Rock Candy Magazine
December 2021/January 2022
Tom Scholz, the brains behind Boston, isn't a man who craves publicity. So when Rock Candy Mag persuaded the reluctant superstar creator of 'More Than A Feeling' -- one of the greatest rock songs of all time -- to go deep on the mechanics of making the classic 1976 'Boston' debut album, we knew we'd get a fascinating interview. We weren't disappointed. Words by Jon Hotten.
SPEAKING FROM HIS HOME in Boston -- where else? -- Scholz is reflecting on a career and life so multi-faceted that a single word seems insufficient to describe it. And if there's perhaps a note of insecurity in the above statement, no doubt it can be assuaged by the 75 million sales of Boston's six studio records and the creation of one of radio rock's greatest songs, the timeless 'More Than A Feeling'. As the ground-breaking first Boston record marks its 45th anniversary, Scholz has agreed to look back at the record's extraordinary creation with Rock Candy Mag, and it's an origin story like no other.
DONALD THOMAS Scholz was born on 10 March 1947 in Toledo, Ohio, and grew up in nearby Ottawa Hills, where his father Don designed prefab houses. The young Scholz was an outstanding student, played piano and varsity basketball, and then graduated from one of America's most prestigious universities, MIT in Boston, with a Master's degree in mechanical engineering. He was employed as a senior product designer at the film and camera company Polaroid, where he worked on sound systems for their revolutionary home movie cameras.
Tom took the job seriously, but he also played guitar in rock'n'roll bands, such as Freehold and Middle Earth, and keyboards in Mother's Milk, alongside future Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau. "It was only on weekends, though," he says. Possessed of the fierce logic of a problem solver's mind, Scholz soon realised that he'd have to work a lot harder and a lot longer if he were to fulfil his desire to create something truly special. He began writing in earnest and recording in local studios, before embarking on the process of designing and building his own home studio. Here, in his twenties, he began painstakingly reproducing and recording the sounds he heard in his head. He played every instrument, wrote every note of every song, and auditioned singers -- mostly female. Demos were sent out to labels and were duly rejected. Eventually Scholz recruited another former Mother's Milk member, Brad Delp, as vocalist.
Married and approaching 30, Scholz rolled the musical dice one last time. He recorded a new six-song demo in the basement with Delp, and with the aid of promoter/ manager Paul Ahern soon secured a deal with Epic, which was part of the CBS corporation. Interestingly enough, the project was named Boston only after Scholz had signed with the label. With the help of co-producer John Boylan, Scholz then battled the record company for the right to use his own studio, dubbed Foxglove, to cut the debut 'Boston' album, at one point sending Delp out to Los Angeles as "a decoy" to lay down some backing vocals, while he secretly worked on the album in his converted basement filled with home-made gear.
THE ALBUM, led by its signature track 'More Than A Feeling' was released in August 1976, and did nothing less than redefine American music, ushering in an era of radio rock that would soon benefit the likes of Kansas, Foreigner, Journey, and Pat Benatar.
Pressured into a quick follow-up, Scholz and Boston made 1978's 'Don't Look Back', another multi-platinum hit, but one that saw Scholz decide he would never again release anything until he was completely satisfied with it. 'Third Stage' came out in 1986, and featured the band's first US number one single, 'Amanda'. It didn't appear on Epic, though. Boston had moved to MCA after a protracted legal battle with CBS.
Despite his enormous musical success Scholz was still curious and restless to explore other areas of life that were driven by his passions. He'd begun Scholz Research and Development Inc. to design and build sound equipment, manufacturing the hugely successful Rockman line of products and scratching his engineering itch in the process. It became a multi-million-dollar business that he would eventually sell to Dunlop in 1995.
BRAD DELP left Boston for the first time during the making of the 'Walk On' album, which came out in 1994 featuring Fran Cosmo on vocals, and the pair would both appear on 2002's 'Corporate America'. Delp sadly passed in 2007, committing suicide at the age of 55.
