By Linda Sickler

It's the Big 4-0.

The iconic rock band Boston has been around for an astonishing four decades. To celebrate, its members will soon kick off the Boston: 40th Anniversary Tour, with a sold-out stop in Savannah set for May 1.

Guitarist Gary Pihl has been with the band for 31 years.

"I met the guys in Boston when I was in Sammy Hagar's band," he says. "Our manager knew Boston's manager and Boston was hired to open for us at the end of the tour.

"They liked us, we liked them. We said they should open for us the entire second tour, and that's just what we did.

"I got to meet Boston's founder Tom Scholz and we were both interested in electronics," Pihl says. "In 1985, when Sammy joined Van Halen, Tom called and said he'd heard I was out of a gig."

As a result, Pihl joined Boston.

"How lucky can a guy get?" he says. "Boston was always one of my favorite bands. I was at Farm Aid and flew directly from there and went to work with Boston.

"It's been a fantastic journey. Tom is a wonderful guy. He designed the amplifiers we're using and we're probably the only band in the world using amps we built.

"People ask me, 'How would you describe Tom?'" Pihl says. "I say, 'With four words -- smartest guy I know.'"

It was 1975 when Boston's self-titled debut album became a huge hit, selling more than 17 million copies and generating the hits "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind" and "Smokin.'" Members pride themselves on performing a totally live show without the use of pre-recorded music or technical enhancements, a rare feat indeed these days.

Current members are Scholz, lead and rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and backing vocals; Pihl, rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals; Curly Smith, drums, percussion, harmonica and backing vocals; Jeff Neal, drums, percussion and backing vocals; Tommy DeCarlo, lead vocals, keyboards and percussion; Tracy Ferrie, bass guitar and backing vocals; and Beth Cohen, keyboards, vocals and rhythm guitar.

"Boston's music really is unique," says publicist Gail Parento. "They play every single thing on stage live.

"They don't use tape loops or enhancements," she says. "They are so faithful to their recordings. With six voices, it literally is so great."

Even as a child, Pihl was interested in being a musician.

"My oldest sister listened to Elvis and the Everly Brothers," he says. "Both my parents sang a little bit. My mother still performs with a senior citizens' group in Southern California.

"We don't always tour every year, so some years, she'll have more gigs than I do.

"My grandmother played organ. A cousin dances with the Alvin Ailey group," Pihl says. "Performing runs in our family."

While he was in high school, a classmate told Pihl about a man who was giving guitar lessons at a local music store.

"He said he was so good, so I started doing that," Pihl says. "This guy was in a band called The Warlocks, so we went to see him play in a pizza place.

"He changed the band's name to The Grateful Dead. It was Jerry Garcia.

"People ask what he was like," Pihl says. "He was very professional and taught us cool stuff, professional stuff."

While in high school, Pihl performed with several bands.

"We were close to getting a record deal," he says. "That was the Holy Grail and we got close.

"The recording companies came out to see us and would say, 'You're good.' But we were just not the right thing at the right time.

"Over the course of playing, I met Sammy Hagar," Pihl says. "Joining Sammy's band was my big break."

At the time, Hagar needed a guitar player, so Pihl auditioned for him.

"While I was auditioning, his manager called and said they could open for Thin Lizzy in two days if they could get a guitar player," Pihl says. "Sammy asked if I wanted to do it. I didn't know I was full-time and at the end of the night, I was saying good-bye and they said, 'You're in the band.'"

In Savannah, Boston will play its most well-known hits.

"We will be certain to play the songs everyone knows and loves," Pihl says. "It's such a thrill to see people smiling and singing along.

"We'll also play stuff we haven't played in a while," he says. "And there's be stuff from the new album."

It's fun to watch the fans from the stage, Pihl says.

"They are smiling most of the time," he says. "When we kick into a song they recognize, people start singing along and clapping.

"We've got some of the greatest fans," Pihl says, "They're so nice and everybody is there to have fun."

Pihl has played Savannah before but he didn't get to see much of it.

"The normal procedure is get on the bus, drive to a town, do a sound check, do the show and get on the bus," he says. "Traveling is OK, but you don't get to see the towns you go to much, unless we get a day off."

Somewhat facetiously, Pihl refers to his wife Marilee as his "trophy wife."

"She was 25 when we married and I was 25," he says. "She was my high school sweetheart.

"She's going to join me in Savannah because we've always wanted to see the sights," Pihl says. "We have a day off after the show and we're going to see everything we can."

All the band members are excited about the tour.

"We were looking forward to coming to Savannah," Pihl says. "The South in general has always been receptive to us.

"We're thrilled to be on our 40th anniversary tour," he says. "Most bands are lucky if they get 15 minutes of fame. It's fun to think 40 years later that Tom Scholz got something so right."