By Larry Lange
The rock band Boston is familiar to just about anyone with a radio. But few fans may realize that the creative force behind Boston's distinctive sound is an engineer.
Indeed, Tom Scholz' engineering acumen helped propel Boston to se emingly instant stardom back in ebony porn 1976, and it's keeping the band's signature sound vital as Scholz prepares a new Boston recording for release later this year.
"Tom Scholz is a modern-day Renaissance man an engineer's engineer," said D.C. Williams, a Carson City, Nev.-based electrical-engineering consultant and Scholz fan who runs a Web site devoted to Boston .
Songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist Scholz is both the creator of and techno-brains behind the Boston phenomenon. He's a producer, sound technician and inventor, with nearly 35 patents in his portfolio. Indeed, Scholz' innovations have earned him renown among audiophiles and recording professionals: His unique Rockman line of guitar amplifiers and effects boxes revolutionized the way professional music has been re corded over the past two decades.
"Most people live their life around what other people do," Scholz told EE Times in a recent, rare interview. "They watch their life go by in somebody's else's vision. To me, that doesn't seem like a good idea."
So Scholz mapped out a journey for himself that has taken him from music stardom to the annals of audio electronics.
Born Donald T. Scholz in 1947 in Toledo, Ohio, he was an inquisitive and athletic kid who towered over his peers (he's 6 feet, 5 inches tall) and whose diverse interests made him a study in contradictions. He was a serious student of classical music, attracted by its "power" ("rock didn't have that kind of power until the Kinks and the Who came along," he says). He played basketball well enough to think about turning pro. And he developed an early interest in engineering.
"I was a fixer, a builder an inventor ever since I can remember," Scholz said.
Drawn at fi rst to mechanical engineering, Scholz was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on full scholarship, graduating with a master's degree. Polaroid Corp. quickly scooped him up as a senior product design engineer to work on innovative multimedia projects.
Even as he applied his ME skills, Scholz plunged deeper into the electronics involved with his favorite hobby recording original music while playing local keyboard gigs. Though Scholz' guitar style today is one of rock music's most recognizable, distinguishable by his melodic style and harmonic phrasings, he didn't pick up a guitar until he was 21. Once he did, he learned characteristically quickly, perfecting his craft by studying such masters as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.
While he toiled at the Polaroid job to avoid having to "dig petunias" for a living, he began taking a "calculated risk," spending every spare dime he earned over the next six years on recording equipment. Though he hoped to make a full-fledged career of his music, he says he sought to remind himself "the whole time that it would never be anything more than a hobby."
So much for low expectations. Scholz spent his final days at Polaroid drenched in the limelight, as Boston's "More Than a Feeling" shot up the charts. The debut album, simply titled "Boston," earned a Grammy nomination and has sold 16 million copies since its first printing. In its day, it held the sales record for a debut album.
Boston's success ushered in the next wave of "producer" rock. The debut album's "Rock and Roll Band," which tells a story of a band's life on the road, is "pure fantasy," Scholz said. Indeed, "the band Boston existed on my basement tape recorder long before I could get five people together to take a picture for a band photo on the first album."
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