Since then, Scholz and Boston have released 2013's 'Life, Love And Hope' and have continued to tour, with the promise of more new music to come. As a longtime vegetarian, animal rights activist, and advocate for children's rights, Scholz established the DTS Charitable Foundation, which has distributed millions of dollars to the causes it supports.
It has been quite a life so far, one founded on those extraordinary early years during which he created one of hard rock's most singular and influential albums. The man who wrote 'Don't Look Back' is, briefly at least, willing to do exactly that. Pull up a chair...
'MUSICIAN' DOES SEEM A SLIGHTLY INADEQUATE DESCRIPTION FOR ALL THAT YOU'VE DONE, TOM...
"Ironically, the entire reason that I got involved in making records is that I wanted to be a guitar player in a rock band. I didn't want to form a band, I didn't want to write music, I wasn't particularly interested in recording. I just wanted to be a guitarist in a band. And I'm not talking about a world-touring band, I'm talking about on weekends. I had a job; I was doing just fine. But unfortunately, I kept running into all sorts of roadblocks, and at some point it became obvious to me that I was going to have to do a lot more work to create something that could satisfy my desire to play rock'n'roll music, loudly, and not for a lot of money."
WHAT DID YOU DO?
"I started writing. Because the first thing I realised was that good music is really hard to come by. There were a million people writing songs, and now that everyone can do it on their laptop there's probably more like 11 million. But not very many of them were much good. I was getting a little bored with covering the usual hard rock material that was around in the '70s, so I started writing. And the next thing I discovered was that trying to make a recording of that music was incredibly expensive and really difficult.
"If you wanted to record a single song you were looking at an absolute minimum of $500. That was in 1970, so that's somewhere between three and five thousand today. There was no easy way to make a recording. People didn't have home equipment. I was working as a full-time engineer at Polaroid and was doing quite well, so I was taking the money I was making from that and really blowing a lot of it in studios trying to make recordings.
"The next problem I came to was trying to get other musicians to read my mind and do what I wanted them to do. We're not talking about professional symphonic musicians here who can look at sheet music. You had to explain it to them, or play it, sing it, do something. Communication was difficult and the interpretation on their part left something to be desired. Slowly I found myself having to learn how to play every single part."
ON EVERY INSTRUMENT?
"Yeah. The one I was slowest on was drums. I hooked up with a drummer who was sort of in tune with what I was trying to do, and he had quite a feel for drum arrangements. Inbetween him using his imagination and my doing air drums, we finally managed to get drum tracks. We're talking a few years here. The first song I wrote was in 1969, the first recordings were in 1970-71. Over the course of two or three years I was able to do a decent job of working on the bass track, the rhythm guitar tracks, the lead guitar tracks, all the keyboard tracks. I had a pretty good handle on the band end of things. The problem was still that I could only record so much music because it's time-consuming, especially if you're doing it all yourself."
SO IT WAS ALREADY BECOMING A SOMEWHAT LONG PROCESS?
"Oh yeah. Slowly over the course of about three or four years I took up all the other instruments that I needed to the point that I could reproduce the ideas in my brain in a recording situation. My next problem, of course, was that I couldn't afford it, even though I was making good money. I was married by then and so there was a little bit of pressure, although I was very lucky that the woman I was married to at the time was willing to go along with it. So eventually I came to the conclusion that I would have to put together some sort of a studio. There were a few people that had just started making four-track machines for basement or home use. I couldn't really afford one of those and keep doing the recording studios, so using some help from my friends at Polaroid and some of my MIT buddies I learned a lot about tape recording, and I built a tape recorder using a couple of quarter-inch machines I cobbled together. Actually, I must tell you this story... I needed two machines and I had one. I had to get a second set of quarter-inch heads that I could mount on this machine and create a four track from a quarterinch stereo two-track machine. So I was visiting my dad, who lived in Toledo, one Christmas. He'd installed, well back then it was called a hi-fi. He said, 'Yeah they put in all this stuff and there's this tape recorder... I don't know how to use it...' I had a look and it's this really beautiful, expensive Phillips quarter-inch tape recorder, top of the line. I said, 'Hmmm... you don't use this?' He said, 'No, I don't even like it, I don't play tapes...' So I said, 'Well, let me take it off your hands. You could use the extra space and you don't have to worry about that thing.' So I got this tape recorder from my dad, and I tore it apart and used that. It was kind of a drawn-out process, but I eventually ended up with a usable fourtrack machine. I built a very crude mixer too, so I was able to mix down onto two tracks."
