Feelin' Satisfied: An Interview with Tom Scholz of BOSTON
by Jeb Wright
Classic Rock Revisited

BOSTON’S future never looked more bleak that it was on March 9, 2007 – the day vocalist Brad Delp took his own life. Now, a little over a year later events have come to pass that bring a renewed energy and spirit to the band. Tom Scholz has once again assembled a band that can carry out and carry on his musical vision. A genius musician, songwriter and engineer, Scholz has recruited new vocalist, Tommy DeCarlo, who was discovered under the most unlikely of circumstances and new guitarist/vocalist Michael Sweet. The unknown DeCarlo, employed at Home Depot, contacted the band with a link to a website showing him singing BOSTON songs. Michael Sweet, a huge BOSTON fan, is also the front man for the band Stryper. The events that brought both men to the band seem to have been scripted by someone up above – that someone being Brad Delp.

In this interview, Scholz discusses the new line up, the death of Brad Delp, the making of the first album, the CBS court case and the albums Don’t Look Back and Third Stage in detail. Scholz is an intelligent man who tells it like it is. He has championed many charitable causes without much publicity. He prefers to make music, support his causes and live his life on his own terms as he figures he knows what is best. This interview proves he does indeed know what is best for both himself and his band. Read on to discover more about the man who created the band BOSTON.
 
Be sure to check out www.bandboston.com for all of the bands 2008 tour dates.

Jeb: BOSTON is back with a couple of new faces in the band.

Tom: I think we are going back in style; things are going really well. Tickets are selling much faster than expected.

Jeb: Some BOSTON fans wondered if the band would stay together after Brad [Delp] died. I think people are happy to see things continue on.

Tom: Brad was the most talented musician/singer that I have ever known. No one person could replace him. We could have looked for a lifetime and never found that person. I have to say that both Michael [Sweet] and Tommy [DeCarlo] have done a great job filling his shoes. Rehearsals have been amazing.

I am not a mystical sort of person but it is almost as if Brad is up there pulling some strings. These two guys were left on our doorstep. We didn’t go out looking for anyone and we didn’t do auditions for new singers. We didn’t even know about either of them. Both of them, through their own efforts, showed up. They are both easy to get along with and they are both really talented. They are very excited about BOSTON. It was the most serendipitous set of circumstances that I have ever experienced.

Jeb: Michael Sweet was in a band already but Tommy DeCarlo . . . he came out of nowhere.

Tom: That story reminds me of the Cinderella story that is BOSTON. BOSTON appeared out of nowhere. I knew about it because it was in my basement but we got no attention from anyone. When it hit, it really hit. Tommy DeCarlo is the same way. He is a regular guy who works a regular job. He was married for a while and he has a family. He has not played in bands but he is a phenomenal singer. He sent us an email and a link to a file.

The last thing I was interested in at the time was listening to files someone had made on MySpace or whatever. Somebody sent it to my wife and she was playing it as I happened to be walking by. I asked her when that recording was made. She said, "This is some guy." I said, "That is Brad. What show is this from?" She said, "It is not Brad" and I said "It is Brad." We plugged it into some big speakers and the only way I could tell it was not Brad was because of the background music. I quickly realized this was neither recorded BOSTON or live BOSTON; it was a stored track. I thought, "Oh my God, this isn’t Brad." I couldn’t tell. I have been listening to Brad in the studio for thirty years and I know every little nuance of his voice. I know what is sounds like when it works and when it doesn’t work. It was shocking.

Jeb: Did you contact him at that time?

Tom: We were doing a tribute to Brad. We were lining up some singers to do the show and he had offered to come up and sing. We didn’t know what his background was. Anyone who sang like he sang had to have experience. He had to play in bands and have had recorded. It wasn’t so. The biggest crowd he had ever sang in front of was forty people at a karaoke bar in a bowling alley. His first real appearance on stage with a rock and roll band was at the tribute in front of five thousand people. He came on stage and didn’t have a sound check because there were problems. He came out like he had been doing this his whole life; he wailed. He is a natural singer – like Brad. He also plays keyboards.

