Rock man finds home in Boston
Gary Pihl is a man of opposites.
He’s a guitarist and singer in Boston, part of July’s Empire Rockfest concert series. But Pihl (pronounced “peel”) is hardly a stereotypical rock star. He got a steady gig because he didn’t do drugs, while his work in Boston led to a steady 9-to-5 company job. Oh, and he’s been married only once — to his highschool sweetheart.
On the phone from a Florida hotel room, Pihl doesn’t sound road-weary, jaded or cocky. In fact, he sounds pretty average — and very content. And there’s a reason. For starters, Boston is hardly ever on the road. The band’s July 27 performance Empire Rockfest is the first date of a rare tour.
“(Founder) Tom Scholz likes to tour when we have a record out — which is why we haven’t toured that often,” says Pihl. “On average it’s about once every four years.
“The band is not prolific, but we like to think it’s quality above quantity,” he says, laughing. “I personally love touring,” he says, adding that he’s so used to the songs that he can play without thinking; it gives him a chance to enjoy his time onstage. “It transcends the music for me.”
Pihl grew up in Chicago before moving to the San Francisco area, where he was in several high school bands.
A fellow guitarist hooked him up with lessons from a guitarist in a band called The Warlocks. His name was Jerry Garcia, and his band was soon renamed The Grateful Dead. By 1977, Pihl and his bandmates at the time were acquaintances with singer Sammy Hagar and had played a few gigs with him. “He says, ‘Hey, Pihl, are you into drugs?’ I says, ‘No.’ He says, ‘Why don’t you come down and jam with us? We lost our other guitarist.’” Pihl and Hagar were touring with Boston between 1977 and 1979. When Hagar left to join Van Halen, Pihl walked into a job with Boston. He says he’d been quizzing Boston founder Tom Scholz about various technical questions, such as how he produced certain guitar tones. “We immediately hit it off on that tech level.”
When Scholz created Scholz Research and Development Inc. to build his own line of music gear, Pihl ended up with an offstage job. He appeared at trade shows and elsewhere, demonstrating the equipment and answering questions.
He and his wife met at age 16 and dated until their marriage 10 years later. They have two sons, ages 27 and 30. Pihl said his technical job’s routine was good for his family.
“It was kind of a grounding element for them: no matter how big a rock star you are, you still have a day job and go to work. “I thought it was nice that the kids saw this, that it’s not just sex, drugs and rock and roll.” But the rock and roll thing still works for him.
Pihl says the band is used to seeing several generations of fans in the crowd, but there’s a classic-rock revival happening, thanks in part to older tunes being used in video games.
“All of a sudden we’re seeing teenagers on their own, not just being dragged there by their parents. “They like the music because they found it themselves. Who would have thought that would have happened?” Pihl says the fans’ enthusiasm makes it easy to play the same songs night after night. “If I had to play the same songs, no matter what songs they are, every day in my livingroom, then yeah, that would be boring. “All you’ve got to do is look down in the audience and see people smiling and singing along with us,” he says. “There’s nothing like that.”
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