HOW WERE YOU FINDING OUT HOW TO DO ALL THIS STUFF?
"Well, you know, there was no Internet then. It's not like you could Google it and try to figure it out. I talked to lots of other people involved in that sort of thing. I had a good friend from MIT who was involved with some tape-recording design work with Polaroid. And ironically, I'd sold the guy who ran the company, Edwin H Land, on the idea of letting me design a sound system for this new instant movie thing they had -- a much longer story than we could do here. So I was learning a lot about it from that, because I was building mechanical systems to make this happen in a very noisy, nasty projector on a magnetic stripe on a film, which is a lot harder than magnetic tape. I learned a lot about tape recording and all the technology connected with it. I made a lot of mistakes, burning up a few things, but having friends who could give me information it got to the point where I knew quite a bit about the technology of tape recording, which in itself is really interesting. But I'm going off-topic...
WELL THAT'S INTERESTING BECAUSE IT SHOWS THE WAY YOUR MIND WORKS...
"Yeah... I didn't set out to do any of these things. I just thought, if I want to do A, I have to do B and C, and maybe I have to do D and E before I can get to C... I mean, I was young, I had lots of energy. I was one of those people who thought, 'Well if I have enough time, I can do just about anything. But will I run out of time before I make it happen? I ended up building a crude fourtrack system and I was able to make demos with no time constraints. And that was a huge deal for me because it enabled me to experiment. I learned all sorts of things about music, the technicalities of music, how it fits together. Most of the time it was three steps forward and two back. It was very time-consuming, working alone, as opposed to a band where someone shows the chords, and someone else plays it and does the bass part or whatever. That's what got me started, though, and by 1974 I was at the point of being able to make a decent recording."
BUT THERE WAS ONE MAJOR ELEMENT THAT YOU DID NEED A HUMAN FOR...
"Oh yes. I'd been introduced to Brad Delp by that point. A friend of a friend of a friend who was a singer... I had him come to a studio to sing a song at the point when I was renting time, and he was phenomenal. I started asking Brad to sing these songs that I'd laid the tracks down for. And he'd come in and do the melodies and harmonies. He would put the vocals on in basically the same way I'd do the instruments, one track at a time. "In 1974 I made my last very serious attempt at making and recording music. I'd spent an enormous amount of money and I'd upgraded to a studio that could make actual, very high-quality productions. We were sort of saving for a down payment on a house while my house was a studio, and I borrowed money. So I was almost 28, and I thought 'You know, at some point I'm gonna have to stop doing this because I'm throwing all this money at it, and I'm working pretty hard at this music stuff, and working-working, too.' I laid down four cuts, all the musical parts. I had Brad come and lay down all the vocal parts. And I had this friend of mine, Jim Masdea [who'd also been in Mother's Milk], and he did a creditable job on drums. Voilà, it was done. I found out 16 years later that Brad had believed he was singing along to a genuine band. He had no idea where any of this stuff came from. He had no idea I'd built the studio. He knew I'd written the songs, but he didn't have any idea how it was done. What he liked to do was go in and sing in a studio and just wow people."
SO HE DIDN'T KNOW WHOSE STUDIO IT WAS?
