By Chris Serico
As lead singer of Boston, Tommy DeCarlo is on a North American tour that includes a July 22 stop at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. But it wasn't long ago that he was just a lifelong fan, working at a Home Depot in Charlotte, N.C.
"I'll say to myself, 'How the heck did this happen?'" said DeCarlo, 47.
Growing up in Utica, DeCarlo was a teenager when he first heard Boston's "More Than a Feeling." He was mesmerized. Today, he acknowledges that "as corny as this sounds, it's been more than a feeling ever since."
But not all those feelings were happy. In 2007, DeCarlo was among the Boston fans who were devastated by the news that Brad Delp, the band's original lead singer, had committed suicide. In response, DeCarlo decided to record his own songs as a tribute to the late singer.
DeCarlo's daughter, Talia, was so moved by what she heard that she helped him post the tracks on Myspace. That's when the clips started to go viral, and an enthusiastic fan passed along an email address of someone supposedly affiliated with the band.
DeCarlo expected nothing when he emailed a link of his performances to that address. What he got in return, however, was a reply from Boston's founder and lead guitarist, Tom Scholz, who marveled at how much the Home Depot credit manager sounded like Delp.
On Aug. 18, 2007, Scholz flew DeCarlo and his family to Boston (the city), and invited him to the band's rehearsal for a Delp tribute show scheduled for the following night. DeCarlo says he suspected, even in that moment, that something more might be on the line: "I just knew that if I'd just performed well at the tribute show, I knew [Scholz] would want to have me back."
The next night, DeCarlo took the stage to perform two of Boston's hits -- "Smokin'" and "Party" -- marking the first time he'd ever sung with the band in front of an audience. After the show, while DeCarlo waited for the car that would take him back to his hotel -- and, he assumed, back to his normal life -- he thanked Scholz for the opportunity.
"I said, 'I appreciate your having me on, and everything,'" DeCarlo recalled. "And he said, with a big smile on his face, 'We'll be in touch.'"
DeCarlo was stunned: One of his dreams had come true.
"I never went back [to Home Depot]," he said with a laugh. "Tom Scholz pays a little better than Home Depot, fortunately enough."
DeCarlo said he "didn't know anything about touring" at the start of Boston's 56-show road trip in 2008, and he was tough on himself when it came to his earliest concert performances.
"Quite honestly, I wasn't particularly fond of my first eight to 10 shows," he said. "I mean, the fans liked it; Tom liked it; but I knew in my heart, he didn't get my best, because I was a nervous wreck, singing in front of sold-out stadiums ... It took eight to 10 shows for me to actually calm down and start having fun and enjoying it."
After that tour ended, DeCarlo waited four years for the other members of Boston to agree to hit the road again, but during the interim, he says, he worked on improving his rock star vocals -- and his rock star look.
Before the 2008 tour, "I really wasn't working my vocals the way that you should, in terms of getting ready for a big tour," he said. "So, a lot of [the preparation since 2008] was a lot of vocal work, and building up my vocal muscle, as well as getting myself in better shape. I was just an average guy; I wasn't a real workout nut, but once I saw some pictures of me from the 2008 tour, I said, 'You know somethin'? I don't think I like the way I look. I need to drop a few pounds, grow the hair out a little bit more, and just kind of embrace the role a little bit more.'"
This time around, DeCarlo says, his nerves are gone, and he's having a lot more fun.
"Rehearsals have been great," he added. "The band sounds amazing. And I think I will always consider myself an extension of the fans, because I just kind of latched onto these guys so late in the game in my life. I'm 47, now, so as odd as it sounds, I always look at them as the band, and I'm just lucky enough to go up and sing with them ... If you can't go out and have a great time touring with your favorite rock and roll band, I'm afraid you just can't have a good time."
In addition, he says, the fans that had been supportive in 2008 are even more enthusiastic in 2012.
"I think they're just dying for this music," DeCarlo said. "And as a fan, I'm the same way ... I have never experienced being in one room -- whether it be a sold-out venue or whatever it may be -- with so many people who are so happy at one time. I think that's got to be the most amazing thing to me: With all the craziness in this world that's going on today, you can put 15,000 to 20,000 people in one room and everybody's on the same page."
Even after five years of knowing the band personally, DeCarlo's reverence toward his bandmates remains consistent, as he refers to Boston as "they," rather than "we." Part of this likely stems from the fact that he's been just a face in the crowd at their shows for decades, but it may also have to do with the very reason he has this opportunity.
"If there's one thing missing from this entire experience that I've had thus far," he said, "I truly wish in my heart that Brad Delp could have been a part of it."
IF YOU GO
When: 7:30 p.m., Sunday, July 22
Info: Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave., White Plains; 914-995-4050; www.wmconcerts.com; $47.50-$109.50
By Chris Serico