By: Justin Press
You d be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn t currently own, has previously owned, or at least knows five tracks from Boston s self-titled mega-hit debut. It practically changed the way record label s expectations of a band s first albums should do as far as sales. 20 million plus and still counting to this day, and a majority of that had been done without the marketing dollars of today. It was strictly radio and touring that made that thing into a monster. It is the ultimate in precision production, timeless melodies, powerful performances, all done very organically by founder Tom Scholtz (an MIT grad and engineer for Kodak) and vocalist Brad Delp. Done over the course of several years, it is the equivalent of Dark Side Of The Moon for head bangers, as far as it sounds impeccable still.
The follow-up Don t Look Back was another stealth production this time done by a full band that also showcased numerous radio giants like the title track and Man I ll Never Be . It would be another 8 years before the band were able to release another batch of new tracks due to legalities and Scholtz s desire to create absolute perfection in the studio. Most bands following would have dried up with that amount of time out of the spotlight but with the release of Third Stage, the fans sent it right into the Top Ten. Due partly to the strength of the band s catalog at radio and a new generation discovering the first two albums, the band just wouldn t go away. Though primarily an Scholtz/Delp project by the time of Third Stage, others like guitarist/vocalist Fran Cosmo were making their mark with band by the time of Walk On (with Delp taking a temporary break to help ex-Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau with his band RTZ).
Fast-forward to 2002 and after numerous years without new product other than the Greatest Hits album with several new tracks, and some brief touring, the band was non-existent to the general public. Well all that changed with an appearance at the Super Bowl in Tampa and a new contract with Artemis, the band released Corporate America. A new cast of members joining Scholtz, Delp and Cosmo helped usher back in the classic Boston sound with tracks like Turn It On and I Had A Good Time leading the way with that patented multi-layered guitar tone and Delp/Cosmo countering one another. The summer of 2003 saw the band hitting the road with a new production and the new band including bassist/vocalist Kimberly Dahme, taking the new material and re-energizing the classics for full sheds everywhere. They are currently hitting the road again focusing on venues they didn t hit last year including a performance this Saturday the 14th in Austin as the Frank Erwin Center. Vocalist Brad Delp was gracious enough to share his time with the DMG and talk about the band s legacy, its future, and his weekend Beatles gigs.
(*Note: Tom Scholtz injured his knee prior to the tour opener and pushed the day back by one.)
DMG: How s your voice these days, do you ever have any problems with it, given all the roadwork and recordings over the years?
BD: I ll tell you what, I can t wait to get out of rehearsal because those wind up being eight to twelve hour days and that s a lot of singing. So when we get out on the road, I guess it s really the easy part for me. The other thing about rehearsals is that we may actually only play for an hour or hour and a half and then there s some technical thing that needs to be done, and then you stop, and if you re off for a long amount of time, that s not always easy on the voice either. Fortunately for me, when Boston is not touring I have another band I do just for fun locally, so I pretty much play every weekend and I think that s what really keeps my voice in shape. Also when we go out with Boston is that you know we have Fran Cosmo, so that s two lead vocalists and this is our fourth tour together.
DMG: The other band you mentioned, that s Beatlejuice right, is it straight Beatles stuff?
BD: Yeah, this is our eleventh summer and it s really just a hobby, and ebony porn we just do it locally. It s just friends and myself and it wasn t something about initially but it does allow to always be gigging.
DMG: As far as performing live, is it still a thrill for you the way it was fifteen or twenty years ago?
BD: It s different, when the first album came out as you know, things happened so quickly, the first tour started two weeks after the record was released so it was really a whirlwind and we were initially supposed to go out for six to eight weeks just to see how things would go. Well radio jumped all over the album, and in those days, it was usually just the single that got the attention. But for some reason they were playing every cut off the record. So when we went out and played in the Midwest in the clubs and cities we d never been to before, the crowds were singing along to every song, and that kind of tipped me off as to how the record was being received. That six-week tour ended up as a ten month run. I remember back to those days and the best we were hoping for was just a chance to do another album. It s amazing how that record took off, but I do remember that when we were working on the record we really isolated ourselves from what was going on outside of what we were doing or what radio was doing. I remember hearing More Than A Feeling for the first time and realizing that it didn t sound like anything else that was going on at radio at the time. I really didn t know if that was a good thing or not. Obviously now, people really responded to the song and that record as soon as it came out.
Nowadays when we go out, I never would have thought back then that twenty five years later that there would still be a demand or an audience to not only hear songs from the first albums, but it s nice to see the new stuff being well received, at least from the people who ve had a chance to hear it. We ve been lucky because of our loyal fan base. We see lots of old faces at our shows but last summer we really started to see a lot of new faces, and kids checking out our music for the first time who weren t old enough in the early days. For everything I am eternally grateful.
DMG: The point you brought up about the first album, it becomes a double-edged sword. That huge initial success of selling millions of records, selling out stadiums and the like, the question is, how do we live up to this ?
BD: Since Tom did most of the writing on the first few records, I am sure he felt more pressure than I did. Since he s our producer, I ve been lucky because I only have to come in when vocals needed to be done, and when it s not I am pretty much on my own. So yeah he felt the pressure to follow up and the label was pushing him to get Don t Look Back out before he felt it was ready and I think that was his main concern. Not so much how am I going to follow this up, but he wanted time for it to be ready and sound the way he knew it could sound. Obviously Boston is notorious for taking a long time to do a record but in a sense it s admirable on his part because no one could ever accuse us of rushing product out. Our fans have come to realize that and they have become patient with the fact that he won t put an album out until it sounds perfect.
DMG: As far as Walk On you weren t a part of the band at that time.
