By Randy Benson
Gary Pihl knows he has one of the coolest jobs in America.
Since 1985, Pihl (pronounced Peel) has played guitar for Boston, a band noted for its driving guitar sound that many have tried to imitate, usually with little success.
Boston will perform at 8 p.m. today at Coushatta Casino Resort as part of its first tour in four years.
"I can tell you exactly when I heard that sound for the first time," Pihl said in a telephone interview. "I was driving near my home in the San Francisco area. I got to a stop sign and I heard "More Than a Feeling" coming out of the car ahead of me."
"More Than a Feeling" was not Boston's biggest hit, topping at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976, but the song introduced the Boston sound pioneered by group founder Tom Scholz to music fans. It was the first track on Boston's self-titled 1976 debut album that sold more than 17 million copies.
Pihl, who was 26 in 1976, already was a successful musician in the San Francisco area. He joined singer Sammy Hagar's band in 1977, just in time for the band to be hired as the opening act for the final few shows of Boston's tour that year. Hagar and his band were hired as the opening act for all of Boston's 1978 tour.
"You can say I have been with Boston on every tour they ever had," Pihl said. "I was just on the opening act for the first two tours."
When Hagar disbanded his group in 1985 to join Van Halen, Pihl wasn't out of work long. Scholz was finishing Boston's third album, "Third Stage," and called in Pihl to help.
"It was supposed to be for one song," Pihl said. "I ended up packing up the wife and kids and moving to the Boston area."
Pihl became a key figure in a band that does not put out albums nearly as often as many groups -- there have been just six albums, one of them a compilation -- and does not tour endlessly either.
"What was nice about that is that I was able to be home with my wife and kids," Pihl said.
The fact that Boston does not follow the usual pattern of a rock group has been driven by Scholz, who is not your typical musician. He holds both bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and owns Scholz Research and Development. He is the inventor of the Rockman guitar amplifier.
"I think Tom owns about 29 patents," said Pihl, who doubles as vice president of Scholz Research and Development. "I think it is safe to say that we are the only group who performs using amplifiers that we built."
Scholz is a reluctant tourer -- possibly why the group limits its live performances. Boston will play around 40 dates this summer, including tonight's show at Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder.
The band has gone through numerous lineup changes over the years and is touring with a new lineup this summer.
"We have been fortunate," Pihl said. "We have been able to work with great people."
Tommy DeCarlo, who joined the band in 1978 in the wake of the death of original lead singer Brad Delp, is the lead vocalist. Scholz and Pihl will be on guitars with Scholz also playing keyboards.
"When you see those lists of the 100 greatest guitarists, Tom is always on it," Pihl said. "The unusual thing is that if you see a list of the 100 greatest keyboard players, Tom also is on that list. Not too many people can make that kind of list on two different instruments."
Curly Smith, who toured with Boston in 1995 and '97 returns to the lineup for this summer's tour. Two newcomers, Tracy Ferrie on bass, and guitarist David Victor, round out the touring act.
"All six of us can sing," Pihl said. "That really makes it nice."
The set list of the Kinder show will include many of the group's standards mixed "with some new songs and a couple of songs we haven't played in a while," Pihl said.
What older songs?
"Oh, I can't tell you that," Pihl said. "You'll have to come to the show to find out."
One thing you won't hear at a Boston show is any recorded music or sound effects.
"One of the things Tom insists on is that everything is performed live," Pihl said. "We find a way to create the sound on stage."
By Randy Benson