"Well, when it was in the basement of my place... But for a while I'd made a deal with some guys who had a really crappy rehearsal studio and added my equipment to theirs, and I had an arrangement where I could record from 12 at night until eight in the morning. I'd drive out there in the middle of the night. So Brad didn't know about how things were happening then, but he had half an idea when he was working in my basement. But he still thought there was a band. It came out years later that there wasn't when there was trouble with CBS. It was then that I found out what he thought, which was pretty funny."
SO HOW DID THIS METHODICAL WAY OF WORKING SIT WITH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
"Well yeah, the mechanics I had to learn. I needed to make the tools to do what I wanted to do. But the creative part was a combination of mistakes, dumb luck, and sudden, unexplained inspiration. There were many things that really blossomed because I made a mistake. The beauty of having surrounded myself with recording equipment was that I caught an awful lot of things I did that were unintentional. I learned a lot about what goes into the creative part of making a piece of music -- and it was a lot more complicated than I thought. There were lots of times when I had an idea for a couple of chord changes, or a rhythm, and I would put that on tape and listen to it. And very often that would immediately trigger something else -- a melody line, or a different chord change. On the other hand, there were many times when I would do that and it would take years and years before I could come up with the right thing to show that idea in its best way, or to connect it to something else. I don't really know how to describe it other than trying things. If I got lucky it would fall together quickly. On the other hand 'More Than A Feeling', for example, took years and years and years. I had those chords for the chorus way, way before I had a record deal. Couldn't figure out where it went from there. I had a verse that turned out to be the verse for 'More Than A Feeling' for a long time for a totally different song with a totally different lyric and a totally different melody. It wasn't a composition at that point, it was some arpeggiated chords. At some point all of a sudden years later, something clicked. I thought, 'All I have to do is play this and this, make a key change, and then this happens...' So 'More Than A Feeling' and some of the other songs on that first album were long, drawn-out affairs. Other times it would just come. With 'Peace Of Mind' it was practically overnight.
"That song has a trick that I also used in 'More Than A Feeling' and a few other places in my career, that I call a flatted major root. By the way, I'm completely uneducated in music terminology, but now I hear that term a lot of places. You play a major chord, but the first note is a half-step below where it's supposed to be. That happened because I'd played along with it on a really bad echo tape machine and the tape machine was playing back slowly, and it came back a half step lower. I went, 'Oh my God...' That little trick was born. But generally, I was covering a lot of ground with a lot of instruments, and I'm generally easily confused anyway. There were lots of mistakes, especially when it comes to music."
HOW DID YOU KEEP TRACK OF EVERYTHING YOU'D DONE?
"The recordings were really important. Once I move onto another musical thing I've definitely got a onetrack mind. I concentrate on one topic, one task, and everything else is obliterated. The only chance I had if it wasn't on tape was that I had to have played it mechanically on guitar or keyboards several times so that I had some kind of muscle memory. Then I could usually get it back. But the problem of losing stuff... There was so much in my mind, with writing, recording, and playing all the parts to a single song, there was no other way than that I had to focus on a little piece at one point in time. Everything else had to be pushed aside.
"If you'd gone into a professional studio in the '80s or '90s to make a record, you would find a producer, an engineer, a bunch of guys who each played their instruments and knew their parts. You might find an arranger, a writer, all these people working on these parts. Everyone else got to go have coffee or a pizza. You were only ever really on the spot here and there. Most people I knew in bands went out and played pinball or sat around the control room. They had nothing but time. But if it's only you, you're on the spot all the time.
"There are a few other people I know that tried to do this. But having to go from figuring out in your brain how long this note should be or how much vibrato, at the same time as you're trying to ascertain whether there's some distortion at the peak of the transition, and where it's coming from, and whether it's your board or your tape deck... Trying to do those things together is virtually impossible. It's such a mind-twister! That alone will give you an ulcer. Not having anyone else to rely on so that I could take a break, that was tough. I was saved by tape, really. When I look back at Vivaldi, the forefather of the symphony orchestra, and listen to the things he did, I think, 'How in God's name could he have imagined how this string section was going to fit together with this part without being able to hear it all the time?'"