Jeb: How did Michael Sweet come about?

Tom: He had contacted us with a condolence. He was a BOSTON fan. He was also the front man for Stryper. When we were putting together some singers to do the tribute we sent him an invitation. He said he would be happy to do it. He lives down in the Cape so he was close. He came up and ran through a song with us. It was he, Gary and I. We all looked at each other after we played all agreed this BOSTON song had never sounded better. We had him play backup guitar and sing harmony for the entire show. It sounded so good that we knew that these two guys were the future.

In the past we have done some long and drawn out rehearsals for upcoming tours but this one went really fast. It was like magic. In a few days we had gone through the whole set and we had everything in place. I was almost afraid of how good it sounded because I didn’t want this to be one of those great warm up, bad game sort of things. I think this tour will have the best sounding BOSTON performances of all time. I think Brad had something to do with it. For the way that things happened and all of the circumstances that came together, it was just uncanny.

Jeb: Tell me about the tribute show.

Tom: We had a bunch of performers from years past and we had a lot of guest singers. It was just a great vibe. It was a very difficult night emotionally but it all came off very positively.

Jeb: Is the Come Together Tribute going to be released?

Tom: It was recorded but there were massive problems. There were two recordings made. We tried to make a recording of our set like we always do but it was a bizarre set up because we had all these bands and the equipment wasn’t ours. The levels going to our recording systems were unusable. There was another recording made by a company and it was in some sort of bizarre file that we could not deal with. We could not get to them to provide us with something that we could use. We never even got to see what was on those recordings. The performance was difficult with so many bands. No one got to do a complete line check and we had bands go on stage with missing instruments. It was a pretty hard night from that standpoint. Because of all the mess ups of our gear it was almost impossible. It was compromised but that was not the important thing for the night. It was more about the feel of the night – which was good. I can pretty much guarantee that show will never see the light of day.  

Jeb: I want to ask you some very personal questions that I think the fans really want to know. After Brad killed himself did you think about hanging it all up?

Tom: Sure I did. I think it went through everybody’s mind. When something like that happens – it is hard to put into words the sequence of events that happened to keep this band going. I think we all felt the same way. It sounded too good to just leave on the doorstep and ignore.

Jeb: Brad’s death was so shocking. I don’t think anyone saw it coming.

Tom: They didn’t see it coming – I certainly didn’t see it coming. Brad wasn’t a happy camper. He had a tough life in a personal sense. He went through two divorces and he had a couple of engagements that never led to marriage. That part of his life was not very good.

Jeb: It had to be like losing a brother.

Tom: We were work friends. Sometimes your work friends are your closest friends. We shared a lot of things together. We spent a lot of time together when we were not working, during our breaks and when we were on the road. You talk about a lot of things and a lot of things come out. We had some really unusual parallels. We both had serious relationships in the nineties that left us both in not a very good state of mind. Ten years later, I ended up marrying somebody and being happier than I have ever been. Brad was not so lucky.

Jeb: Why didn’t you go to his funeral?

Tom: We actually were not told of the funeral. Not only were we not invited, we were not told about it. We were not the only ones. Not one member who is in the current line up of BOSTON was even informed of the funeral. I don’t want to get into that as you know there were some very bad things that happened after that. We are currently in court over many statements that were made to the press at that time.

Jeb: What is it with you and the courts? People love to sue you.

Tom: They do, actually that’s true. The good thing is that I have a really good track record in that department. My theory is that you should not start a lawsuit unless you are sure that you are going to win it. Anybody who has been in the music business for thirty years has been in lawsuits as it is unavoidable.

Jeb: You run a charity but you don’t talk much about it.

Tom: Primarily it was set up as a vehicle for me to give my money away. I don’t solicit donations for it. It has received some donations from some people who found out about it. Brad contributed a lot to it. The charitable foundation basically funds other charities that Brad and I were trying to support. They are mostly anti-cruelty and anti-suffering programs and vegetarian organizations trying to enlighten the public about vegetarian lifestyles and why they should consider it. Brad, Gary and I are longtime vegetarian. I think that is one of the things that sort of kept us in tune over the years.

