When you think of the term classic rock, or arena rock – especially as it pertains to the best bands of the 1970s and 1980s, those thoughts inevitably turn to Boston.
Although the band has only released a handful (six actually) studio albums over the last 41 years, their songs are still played across a wide array of radio formats, they’re included in video games, movies, television shows and have truly been ingrained in pop culture.
The band also doesn’t tour super frequently, meaning any opportunity to see Boston live is one to be relished. At the time of writing this article, they are in the midst of their spring/summer Hyperspace Tour of the United States, with a slew of dates lasting until late July. Canadian fans will have one chance to see Boston this year, on July 11 at the Budweiser Stage (formerly the Molson Amphitheatre) in Toronto, with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts opening.
At present, Boston is comprised of founder/guitarist/songwriter/creative genius Tom Scholz, long-time guitarist Gary Pihl, drummer Curly Smith (in the band since 1994, sharing the duties with Jeff Neal since 2002), and relative newcomers Tracy Ferrie (bass, since 2012), keyboardist Beth Cohen (on her third stint, the latest starting in 2015) and lead vocalist Tommy DeCarlo (since 2008).
A chance meeting at a fundraising concert led to Ferrie joining Boston back in 2008.
“I was in Stryper at the time and we were recording a new album [2009’s Murder By Pride] and one of the songs we were recording was Peace of Mind and during that time there was a benefit show that came up for the victims and families of the Station Nightclub fire tragedy [which took place in 2003, killing 100 people when pyrotechnics at Great White show sparked a fire]. Stryper was asked to play that show and Tom Scholz was invited as well as Gary Pihl, and they wanted to play Peace of Mind live with us. And I met Tom for the first time during sound check for that performance,” he said.
“A few years after that I got a call because Tom had remembered my playing from that evening and I’m sure he heard when we recorded Peace of Mind what we did because he was invited to play the solo section and some other bits of the song. And, in fact that was the first time Tom had ever played on something other than a Boston record, which was pretty historic. So he called me in the early spring of 2012 and I was quick to jump in. I went up to his studio in Woburn, Massachusetts and ran through a few songs with him and we went forward from there.”
Even though he was a fan of Boston’s music from an early age, the first time performing their classic repertoire wasn’t as full of wonderment, awe and hero worship as you might believe. Ferrie said he was too focused on not messing up to really soak up the significance of the moment.
“I would say the surreal observations would go back to the time when we played the benefit show. It was a throw-and-go kind of thing and here I had this master guitar player standing in front of me and we’re playing his classic song. As far as the first show with Boston, I was just so tuned in and focused and also a little nervous. It’s nice long show that we play and there’s a lot of orchestration and a lot of cues; it’s very involved. Your mind has to be on 10 the whole time. So I didn’t really get a chance to step back and soak in the moment. I was just focused on delivering the job I was given,” he said, adding that since that time he has enjoyed working alongside Scholz, who is known for not just his ground-breaking songwriting prowess, but also his production acumen and technical wizardry.
“My experience in the band has been fantastic. Tom has been so gracious to me. That is the word that immediately pops into my head – he has just been so gracious to me and I am not perfect as a person, I am not perfect as a play and he has extended so much grace towards me. And also he shows me so much respect as a musician, a lot more than I have had sometimes from previous people I have played with. To have that come from someone who obviously you and I and the whole industry respects, that is incredibly rewarding as a human being and as a musician.”
The Boston sound was defined by Scholz’s incredible combination of unique guitar sounds, heavenly melodies and instantly memorable guitar riffs. The band’s 1976 self-title debut albums is still one of the best-selling first albums by any band in the history of rock music (17 million copies sold), with songs such as More Than A Feeling, Smokin’ the aforementioned Peace of Mind and Long Time still played regularly on the radio. It’s 1978 follow-up, Don’t Look Back, sold more than seven million copies (which some people incredulously still consider to be a letdown). Legal hassles tied Scholz up for a number of years, before he switched labels, releasing Third Stage in 1986, which received good airplay on the strength of singles Amanda, We’re Ready and Cool the Engines. Its sales have reached nearly four million albums.
But as much as Scholz was the driving creative force behind Boston, the music might not have imbedded itself into the hearts and minds of music fans if not for the heavenly, soaring, and powerfully emotive vocals of Brad Delp. Delp left the band in the late 1980s but rejoined in 1994, performing on record and live with the band fairly regularly until he shockingly and sadly took his own life in 2007.
The tragedy did momentarily stop the band, which reformed for a charity concert in Delp’s honour in 2007 with Stryper’s Michael Sweet on vocals. During his periodic time away from Boston, Delp was replaced on lead vocals by Fran Cosmo, who stayed until 2009. Sweet left in 2011 with co-lead singer Tommy DeCarlo taking over the frontman role full time. (A full recitation of the various lineup changes for the band would be too lengthy for this article, but can be found online.)
Besides Scholz, the mainstay of Boston has been guitarist/keyboardist Gary Pihl, who has been in the band since 1985, and is often the public face of the band since Scholz tends to be publicity shy.
Returning to the subject of Delp and his legacy, Ferrie said his spirit still infuses the band’s music.
“Of course it does. The project was Tom’s baby and Brad was the vocalist and they worked so closely together. It was their project together from day one so there is no way to ever separate the two, I think, from a fan’s point of view, and the artistry. But I will say for somebody to come up like Tommy has and fill the shoes and recreate those songs and those performances for the band and the audience is very remarkable,” he said.
“And it’s funny because we were just talking about this the other night and how it still happens that people aren’t convinced. People come in, if they haven’t heard Tommy or they are new to Boston as it is now, they may come in with their arms folded and head kind of cocked to the side as if to say, ‘okay, let’s hear this guy.’ But after a few songs their eyes are opened, their posture changes and they’re saying the guy is amazing. We were talking about that on the bus because we see it happen almost every night.
“I think Tommy brings that spirit, that joy the Brad brought to the audience because I just hear so many stories about how friendly and giving and generous Brad was to fans. I don’t think Tommy is trying to be a clone of Brad in any sense. But admittedly that’s what he grew up singing to. He spent his life singing along to those songs because that’s what brought him joy – to sing a Boston song and to sing it the way it was originally sung. It just became part of his vocal range and style and he is fortunate to be able to take that and bring that to all the audiences we play for.”
In an email, Scholz also sent a note along about the Delp/DeCarlo relationship.
“Brad was the greatest male vocalist in the studio that I’ve ever heard. Tommy DeCarlo is absolutely the best live vocalist. He does for Boston live what Brad did for it in the studio. We’re just very, very lucky to have stumbled upon him. He’s also a really good keyboard player, by the way. He handles a lot of parts – everybody does,” he said.
Boston’s last album, Life, Love & Hope came out in 2013, and was 11 years after the previous release, Corporate America. Ferrie said there are no plans in the works to record new material – at least not at the moment.
“We’re not doing anything at this time, but anything can happen. Inspiration can come out of any circumstance, you just never know. But right now, there’s no talk of a new recording.”
For more information on Boston and the Hyperspace Tour, visit www.bandboston.com. For information and tickets for the July 11 show in Toronto, visit https://www.ticketmaster.ca/event/100052638D924F19?dma_id=502.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.