By Sue White
MOUNT PLEASANT, MI – Tommy DeCarlo never got a chance to thank the late Boston lead singer Brad Delp for teaching him how to sing.
It wasn't anything formal, no face-to-face lessons. But all those years of singing along to recordings of "More Than a Feeling" and "Don't Look Back" brings him Sunday, July 29, to the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort's outdoor arena.
"I never dreamed in a million years that I'd be touring with Boston and singing those songs onstage," said DeCarlo, who has since quit his job as a credit manager at Home Depot.
"It's sad and unfortunate that Brad isn't here anymore – he died in 2007 – and I wish I had the chance to thank him. I wish he knew that something wonderful happened through the music he made."
Even more amazing is the fact that DeCarlo wasn't even a professional musician when Boston's Tom Scholz tapped him to come aboard in 2007. As DeCarlo puts it, he sang once to 30 or 40 people at a bowling alley, but most never left the lanes to listen.
A chance tribute song he posted on the Internet in memory of Delp caught people's attention, and when Scholz heard his cover of "Don't Look Back," DeCarlo was on his way to the band's memorial concert.
Once there, Delp's bandmates swore they heard their frontman's voice channeled through the avid fan from North Carolina when he sang "Smokin'" and "Party" before 5,000 people.
"I was a Boston fan from the time I was young kid, though I never saw the band in concert until the mid-‘90s," he said. "I couldn't afford the tickets."
He did meet Delp in Florida, positioning himself by the stage, about 25 or 30 feet away.
"I yelled several times, and he looked over and gave me a thumbs up and I was so excited."
After the show, DeCarlo headed outside and watched for Delp to leave the building.
"Brad was walking out to a car, and I knew it was now or never," DeCarlo said. "I yelled out, ‘Hey, Brad, that was awesome,' and he walked right over."
They shook hands, and he had the chance to look Delp in the eye and tell him how much the music meant to him.
"Boston was my thing," DeCarlo said, and when the call from Scholz came in 2007 to come to the benefit show, "it was the stuff movies are made of, something you'd never really believe. When I read about Brad's suicide, I thought, well, that's it. Boston is over.
"It still amazes me."
DeCarlo, who also plays keyboards and percussion in the band that includes Gary Pihl on lead guitar, Tracy Ferrie on bass and Curly Smith on drums, shares the vocals with David Victor, who recently joined the tour. He said he tries not to think too much about what officially brought him in the fold in 2007; even after four years, he said, it's too emotional and interferes with the focus he needs to play with the big boys.
"I put myself into the music," he said. "It's not like I have this internal switch that makes me sound like Brad.
"It's like when I was kid playing baseball and my coach told me how to throw a curve ball. I don't intentionally try to do it the same way but it's bound to come through."
Scholz, the band's songwriter, engineer, producer and musician, keeps Boston strong. And that's what keeps people coming back for more.
"Tom is the sound," DeCarlo said. "And it feels good when you can put a smile on his face. I want to sing well for the fans, and I want to make Tom smile.
"He gave me the opportunity and it's important to return the favor, to do the music the way he wants to hear it."
Scholz gave DeCarlo's entire family a special gift, he said, with his wife and kids sharing in the dream come true. Fans are in for a real treat, he said, when Boston hits the stage in Mount Pleasant.
"As a fan, I'd be thrilled," he said. "We have a good time, but it's hard work. We bring it back to life."
Boston and REO Speedwagon perform outdoors at 6 p.m. July 29 at Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant. Tickets, available by calling 800-585-3737 and at all StarTickets outlets, cost $50, $44 and $25.
By Sue White