Brad and I were very different people but that is one of the things that we had in common. I followed Brad after he got into it in the Seventies. Gary got into it in the Eighties after he met me. I think it was one of the sort of binding things that held us together.

Jeb: It has to be mentioned that you are a very outspoken person.

Tom: I said that Brad and I are very different people and that is it. Brad is the most passive person that I have ever met and I, on the other hand, am the most outspoken, rebellious guy who takes everything on.

Jeb: What you have achieved in BOSTON has helped you support your causes.

Tom: It has helped both financially and by lending a name to it that they can use to bring attention to it. I don’t think we have made any monstrous difference but there are plenty of people who have thought about things that they would not have thought about if BOSTON didn’t exist.

Jeb: Going way back in time, I heard you started out playing keyboards.

Tom: I learned piano when I was a kid but I didn’t do much with it. When I was in college, I started banging around for my own amusement. At some point I bought an electric piano and a little organ. I got in a band at the dorm. Being in the first band I was in is what inspired me to play the guitar. I knew what I wanted to hear the guitar player do and I wasn’t hearing it. I went out and bought a twenty-five dollar really bad Japanese guitar. I started learning how to play and in a few months I was able to play rhythm guitar.

Jeb: You wrote and recorded the entire first album in your basement but it is not like you didn’t have a bright future. Back when you were in your basement you had a nice job as an engineer.

Tom: I did. In 1974, I basically blew all of my money. I had been working for five years at that point and I took all of the money and spent it on recording equipment that was good enough to record the demos that landed the Epic Records deal. I had been bumming around playing in local bands that didn’t have a future. I even started a couple of bands but they didn’t play the music that became the music I wrote with BOSTON. I knew that I was going nowhere unless I started doing what I knew I could do and started doing it myself. I knew that all I would ever do was play once and a while in a club and have no one really listen to the music. I quit playing with bands at that point and I set up in my basement and I went to work. Out of that came "Peace of Mind," "Rock n Roll Band," "Hitch a Ride" and "Don’t Be Afraid." It was completely done by my drummer friend Jim Masdea and myself. I played all of the instruments and by doing that I could finally get everything that I was imagining and hearing. I could experiment and find the sounds that I needed. I was never able to do that when I tried to work with other musicians. That was the turning point. It was the old adage, "If you want it done right then do it yourself." I knew that if it failed then I would have no one to blame but myself.

It was a huge gamble. I was married at the time and that money was supposed to be for a down payment on a house and I spent it all. It was very uncomfortable. I knew that Brad could do all of the singing and that he would do an awesome job. He did even better than I imagined. He came in after I had all of the instrumental tracks – oddly enough I heard years later that Brad did not realize that when he was just singing to me playing a bunch of overdubbed tracks. He thought there had been a band. He wasn’t there for the recording of the instruments – it was just me and the tape deck.

Jim and I would work out the drum lines and then I would record. Brad did the same thing with the vocals. He would try different things and I would push the buttons. We finished it up the following year with "More Than a Feeling" and "Something About You" and that is when we got the deal. Five of those six songs were on the first BOSTON album. I think it is very hard for people to get their head around the idea that this band was actually some guys overdubbing in a basement. They like to think that a band plays together and hangs out and writes songs and gets a contract and goes into the studio and then they jam out in the studio and an album comes out of that. This was not like that at all. It was many, many years of long nights playing along with a tape deck.

Jeb: The record company wanted you to re-record everything.