WAS WHAT YOU WERE STRIVING FOR SOMETHING THAT YOU COULD ONLY HEAR IN YOUR HEAD?
"That's true. If I heard it someplace else it was worthless to me because that meant it had already been done. I'd describe it as an unsettling thirst that hasn't been met. For me, music is really an emotional experience. I don't mean the lyrics; I mean the music itself. I don't know, it's hard to describe. It made no difference to me how long it took. I mean 'Amanda' [from 1986's 'Third Stage'] came overnight, literally. I wasn't thinking in terms of what other people liked. It was about what made me jump up and down and want to play it over and over. I can amuse myself for hours playing terrible stuff. Sometimes I'd kick myself. 'My God, I've had this chord progression for years and I never thought of doing this with it...' It's bizarre how some things would fall into place and other things I would grind into the ground. I think for the third album there was a piece of music I worked on for six months -- and then I threw it away."
YOU ALWAYS KNEW THAT YOU'D HAVE TO FIND A SINGER FOR THESE SONGS THOUGH?
"I found lots of them. There were a couple that might have worked, one or two... In 1974 I made a big decision. I'd been playing in bands with various musicians and getting nowhere. It dawned on me that if I was going to get music down on tape the way I imagined it, then I was going to have to do it myself. I knew I had to find a singer who could do it justice. In my mind I envisioned all those songs I did in 1974. 'Peace Of Mind' was one of them, and 'Rock & Roll Band' another. I thought they should have a female singer and I was looking specifically. I tried a few, and a few male singers who could hit the relatively high notes. I liked really high harmony parts, a couple of steps above the melody..."
AND BRAD COULD DO THAT...
"Oh, in sensational fashion. And he had a real muscular voice too when he needed it. I think he really enjoyed wowing people. He basically had great days and incredible days. He was just more unbelievable on some days than others [laughs]."
NOW THE ROCK'N'ROLL SCRIPT IS THAT YOU SEND DEMOS OUT AND GET A DEAL...
"Those are the lyrics to 'Rock & Roll Band', true! But in reality, I'd been sending demos out, spending a lot of money recording songs, and it was harsh. I completed the songs I started in 1974, when I decided to completely separate myself from other musical influences. It was the last thing I was going to do. I'd spent all the money I'd made. I was approaching 30 and I had some responsibilities. At some point it's less of a gamble and more of an obsession -- and you have to stop.
"I was going to record six songs. At this point, I had... I'll call it 'decent' equipment. It was all stuff that I'd wired together or modified myself. That first album could never have been recorded in a normal studio. There were so many things that I did using both equipment I'd dreamed up and equipment I'd modified. None of it was normal. It would have been literally impossible in a 'real' studio. So I had six tunes I thought were the best I would ever do. I had completed musical tracks for four of them and partially completed for two. I thought, 'Well, Brad can put the vocals on, and I'll mix them down. I'm gonna make 10 million copies and spend months sending these things through the mail to every record company I can find.' Assuming I got nothing but rejections, which is what I thought would happen, I was going to dismantle all of the equipment, sell everything off and recover what little I could from the money I'd spent, then try to make up for lost time earning it back..."
DID THAT THOUGHT FILL YOU WITH DREAD? OR WAS IT MORE LIKE RELIEF?
"Well, there was a little relief. On the one hand I'd worked so hard to learn so much and to build. Even though it was a crappy little studio down in a basement, a lot of it no-one else had ever done. I thought, at least I know I have a plan. I'm gonna send these out, this is my best shot, I've done everything the way I wanted to do it. I sent out probably between two and three dozen tapes, to every label I could find in the LA and New York phone books. I got all rejections, except... One day I was working in my office. It wasn't cubicles, it was a big area for the engineering section, there were draftsmen and other engineers. I'm at this desk and I'm working on some new idea. I get an internal call -- 'There's somebody looking for you... they work at... is it Columbia or something?' 'WHAT?!?'
