eagles, another group that will celebrate the 40th anniversary of a landmark recording, Hotel California, in December.)
The ruse worked. The finished Boston album is more or less Scholz's basement demo presented earlier to the label suits. "The record company were not happy about that idea -- had they known about it," Scholz says, laughing.
"I have to give a nod to Sib Hashian who did studio drum sessions and did an excellent job and Jim Masdea who played on a couple cuts. The rest was me," Scholz says. "I would literally run the tape and pretend I was playing on stage in order so it wasn't a mechanical sort of sounding thing, so I was playing with some emotion."
Forty years on, Boston still sounds fresh and still gives Boston its rousing, autobiographical concert opening tune, Rock and Roll Band.
"No one is more surprised than I that people are into Boston 40 year later," Scholz says. "I didn't expect them to be into it for 40 days."