Tom: And I did but the funny thing is that they thought that it was being re-recorded by a real producer in a studio somewhere. The only difference is that Sib Hashian played the drum tracks on those versions. I did the exact same thing, I went back to work and I played all of the parts myself. When you hear "More Than a Feeling" that is a couple of weeks of me relaying the guitar tracks down just the way I did on the demos. Brad did the same thing with the vocals. It was done entirely just like the original but the record company didn’t know it. There was another producer named John Boylan. I have to give John enormous credit because I told him that the only way I was going to do this was if I could do it in my basement. I told him I was not going to LA and do it in some studio because I knew it wouldn’t work. He was the chosen producer and he didn’t want to lose the deal. He told me to record it in my basement and then bring it to LA and we will mix it. He said, "You do that and we will split the producer’s royalty." I was ready to say ‘yes’ before he said he would split the producers royalty.  I was just thrilled to be getting paid to do this.

Jeb: It had to be great handing it over to the record company knowing that you did it your way.

Tom: They still didn’t know it then. They didn’t know it until the CBS lawsuit a few years later. I think that was part of the misconception on their part. They thought they could force an album out before I was finished with it. They were trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. I am sure that they did not know that all those records they had released were made in my basement. They thought they were holding the purse strings to me for recording when the machine was in my basement [laughter]. I knew as long as I could keep the machines running and put tape on them and keep food on the table then I could record pretty much forever.

Jeb: During the court case were you still writing songs?

Tom: We had gone on a horrible tour in 1978-79. We played BOSTON songs and I loved playing on stage but it was horrible. It was long and when I got off the road I wasn’t sure that I wanted to ever go on tour again. Brad told me that he didn’t ever want to go on tour. I was going to hang it up and just record. I took a little time off after Don’t Look Back. I was drained. I was more than drained, I was demoralized. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the music business. I didn’t like what I had seen. Brad and I had made a lot of money for a lot of people and I didn’t like what they were doing. I began to feel guilty about enabling people to do things that I didn’t approve of. I considered leaving music altogether and going back to being an engineer.

In the early ‘80's I realized that if I could do something and then channel money into hands that would do something good then that would be great. It was a revelation. I shouldn’t quit. If I had quit then I knew that everyone who was into BOSTON or inspired by BOSTON – I don’t mean to toot my own horn but music was intended to be inspirational and to make people feel better in some way. I thought that I would lose that if I quit. I decided to try to make it as successful as it could be and I decided to do something good with the money. In the back of my mind that is when the idea for a charitable foundation started. The album came out in 1986 and was a huge success. The foundation was born. Eventually, I won the CBS case, which freed up an enormous amount of money.

Jeb: I heard they withheld your royalty payments during that time.

Tom: I basically got pennies on the dollar and they had most of it. I was living in a teeny little house. I was happy but I certainly was not well off. All of a sudden all this money came from CBS and the foundation did very well.

Jeb: Lesser men would have allowed the pressure to cave them in.

Tom: I am sure that is what they expected. CBS beat up on a lot of people back then. But that is me; I am stupidly rebellious. It is just like the whole Corporate Rock thing that started a few years later – that really bugged me. Here is a guy that wrote songs and fought every record company he was ever with and fought ever manager he ever had and who didn’t make a ton of money because he was trying to make some good records in his basement – how can you slap a corporate label on him? How can you pick that band to put that label on? How can anybody who has been in so much trouble with so many giant corporations be called Corporate Rock?

Jeb: Set the record straight: Barry Goudreau made a solo album during the time the court case was going on. You have been accused of going to Epic and talking them into not to support the album.

Tom: Not true. That is ridiculous. Goudreau separated on reasonablely good terms with me at the time. There may have been some sour grapes because it really didn’t happen for him. He made numerous albums and I was at odds with CBS for all of the albums so I don’t think that excuse holds water. Knowing what you know about record companies back then I think you know there isn’t a record executive on the face of the earth who would miss a chance to sell records from any source and make money.

Jeb: I heard you didn’t like Don’t Look Back.

Tom: The album wasn’t done. I don’t dislike the album; we play most of those songs when we go out on tour. The album was only twenty-nine minutes; it had to be the shortest album that was released in 1979. I think it was the record company and management working together. I drew the line at that point. I could see all these people around me making lots of money. I was putting in most of the time and recording most of the tracks myself. All of the BOSTON records have been done like the demos.