"I pick up the phone, 'It's the vice president of this or that, and we love your demo... Do you have any more songs?' So I tried to be as cool as I could but... I hang up the phone. I jump up on the desk screaming.
"Most of the rejections were regular, but one of the nastiest -- maybe the nastiest -- was from this guy named Lennie Petze at CBS, well Epic Records, as was. Just a real ugly, nasty thing. I read it and thought, 'Wow... you could just say no...' So fast-forward about six months... A lot of people become interested, we almost make some deals, end up with a manager. The manager goes back to Epic Records and Lennie Petze is completely wild. 'How the hell did we not get this? Why have we missed it?' And Lennie Petze, from that moment on, took credit for discovering Boston. It was frickin' hilarious. It's incredibly ironic that we did end up on Epic. They offered the best deal. But again, I didn't expect this to be a success."
ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS PARTS OF THE BOSTON LEGEND IS THAT ONCE YOU'D SIGNED THE DEAL, THE RECORD COMPANY WANTED YOU TO RE-RECORD THE SONGS IN A PROFESSIONAL STUDIO WITH A PRODUCER, WHICH YOU REALISED WAS IMPOSSIBLE, GIVEN THAT YOU'D MADE MOST OF YOUR EQUIPMENT. SO ULTIMATELY YOU SENT BRAD OUT TO THE WEST COAST AS A DECOY, WHILE YOU WORKED ON THE TAPES... IS ANY OF THAT TRUE?
"That is correct. We couldn't have done the songs in a regular studio, and I explained that to anyone who would listen. The producer they'd sent, the guy who would basically make this a real recording for an album, was John Boylan. I have to say he was a good sport. He came down to my basement and he looked at the stuff. 'Boy, this is not what I'm used to...'
"Anyway, John said, 'Why don't you remix 'em?' I thought, 'Well, basically I could do that.' I said, 'Sure, although I hate having to do something again that I already did.' John said, 'Let me have my engineer come down and take a look,' which he did. He was a typical LA engineer type. He takes one look at the set-up and says, 'Nope, you cannot make a professional recording that could be released in this studio. Point blank.'
"John said, 'Look, is there no way we can talk you into coming out to LA? We'll have a great time in the studio,' and so on. I said, 'John, it can't be done. I cannot do it without the equipment I used to record everything we've done.' It would have taken 10 years, rather than another six months. All of the equipment would have had to be modified.
"John put on his parka and headed for the door. He opened it, and an Arctic blast came in. It was February and it was bitterly cold. He turned around and said, 'Look. You make the master here. Bring it out to LA and I'll mix it with you. And we won't bother you.'
"I was about to say, 'You have a deal,' when he said, 'And we'll split the producer royalty.' Man, he had me anyway... But I learned a lot from John about the mixing process and the actual final master. It worked out really cool. And I made it in my basement."
BUT YOU DO EVENTUALLY HAVE TO GIVE UP SOME CONTROL, RIGHT? THE ALBUM NEEDS A COVER, THE BAND NEEDS A NAME...
"Yeah, I was really unhappy about what was written on the back of that album because it was bullsh*t and wrong. I didn't like it. That was the beginning of me going, 'This part of it really sucks.' What didn't suck was, as soon as I'd mixed all those tracks down, I went back to work at Polaroid. I'd taken a leave of absence; they were very kind. I was working on my design for a piece of gear on a movie projector or something, and a guy comes into the room: 'They're playing your song on the radio...' I went running and just about caught the very last note of 'More Than A Feeling'. It took another three or four weeks before I actually heard it playing, but people were constantly coming up. That part was great fun after all the very long hours, days, years of working alone on stuff, and not having any reward or recognition, but really thinking it was just crap."
THE ALBUM COVER BECAME INTEGRAL TO THE IMAGE OF BOSTON...
