More than a feeling of nostalgia
By Jim Barber, Kingston This Week
Thursday, July 12, 2012 11:38:41 EDT PM
There are very few bands out there whose music actually defines a genre.
But it’s safe to say when you think of Boston, the term ‘classic rock’ is first and foremost.
And it’s classic not in the sense of it being old, outdated or unfashionable, but classic in terms of its impact on pop culture, the music industry itself and on the timeless quality of the songs themselves.
Very few bands made the impact that Boston did when it released its debut, self-titled album in 1976.
Rather than having just one hit single, that album spawned a series of hits that continue to be staples of rock radio airplay.
From the epic More Than A Feeling, to Smokin’, Long Time, Rock and Roll Band and Hitch A Ride, Boston redefined rock music from a technical and musical standpoint.
To date it has sold 17 million copies in the U.S.
There probably would have been no Foreigner, Journey or other big-arena rock bands of that ilk if not for the ground that was broken by Boston mastermind Tom Scholz, the band’s guitarist, primary songwriter and producer.
“When that album came out, it was so unique,” said guitarist Gary Pihl, who, after Scholz, is the longest-tenured member of Boston, having been in the band since 1985 after leaving Sammy Hagar’s touring band when the Red Rocker joined Van Halen.
“The sound of the guitars and the sound of the recording was so special. I remember driving my car, in my hometown of Petaluma, Calif., and I pulled up to a stoplight and was waiting for it to change and More Than A Feeling came on the radio. And I was so into it. And the guy in the car in front of me, he happened to be someone that I knew. He jumped out of his car, ran back to my car and said, ‘Are you listening to that station and hearing this band? It’s awesome!’
“Everybody just flipped out because it was so unique. How did they get that sound? And then there was the content itself. Everyone could sing along. Everyone could relate to the stories in the lyrics. Then the band toured and they were terrific live. I think all of those things combine to keep the music and the band so interesting. Even today, people come to the shows and ask, ‘How do you get that sound?’ ”
The sound he speaks of is a combination of what would be called layered guitars, a sound that has become one of Boston and Tom Scholz’ signatures.
Queen’s Brian May has a similar sound, but much of the early Queen material was recorded through multiple amplifiers with multiple guitar tracks.
Scholz, an electronics whiz, developed a device that he later called the Rockman, which creates the same sound as multiple amps and tracks, but is smaller than a shoebox.
Eventually, Scholz built a little mini music tech empire (which he sold a few years ago) around The Rockman and his other inventions, many of which made it possible for bands and musicians to record at home, rather than spending huge amounts of money on studio sessions.
“In my mind, he started the record-at-home revolution because he recorded that first Boston album at home in his basement,” said Pihl, who was hired by Scholz to demonstrate his gadgets at industry trade shows and eventually became an employee of not only Scholz, but a member of his band.
“And once that news came out, every other musician said, ‘You mean I don’t have to spend $125 an hour to record an album?’ So he was the first to record a hit album at home. All the recording equipment manufacturers picked up on that and said, ‘Wow, we can sell to all musicians as opposed to just selling our products to recording studios.’
“We have had many musicians tell us how much they used the equipment. We used to tell people it was like an A to Z of the industry; from Alabama to ZZ Top used to call us to say they were using The Rockman on their new record. Def Leppard sent us a gold record because of how much they liked the technology. Joe Satriani, Joe Walsh, Jeff Beck, the list just goes on and on for people who have used that little device that Tom invented to help him record at home.”
Boston’s first album was six years in the making, but as with any hit band the pressure from the music industry to produce a follow-up was big.
Don’t Look Back came out two years later, in 1978, which doesn’t seem like a long space of time, but in the 1970s when bands like Kiss put out two albums a year, it was an eternity.
Legal hassles prevented the third album from coming out until 1986, but fans were patient, and Third Stage, which was Pihl’s first recorded work with Boston became a radio hit on the strength of hits like We’re Ready, Amanda and Cool The Engines.
A fourth album, Walk On, didn’t come out until 1994, while Corporate America, the band’s last album, came out in 2002.
The band’s touring schedule has also been infrequent, with Boston last hitting the road in 2008, which is also the last time the band came to Canada.
On the summer 2012 tour, the band will be coming to Belleville as part of the Empire Rockfest Series, playing Friday, July 27, the night after playing at Casino Rama near Barrie.
There is also scuttlebutt within the music industry that some vocal tracks from Brad Delp, the band’s longtime vocalist, may make an appearance on the new album.
Delp committed suicide in 2007 and the band has used a number of vocalists since then live, including current singer Tommy DeCarlo.
“He was with us on the last tour,” said Pihl. “And as some people may know, we found him on MySpace. Somebody called us and told us about this guy doing Boston songs on MySpace … so we checked it out, we loved it and called him up.
“And he had never been in a band in his life, he just recorded the songs on his own at home and posted them. But he has a great voice and was a heck of a nice guy and we asked him to come on tour. So he’s back, and better than ever.”
Delp was as much a part of the signature Boston sound as was Scholz’s powerhouse guitar licks and production skills, and his passing was a tragedy not only for his family and friends, but also for lovers of melodic rock and roll as sung by a truly unique talent.
“There was nobody like Brad,” said Pihl. “He was a wonderful guy. It was Sammy Hagar that first said publicly that Brad was the nicest guy in rock and roll. So we certainly miss him.
“Brad really hit those high notes, and outside of Freddie Mercury, that just wasn’t done, because it wasn’t the style”
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