That really annoyed me. It is one thing to do most of the work – I was engineering it, producing it, providing the studio, writing the songs and recording all of the parts. I wasn’t necessarily getting paid for all of that. That was one thing but it was another thing to truncate my creative possibilities by deciding that we were going to stop now because they could make the most money if it was released now. It was not done. I made a mental note to self that said that I was not going to do this again.

Jeb: Changing the subject, back in the early days BOSTON used to get slagged about their live sound.


Tom: It wasn’t that good. I think this tour will be the best one ever but I think it got progressively better every tour. It wasn’t that great back in the day. It was thirty years ago and I don’t think anyone was doing things as well then as they are now. I think back in the Seventies the audience was so stoned that they didn’t know if we were even playing or not. We were following on the heels of "More Than a Feeling" and "Don’t Look Back." We were just excited to be there live on stage because the songs were so successful.

In ‘87 we had Third Stage and that was much more difficult music. The entire band was on the album. We had turned a corner for performing at that point. We had some good vocalists and some extremely confident musicians on stage. It was the start of being technically really good live as opposed to being really good in the studio. I don’t want to take anything away from the guys who recorded in the Seventies; they are all very good musicians but it was a different time. Nobody really paid attention to what the sound was like in front of house. You basically plugged in your amp and wailed away. Unfortunately, some of the tapes I have heard sound like that. There were some very good moments. By no means do I think it was a slacker of a job. We worked hard at getting ready for those shows. It is just that I have learned a lot over the last thirty years.

Jeb: Third Stage saw Gary Pihl come into the band as well.

Tom: He made a huge difference. To be honest with you, he is the reason there is a BOSTON today. I would not have gone out on the road again after Third Stage but Gary talked me into it. Brad and Gary pulled things together and reassembled a rhythm section by themselves. I showed up for the first rehearsal and they had already gone through the basics with them. At that point my back was hurting really bad and there was only so much I could do physically.

That was an amazing tour. I have never seen crowds like that. We set record attendance at stadiums. We played shows at a venue near Boston and we set the record with nine shows in a row that were all sold out. We had a long set and we did all of the sounds that were on the album including all the harmonies and harmony guitars. We did it all and it was really neat. It was a technical and an artistic success.

Jeb: Was Third Stage about entering adulthood?

Tom: It is a lot more than adulthood. Adulthood is about being old enough to drink, have sex and get married. It is a different thing. I considered it the next step when you are supposed to get a better car and buy a house according to this plan, which isn’t really what’s important in life. The intent with the Third Stage message is when you cross over that point and really realize what is going on around you and that the rest of the inhabitants of the earth is what is important.

Jeb: Third Stage had to be satisfying for you as a come back.

Tom: Part of the whole trauma of going through that period of the 80's is that I had to beat an injunction to release an album. They tried to block the release of Third Stage. I had to beat the lawsuit to even see anything from it. I had run up incredible legal fees for the defense. It was an enormously high risk – much bigger than using your down payment money to buy a house.

Jeb: I wanted to comment on Downers Revenge. You put out a song and didn’t let anyone know it was BOSTON, instead saying the band was Downers Revenge.

Tom: Alternative was taking over the internet as the method of delivery. The song "Corporate America" is one of my few songs that has something to say that is critical to the point, and while it is not uplifting, it is important. I wanted to get that out there. It was shocking to see what happened. It was the number one download at the time. The album sold very poorly. Artemis [BOSTON’S record company at the time] was becoming inept from their own problems.

I am in the process of, and have actually re-recorded and re-mixed some of the tracks. That is one of the songs that I am planning to re-release with the new album. I am going to have several of the songs on there from Corporate America. I am glad you mentioned that song because it is one of my favorites from the standpoint of the message. People in this country, and around the world, are starting to feel the effects of keeping their eye off of Corporate America. We had better start paying attention; it may be too late now.

Jeb: Last one: Has anyone ever told you that you are too damn smart for your own good?


Tom: I used to be very smart but I am not that smart anymore. I am just right now.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
©1999 - 2014 thirdstage.ca