"I was plenty busy, so I wasn't sketching up album covers. CBS's creative department came up with three ideas. They had them roughed out. They were a pot of Boston baked beans, a head of Boston lettuce, and the third one was a slice of Boston cream pie. I was from the Midwest. I ended up settling here [in Boston], but I didn't consider myself a resident. I didn't even know what Boston lettuce was. I'd heard of Boston baked beans, but we just called them baked beans. I said, 'A: I don't think anyone is going to get this outside of Boston. And B: What does this have to do with what's on these tracks?'
"These tracks were trying to represent something emotionally, and that was not by mistake. It represented six or seven years of turmoil. I said, 'Man, anything would be better. Outer space would be better. Put a spaceship on the cover. There are sounds on this album that noone has ever heard before, because no-one has been able to make them. I invented the thing that made them. It sounds like it's kind of out of this world in some ways -- whether you like the music or not, you've gotta admit it's different... So you know, make the guitar a spaceship...'
"Now that was the sum total of my input -- make the guitar a spaceship. Roger Huyssen, who painted the cover, came up with the actual Boston spaceship, which was just brilliant. It was all air-brushed and everything. But [originally] it was the Boston spaceship shooting down destructive laser beams over a city, with buildings collapsing and blowing up. I said, 'Think more in terms of an escape from all that stuff but keep the spaceship.' That's what he did, and although it wasn't exactly what I was aiming for, the music was supposed to take people away from their daily lives and help them escape. So it really, truly turned out to be an actual work of art. I'm really, really grateful to him. It's one of the few artistic things connected to Boston that I didn't actually have to do myself. [Roger Huyssen and art director Paula Scher spoke to us about making the cover in Rock Candy Mag issue 5.]"
AND IT ALL GELLED TOGETHER. AFTER SIX YEARS, YOU WERE AN OVERNIGHT SENSATION...
"Yeah, one of those synergistic things where it sort of became bigger than the sum of all the parts."
WAS IT DISORIENTATING?
"Yes. On the other hand, this was a dream. I remember when I'd first finished the multi-track master in Boston and had transferred everything to a 24-track truck pulled up to the apartment block. We ran in big umbilical cables to hook up to my tape deck. We loaded all the stuff on, and I basically headed to the airport with these multi-track tapes, which are copies of the multi-track masters. I got on the plane and sat down, flew for five hours... and I was thinking, 'I should be at work right now, but I'm flying on a plane, somebody is paying to get me to Los Angeles, to get me to finish an album for them. Wow! So it was disorientating, but not necessarily bad stuff."
DID IT FEEL THE WAY YOU EXPECTED?
"You know, it was almost like it was happening to somebody else. I was nearly 30. I was the guy that wrote the music they didn't want to hear, recorded the songs they didn't want to listen to. Many times, when I auditioned for local bands, I'd bring tapes of the music I'd written and not one of them ever listened to them. I was used to failing when it came to music. I accepted it. I felt that what I liked didn't fit in with what the average person liked. I just wanted to go someplace and have people want to hear me play the music.
DID YOU STILL FEEL LIKE AN OUTSIDER WHEN 'MORE THAN A FEELING' WAS A HUGE HIT?
"Oh, I was always an outsider. I wasn't part of a scene, not part of the crowd that recorded or played in LA or New York. I wasn't part of the drug culture. I wasn't at the parties. I didn't do any of those things. I was like this enigma that came out of no place and it really p*ssed people off. There were a lot of people, and there still are today, who totally resent me and Boston music. They will never understand what went into that music or what was behind it, or, once it became successful, what I intended to do with it. That part was not pleasant. I was totally accepted by Boston fans, and record company people would give it, 'Oh this is great baby...' But as far as other people -- they thought there was something wrong with this."
AND THEN AS THE ALBUM TOOK OFF YOU PUT A BAND TOGETHER TO PLAY THESE SONGS FOR THE FIRST TIME. YOU SUPPORTED FOGHAT AND BLACK SABBATH, AND BEGAN HEADLINING.
