By Karen Nazor Hill
Times Free Press

In 2008, Tommy DeCarlo traded in his orange apron for a microphone.

The transformation took DeCarlo from his job as a credit manager at a Home Depot in Charlotte, N.C., to center stage as the lead singer for Boston. And that's where he'll be tonight when Boston takes the Coca-Cola Stage at Riverbend.

It's a Cinderella story for DeCarlo, 49, who says he got hooked on Boston's music when he was 12. A self-taught musician, DeCarlo started singing when he was 6 or 7 years old. "I used to sing along to my parents' eight-track tapes in the family station wagon," he says.

In elementary school, he joined the school choir and often, but unsuccessfully, auditioned for lead roles. It wasn't until he became a Boston fan that he started singing along with the band's original lead singer, the late Brad Delp.

"It wasn't like I was trying to sing like Brad, it was just that I loved to sing along with him," DeCarlo says on the band's website.

Nearly three decades later, in 2007, Delp, who battled depression off and on throughout his life, committed suicide. Still a Boston fan, DeCarlo recorded a tribute song to Delp and posted it on his MySpace page. A visitor to the page, impressed with DeCarlo's vocals, encouraged him to send the recording to Boston's management company.

In an interview with USA Today, Boston founder and lead guitarist Tom Scholz says DeCarlo's voice sounds so much like Delp's, it's easy to confuse the two.

"My wife was at her computer playing our tunes, and I asked her whether it was us playing live," Scholz told USA Today. "She said, 'It's some guy in North Carolina singing your songs.' I said, 'I know Brad's voice, and that's Brad.' She turned it up, and only when I heard the backing track did I know it wasn't."

Not long after, DeCarlo auditioned for a Delp tribute show and began touring with the band.

"I was shocked when Tom invited me to sing at the Brad Delp tribute concert," DeCarlo tells the Times Free Press. "I had a feeling, however, that if I had a good performance it might lead to other opportunities, which in fact it did."

Since then, DeCarlo has been a full-fledged member of Boston.

"The music of Boston is timeless," he says. "At 49 years old, it still makes me feel the same way it did when I was 12 years old. Having the opportunity to be a part of 'Life, Love and Hope' (Boston's latest album) was an amazing experience. When I first listened to the Boston debut album as a youngster, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day I'd be on a Boston record. I'm extremely proud of this record and it's my hope that Tom will continue to write and record."

Scholz, the only remaining original member of Boston, has led the band since its Grammy-winning debut in 1976, which remained on the Billboard charts for 132 weeks and sold 17 million copies, making it the best-selling debut album in history.

Because of Scholz's perfectionism in the studio, Boston has hardly been a prolific band, releasing only six albums in 38 years. CBS Records pushed Scholz to record and release "Don't Look Back" only two years after Boston's debut, and he has said the album was rushed and not finished to his satisfaction. He vowed to never release an album again until he felt it was complete.

Most Boston albums have had about eight years between them, but the longest gap came between "Life, Love and Hope" and "Corporate America," a space of 11 years. The album has three songs with vocals performed by the late Delp; a fourth song with his vocals, "Te Quiero Mia," is a bonus track on some versions. DeCarlo sings on three songs but also is vocalist on a bonus track, "O Canada."

"This will be my third tour with Boston, so I've had the privilege of taking the stage with Tom many times. During the course of every show at some point I find myself looking downstage at Tom thinking to myself, 'I can't believe this,'" De Carlo says.