By Matt Wardlaw
It's been quite a long time since Tom Scholz was a young boy growing up in Toledo. He's best known these days as the guitarist and creative mind behind the multi-platinum classic rock band Boston, but he's got fond memories of his Northeast Ohio days. During a recent phone conversation, he said that Cedar Point was a favorite destination. "As a kid of course, it was astounding. I was especially crazy about roller coasters. I don't know if they still have that old wooden one, but they had that most awesome giant old wooden roller coaster at Cedar Point and I could not get enough of that."
Long before Boston played its first shows here, Cleveland was already a destination on Scholz's roadmap.
"I'm really dating myself here, but when I started school at M.I.T., there was no U.S. I-90 that went all the way across the country," he says. "You had to drive through Cleveland to get back onto I-90 where it started up again to get to Massachusetts. So I've been through Cleveland many times and I have a couple of friends there too."
Nearly 40 years after Boston released its now-classic self-titled debut album in 1976, Scholz is back out on the road promoting a new Boston release, Life, Love, & Hope. The album came out in December of last year and lands 11 years after the release of the band's previous album, 2002's Corporate America. Original Boston frontman Brad Delp passed away in 2007, but his vocals appear on three tracks on the new album, and Scholz feels like his old friend would be happy to know that his work eventually found a home, particularly on an album called Life, Love & Hope.
Scholz had to go a long distance to find the finish line and wrap up work on the album. As is always the case, the legendary guitarist and producer spent many long hours working alone in the studio, and, at one point, he admits he wasn't sure that the album would even be released. As his own worst critic, he says that it was really important for him to be able to finish an album that he himself would enjoy listening to -- an important personal barometer when it comes to creating music that he hopes that Boston fans will enjoy.
"That's really my ultimate goal," he says. "I don't have any control over what happens once I get finished with the record. I can't control whether somebody's going to like it or [if] it's going to get played or if anybody's going to buy it. But I do have control over creating something that I like. Basically, when I started doing that in the mid-'70s, that's when people started paying attention to what I was doing. So I said, ‘Alright, that's going to be the way I know.'"
His career as a songwriter would start on a high note, but there would be many peaks and valleys that would follow.
"The first piece of music that I ever wrote in my life was in 1969 on a Wurlitzer electric piano," he says. "Everyone in the world has heard it -- because it was later titled ‘Foreplay' and used as an intro for ‘Long Time.' So that was the first piece of music I ever wrote. Pretty much the next several years of music that I wrote was absolute crap. So I think that ‘Foreplay' was just dumb luck, but luckily I started stumbling onto some good ideas in the early '70s. Things really started to fall together for me [in 1974]. I purposely disbanded a band that I had put together to play earlier songs that I had written."
As he assembled the project that would become Boston, he had very specific ideas as far as where he wanted to go, and it's no surprise that he wanted more control over things, but, as he explains, he had reasons for that.
"Basically, I actually wanted to get away from all of the other musicians so that i could work on my ideas unhindered," he says. "It wasn't an ego thing; it was just that I had had no luck and had been working for so many years. I had spent virtually every dime that I had made working a difficult job with Polaroid in the daytime, and I'd spent years doing it. So I decided I was going to make one last demo that was music the way I wanted to hear it and that's when I got into the whole thing of just playing all of the parts, overdubbing them one at a time and doing it all myself."
He recruited Delp to sing and worked with "drummer friend" Jim Masdea. "That's when I was finally able to create this demo," he says. "There were six songs in total that landed the contract with Epic Records. So it was a very long arduous process, basically marked by total failure for six years, followed by abrupt and completely unexpected success at the last minute." He has no regrets that he came up with some of Boston's biggest hit songs while he was allegedly "on the job" at Polaroid. From his point of view, when the creative visions come calling, that's something that you can't ignore.
"Music runs through my brain whether I like it or not," he says. "If I'm sitting there designing something on that drawing board as I was doing back in those days and suddenly some lyrics popped into my head, well I had to write them down. ‘Hitch A Ride' was one of the songs that I wrote a lot of it at Polaroid and then a few others that I had some ideas about. Which goes to prove that it is possible to use one side of your brain for two different things at the same time."
The Polaroid story is also inspiring for anyone who might have similar dreams. Scholz will be the first to tell you that he didn't grab the guitar and find success right away. It took quite a bit of work.
"First of all, when I first got a guitar in my hand, I couldn't believe how difficult it was to play that instrument," he says. "I started on keyboards and I found it pretty easy to play after just a couple of years as a kid, I was playing fairly involved classical music arrangements. But guitar, the first time I put my hands on a guitar, I thought "How does anybody actually make this sound good?" So that was a struggle. It went on for many years. But I finally mastered it through sheer effort. Of course the whole process of learning how to write, arrange and actually record music was almost a whole another education in itself."
You can hear the results of what Scholz learned from all of that education for yourself when Boston comes to town this week for a show at Jacobs Pavilion for a show that will be "weighted very heavily with the older hits, because everybody has to hear those" and a few tracks from the new album. As Scholz points out, they don't get out very much, so you won't want to miss it.