The story of the band Boston is one of the strangest in rock, especially when it concerns a group that is, on the surface, so inoffensive. This is a band that formed in 1976, 41 years ago, and yet to date has released only six studio albums. Much of that sluggishness with new material can be put down to some circumstances that vary between the clichéd and the downright tragic.
The act's self-titled debut album was released in ’76, containing the mega-smash hit (and frankly magnificent) hard-rock anthem “More Than a Feeling,” and it was followed by the also-great Don’t Look Back album in ’78. But then came a period of lawsuits and inactivity — the sort of legal bullshit that is, unfortunately, so common in the music business. Former managers came out of the woodwork, while CBS Records was not happy with the length of time it was taking Boston to record album number three. Third Stage eventually came out in 1986, and that marked the beginning of a habit that would see Boston take at least eight years to put out a new record.
Tragedy struck Boston in 2007, when original lead singer Brad Delp killed himself at his home in Atkinson, New Hampshire. A tribute concert for Delp was held that same year, and one of the singers asked to perform with the band was Tommy DeCarlo, who had been spotted singing Boston songs on his personal MySpace page.
“We called him up for an audition, and I’m sure he thought it was one of his buddies kidding him,” says guitarist Gary Pihl. “We go, ‘Yeah, this is Boston, we want you to come and audition for the band.’ He had never been in a band before in his life. It must have been quite a culture shock, to all of a sudden be up on stage in front of thousands of people singing. But he’s done a great job, and we’re just thrilled to have him with us.”
It’s a story that almost echoes that of fellow hard rockers Journey, who found their own singer, Arnel Pineda, singing Journey songs with his old band the Zoo on YouTube videos. DeCarlo did enough online to impress an enormous rock band into hiring him. Unlike Pineda, DeCarlo was new to the rock-and-roll life. He’s certainly grown into the role, however.
“On that first tour he did with us, we had another singer with us, Michael Sweet from Stryper,” Pihl says. “They’ve had their own platinum albums. That first tour, they split the lead singing duties fifty-fifty. It could have turned out bad, because Michael is such a professional and here’s Tommy, never been in a band in his life. You could have assumed that Michael might have an attitude, but he didn’t. He was very gracious and mentored Tommy, and I’m sure Tommy learned a lot from him. Michael’s back out there touring with Stryper again, so Tommy’s doing all the lead vocals except for a song or two that Beth Cohen sings for us.”
Pihl isn’t an original member of Boston. The guitarist got to know the band while he was playing with Sammy Hagar’s solo group in the ’70s, and the "Red Rocker" opened up for Boston on a nationwide tour. Pihl watched Boston play many, many times and, when Hagar joined Van Halen in 1985, Pihl was offered a job with Boston.
“That was a dream come true, so I left from the last gig with Sammy, which was Farm Aid in Illinois, and flew directly to Boston to start working with [founding member] Tom Scholz,” Pihl says. “I wasn’t out of work for a day — how lucky can a guy get? It has really zipped by, surprisingly, when you think about being in a band for thirty years — that’s a long time. When I was in high school, you were in a band for about three months before they changed members.”
Pihl says that over the course of his three decades with the band, much has changed regarding the way the industry works and the technology, but other things haven’t changed at all. Musicians still get up on stage and play, doing their best and hoping people like the fruits of their labor. Boston has gone through members coming and going (besides Delp), but the lineup has been fairly stable since 2012, which helps. But Pihl says musicians are an adaptable breed anyway.
“We’ve had some great musicians over the years, and after you do a couple of shows together, you’re best friends,” Pihl says. “You travel with them day after day and see them almost 24 hours a day. It doesn’t take too long to feel like a band. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve had some great people.”
Pihl says that Boston is looking forward to coming back to Denver, where the group will be on a bill at Fiddler’s Green with Night Ranger. Some new material is going to be aired, while Scholz has been working on some new accompanying visual effects. There’ll be something for every fan.
“We’re certainly going to be playing the hit songs that people love singing along with,” Pihl says. “But we’ve also got a lot of requests for some deep tracks — some songs that we haven’t played for a long time. We’re also going to throw in a song or two from the latest CD, Life, Love & Hope.”
After this gig, Boston is hitting the road with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts; later in the year, Pihl will be working on something a little more out of left field.
“I’m in a charity band called the December People, where we play traditional holiday songs, but in the styles of other classic-rock bands,” he says, deadpan. “So an example is, ‘White Christmas,’ done like Billy Idol would do ‘White Wedding.’ We’ll start a song that sounds like the Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard,’ then we go into ‘Joy to the World.’ The audience gets it right away, and they’re singing along because everybody knows all those old songs.”
Admit it: You’re intrigued.
Boston, with Night Ranger, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 6, Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, 6350 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard, Englewood, 303-220-7000.