"A lot of people were shocked. Musically we could do anything we wanted. We could play it exactly like the record and then completely dive off into a related part. It made the shows fantastic. Part of having to come up with the equipment to make the recording meant that I at least had the technology to be able to do it on a stage. Some of it took quite a few years to perfect, to become portable and reliable and all those things. But it was a nice side benefit of having to get into the technical side of it."
AND YOU END UP WITH AN ENTIRE BUSINESS -- SCHOLZ RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT INC. -- RELATED TO THE DESIGN AND ENGINEERING OF THESE PRODUCTS.
"That was also completely unintended. I'd designed a couple of things that I needed. I started with this thing called the Power Soak. It's nothing but a power attenuator, but people were trying to make them, and they didn't do it right, or they were very fragile, so I designed this thing that you could drive a truck over. You could put it in your Marshall, and it would stand up to a tour because the Marshall was running through this box and was much more reliable. It was also part of the secret of the sound. I don't want to get too technical on you, but the amplifier output was not running into a speaker coil. It was going into a strictly passive, resistive load, and the reaction of the amp is different. It has an effect on the tone, and that tone is partly what gave me the Boston sound. I used them between a Leslie amp and speaker to get the organ sound, too.
"So I started with that, and I only did it because I thought a lot of people might need it. It was right up my alley. And then I also needed a headphone amp. I lived in a regular house and especially after my son was born, I had trouble practising with an electric guitar either not plugged in or plugged into something really terrible. It made me want to not play. I thought, 'The world needs something on headphones that at least sounds like a guitar amp.' Then of course I ended up really getting into it and came up with this Rockman headphone amp, which sounded far better than I ever thought it would. It ended up being used on a lot of recordings."
AND YOU STILL HAD A BAND TO RUN...
"Part of my drive was, I was going into the third album, it was in 1981. I thought, 'I can't be one dimensional.' It sounds funny to say you're one-dimensional when you're producing, engineering, writing, playing all the parts. But it was just all music. I wasn't able to do some of the other creative things that I liked to do, so I said, 'I'm gonna start this little company, something I can afford, that's going to design this thing all the way through and make it available. It's gonna cost a few bucks and take quite a bit of time, but this is exactly what I like to do.'
"I had connections with MIT friends who were really good at analogue design. I knew how to put the architecture together to get the sound, and how to design all the mechanical parts and then package it, so that gave me my thing to do that wasn't music. It took my mind off why I couldn't make the chord change back into the second verse of the song I was working on. When I came to the studio [for 'Third Stage'], I was completely fresh, and it worked really well."
IT'S ALMOST AS IF YOU WERE RECREATING YOUR EARLY DAYS IN THE BASEMENT...
"That's exactly what I was doing. Polaroid gave me great latitude with the things I was working on, and so did this. I finally had to get out of it -- it was turning into too much of a business. My hat's off to the ones who can succeed in business without turning into complete jerks. It's really hard. I like designing and solving problems, but I like solving technical problems. When I had to let that go, I got more into all the technology for the sets and how to get the sound the way I wanted to from the musicians out into the audience. Also, all the props. The giant space ships. I designed all of it. Later, I got into building a lot of it. The last two tours featured live lightning on stage. No one could tell you it wasn't real -- it was a shocking experience. I worked it into the set, and it showed up in a couple of key places and surprised everybody -- including the musicians! I built that in my garage."
SO TELL US TOM, WHEN YOU HEAR SONGS FROM THE FIRST RECORD NOW, DO THEY TAKE YOU BACK? HOW DO THEY MAKE YOU FEEL?
"I'm still amazed. I like basketball and other sports... the New England Patriots. When I hear a Boston song come on [a broadcast] I go... 'I made that in my basement, and they're playing it at a game with like 80,000 people there, and they're broadcasting it on TV.' That's how I think of 'More Than A Feeling'... a song I recorded in my basement. All my memories are of the actual creation of that recording. I've played it and performed it in front of millions of people, and I've played it in rehearsal a gazillion times... but whenever I hear it, I go back to a Watertown basement."