By Eric Clark
The Gazette

MONTICELLO — A big part of Boston will be missing when the classic-rock group plays July 18 at the Great Jones County Fair.

Singer Brad Delp, whose sleek vocals helped make Boston one of the most popular bands of the '70s, committed suicide March 9, 2007, at age 55.

"As you can imagine, it's bittersweet touring without Brad," says guitarist Gary Pihl, who has been with Boston since 1985. "We love being back on the road, but we miss Brad, too."

Boston, known for hit songs like "Amanda," "Don't Look Back" and "More than a Feeling," hadn't toured in about four years at the time of Delp's death. However, Pihl says there never was talk of disbanding Boston for good.

"It never got to that point," says Pihl, calling from a tour stop in Phoenix. "It was such a sad event that we were all focused on the moment."

As the days went by, Boston founder, songwriter and guitarist Tom Scholz and the rest of the group decided a memorial concert was in order for Delp. But the obvious problem was that they needed a singer.

After weeks of auditions, Delp was replaced by not one, but two vocalists. One of the singers, Michael Sweet, had an impressive resume, having fronted multiplatinum Christian metal band Stryper since 1984. The other singer, Tommy DeCarlo, had no resume at all.

DeCarlo, who is in his early 40s, was a credit manager for a Home Depot in Charlotte, N.C., with a penchant for belting out Boston songs at karaoke joints and posting videos of his performances on his MySpace page.

Almost unbelievably, Scholz came across DeCarlo's MySpace page and was impressed enough to call the amateur singer in for an audition. DeCarlo won a spot in the band, and he's making his debut with Boston on this summer's tour.

"Tommy says that before he joined the band, his biggest gig had been singing karaoke at a bowling alley," Pihl says. "We weren't sure how he would react to being in Boston, but he's just been so down to earth and humble. He has a genuine love for the music."

Pihl has experience with being a newcomer to Boston, although at this point, so many musicians have joined and left the band that he's a veteran. Following the release of Boston's two most popular albums, 1976's self-titled debut and 1978's "Don't Look Back," Pihl joined the group for its third album, 1986's "Third Stage."

Pihl played in Sammy Hagar's band before he joined Boston. Hagar was opening for Boston when Pihl and Scholz first met. When Hagar left his solo band to join Van Halen, Pihl was able to make the switch to Boston.

"I'm not the best guitarist or keyboard player or singer, but here I am, and I don't know exactly what my secret has been," Pihl says. "One thing I tell young musicians is that it's important to be a team player, and I guess being a team player has helped me have a long career."

Boston leader Scholz has a reputation for being a perfectionist, and it shows in Boston's discography. Unlike most classic-rock bands, which have loads of albums in their back catalog, Boston has released only five records in 32 years.

Pihl says Scholz definitely is a perfectionist, but he believes that's the case with most successful musicians.

"Musicians always want to be the best, they want to keep practicing and getting better," Pihl says. "The only difference with Tom is that he also writes, engineers and produces our albums, which takes a lot of time."

Regardless of how many albums a band has, Pihl says there's only so many songs that can be played at a concert.

"You can only play 15 or 20 songs a night, anyway," Pihl says.

Boston's most recent album was 2002's "Corporate America," which kept the band's signature sound and injected a little bit of politics into Scholz's songwriting. Pihl says Scholz is working on songs for a new album that could come out soon.

"There's a chance it might be out next year," Pihl says. "I know Tom has some stuff he's written he'd like to get out there."

Until then, Pihl and the rest of Boston will tour with Sweet and DeCarlo on vocals and Delp in their hearts.

"Brad would always go out of his way to make sure everyone was happy," Pihl says. "Everybody loved him."