Thirty-two years ago Tom Scholz and company sang about being "just another band out of Boston, on the road trying to make ends meet."
Since then Boston has certainly done that, and then some.
The group, which M.I.T. graduate Scholz formed after leaving a job with Polaroid, has sold more than 30 million records during its career, most notably 17 million of its self-titled 1976 effort, which was recorded almost entirely by Scholz in his basement studio. The top-selling debut of all time, it produced hits such as "Don't Hold Back," "Foreplay/Long Time," "More than a Feeling," and "Peace of Mind" that remain rock-radio staples.
Despite that success, however, the 61-year-old Scholz insists that he's "faceless," able to live with a relative degree of normalcy, even with an attention-getting 6-foot-7-inch frame.
"I stay very much undercover and behind the scenes - most places I go, people don't know how important I am," Scholz says with a self-deprecating laugh. "But I will admit that my favorite piece of clothing to wear out is an old T-shirt from a Boston tour that does have a Boston logo. But that doesn't change anything.
"For instance," he says, "I was at a dentist's office a few months back. I had this sweatshirt on, and she goes, 'Boston, oh, that's my favorite band! Do you like that band too?' 'Nah, I just got the sweatshirt ...'"
But rest assured that Scholz, who works on Boston music with the perfectionist care of a diamond cutter - which helps account for the gaps of eight years between each of the band's past three releases - appreciates the appreciation. And he appreciates why fans like it, too.
"I'm one of those artists that doesn't actually hate my old hits," says Scholz, who holds 34 U.S. patents, including the popular Rockman headphone guitar amplifier. "I love Boston music. I really like 'More than a Feeling.' After playing it to myself in a basement for such a long time, I'm happy to do it out on stage.
"It's a great thing to be able to go out and play music that I like that other people also like," he says. "I don't know that it's that way for every band."
Born in Toledo, Scholz grew up on Edgehill Road in Ottawa Hills and graduated from Ottawa Hills High School. He is the son of the late Donald Scholz and the late Olive Scholz-Brock.
In the past year, Scholz faced one of his greatest challenges in keeping Boston alive, something even more difficult than when he fought the group's record companies for creative control and sued one, Artemis Records, for inadequately promoting Boston's previous album, "Corporate America" (2002).
On March 9, 2007, singer Brad Delp, the only remaining original member of Boston besides Scholz, was found dead in his New Hampshire home. He had committed suicide. Though he had been set to marry his girlfriend of seven years in August, he left a note declaring that "I am a lonely soul."The singer's death shook him to the core, Scholz says.
"Brad wasn't just the nicest guy in rock and roll," he explains. "He was a great guy and the most amazing musician/singer I've ever known. He was basically my collaborator for my entire career.
"We were like work friends," he continues, "... but sometimes they're your closest friends. We spent the equivalent of years together traveling, eating and working, and shared a lot of things in the process. I can't describe the kind of loss I felt."
Compounding his pain were accusations by Delp's ex-wife that Scholz had been responsible for Delp's despondence because of the way he ran Boston.
"That was actually worse than the news of Brad's death, in some ways," Scholz says. "They were pretty serious allegations, and they went on for a long time. It seemed like someone was taking advantage of his death to press their own agenda of some sort of vindictiveness.
"It was bad enough having Brad go like that," he says. "Then to have someone say that I had anything to do with it ... That was really tough to take."
His initial inclination, Scholz says, was that Boston was finished: "There's nobody on the face of this Earth that could replace [Delp] and do what he did."
But "the strangest set of circumstances" brought not one but two new singers into Boston's orbit.
The first came when Michael Sweet, the former singer for the Christian rock band Stryper, called Scholz to offer his condolences after Delp's death.
Then the Boston camp became aware of Tommy DeCarlo, a Home Depot employee and passionate Boston fan in Charlotte, N.C., who had posted his versions of Boston songs on his page at Myspace.com.
Both men sang with Boston at a tribute concert for Delp held on Aug. 19, which was to have been his wedding day, and Scholz decided afterward that the new lineup deserved more than a one-time airing.
"I'm not a mystical person," he says, "but it's almost as if Brad was up there pulling some strings, because these two guys were basically left on our doorstep, and things sounded so good from the moment we got together with them.
"And, of course, we hadn't thought about going on tour or anything like that," Scholz continues, "but it just felt like we'd be throwing something really valuable away or ignoring providence by not taking this thing out and putting it up live for people to hear it.
"We figured that we'd better do this now because, if Brad's death taught us anything, it's that you never know what will happen."
The latest incarnation of Boston will be promoting a new version of the group's 1997 "Greatest Hits" album, which came out in what Scholz considers a flawed version.
"I thought it sounded horrible," he admits, "and it really bothered me. I had been trying to get a chance to redo it for a long time, and we finally got the green light."
With that done and with Boston on the road, Scholz plans next to turn his attention to the group's seventh studio album, which he'd been working on for a couple of years until it was derailed by Delp's death and then by the "Greatest Hits" project. Besides brand-new songs, the album will include several songs from "Corporate America" that Scholz is remixing, rearranging, and, in some cases, completely re-recording, including the title track, "You Gave Up on Love" and "Someone."
"'Corporate America' was a really poor seller," Scholz acknowledges. "Very few people have it or have heard it. I'd like to give some of these songs another chance to be heard."
As for the rest of the album, Scholz describes it as a mix of "really straightforward rock-and-roll songs and some things that are pretty esoteric. ... When I first started, I was doing music that had pretty simple themes. Then, as I got into 'Third Stage' (1986) and 'Walk On' (1994), I got a little more technical and a little more involved, more complicated. In this one I'm trying to do both."
Scholz hopes to return to the album after Boston's summer tour and have it out in early 2009. With Sweet and DeCarlo on board, he says, it feels like a new beginning for the band, and he's happy to have the group back on track after what had looked like an insurmountable hurdle.
"There are an awful lot of people out there that don't want to see Boston go away," Scholz says, "and I'm one of them. The [fans] are doing their part to keep us alive, so I'm happy to do mine, you know?"
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