BD: I guess you could say that I left the band de facto . I made a commitment to Barry Goudreau on a project that came together very quickly and by the time we were done we had an album s worth of material. Plus Tom and I aren t social together we get together when it s time to work. I may not hear from him for six months at a time and then one day he ll call and ask me to come in for the weekend. Most of the time I can do it, but this time I was working with Barry. So we did the RTZ album and set up this club tour, well two weeks before we were set to leave I got a call from Tom. I had to go in and tell him that I made this commitment, so Tom was faced with the realization that he may have to wait six months for my vocals or just press on with it. I m not really sure how Fran became involved with the project, and it was coincidental because Fran and I had known each other before. Fran actually worked on Barry s first solo record in 1980, so it was a happy accident I guess that he came to be the singer on the Walk On record. I finished up the tour with RTZ, Boston was about to go out on the road for the Walk On tour and Tom asked me if I wanted to join them, and it sounded like fun to me. It was a great opportunity for me to get back with the band and Fran liked it as well because he was a little overwhelmed with the prospect of being the lead singer and dealing with the fact of going out and singing the songs off the first records and the fans want to hear that singer, not the new one. It s not that he couldn t handle it; it s just that he thought the two of us splitting vocals would be a great idea. We ve always had a great relationship as well.
DMG: Obviously with Beatlejuice and what you do with them, The Beatles proved a big influence on you. What other singers or bands influenced you as you were growing up?
BD: There are a lot of people though you wouldn t notice it as an influence. Stevie Wonder is one, and its also Stevie Wonder coincidently who kept the first Boston record from being Number One on the charts because he had released Songs In The Key Of Life and that was there for almost a year. Saying that I don t begrudge him at all because if you re going to come in second place to another record, that s not a bad one to do it to. In 64-65 when I was in my first band, the British Invasion was under way and The Beatles were my absolute focus. But the Stones, Kinks, Cream all served me as well. But McCartney did all the high notes and he fit my range, so I related. But with Boston, you can t really tell because Tom orchestrated the vocals, and I know he was a big fan of The Hollies, as was I, and they were certainly known for those high harmonies. When I was in all the bands before Boston, we did covers and in those situations you try and mimic whatever singer it is, and Tom told me that I got the gig because I could do the high parts on Rocky Mountain Way by Joe Walsh. Tom also liked the fact that I could sing in a higher register so when we were in the studio he always liked to hear my voice at whatever limits it could go to. It was a complete challenge. If I would have known that I would be singing those songs some thirty years later, I would have been more conservative. The thing now is that he knows what I can and can t do and I know what he expects.
DMG: Boston is known for very clean production, which doesn t leave much room for nuance or rawness, is that a hindrance or just something you learned to adjust to?
BD: When I first started working with him the harmonies were a little different and that s what contributes to the unique sound. It was a different way of singing for me. When we got into the studio he asked me to sing with as little vibrato as possible, and for a singer, you have a natural vibrato, so I had to check that when we were doing vocals. My voice did change from working from him and in my Beatle band, with the stuff I do there, that s as close as I can remember to my regular voice before I met Tom. It s definitely no the way I would have approached it on my own. It wasn t an immediate thing either; it was a process over time. Tom would say, when you end this line this time, could you make it a little straighter ? It s just like on songs like Peace Of Mind and the harmonies, there just isn t room to stretch out because of the structure of the track. One song is not like that is Long Time where the verses are a little more free form, so there is more of me in that song.
DMG: This new round of touring is hitting cities that the band weren t able to cover in 2003.
BD: As you know, it s unusual for us to tour two summers in a row and it s not something we discussed last summer. One of the reasons that we are out again this year is that Tom was so pleased with the line-up. We ve got seven people in the band and everyone sings so it s been healthy for re-producing the vocal parts that are on the records. He wanted to keep everyone interested and working and we had good turnouts for the shows last summer and that was encouraging. Plus the response to the new material was strong and it s tough because a lot of people I spoke to after the show hadn t realized that Corporate America was even out. Most of the venues are different, with a few the same because of offers, but most are new for us. For that reason we have revamped the show somewhat and will be doing things we ve done on past tours.
DMG: With the band now, the core of yourself, Tom, Fran and Gary Pihl, can you tell us a little about them?
BD: Yeah, about Gary he really compliments Tom s playing and he is completely on the mark all the time. He has an intuitive way of playing and with those guitar harmonies; you have to be very precise. So there is no margin for error there except at solos that he comes up with on his own. Aside from his on-stage duties, he always served as a go between Tom and the crew. Gary s job is to work with the crew to make sure everything is in place, so his hours go beyond jus the studio and the stage. I am indebted to him for taking on more than most. Fran s son Anthony also plays guitar and he s exceptional, plus that affords Tom to play keyboards, which are a big part of the records as well. Some nights they allow me to play rhythm guitar (laughs). I ve sort of learned to play keyboards as well, but I don t think I can play beyond what I play with Boston so that s been fun over the years. So the seven of us help Tom who s adamant about when you come to see a live show, it should be live. It s never been a question about whether or not we should these vocals on a DAT tape. With Boston what you see is what you get.
DMG: Also for a lot of people who saw you last year, the big surprise was having Kimberly up there as well. So you have this striking woman up there on a stage littered with men.
BD: Kimmie is a terrific addition and I am sure, a highlight of the tour last summer. Tom saw Kim playing at a small club outside of Boston and he was looking for a bass player. She was actually playing guitar in that band, doing the leads and things, so aside from her presence on stage, he was also impressed with her vocals as well. He went back to talk to the band after the show, and he said that they weren t looking for another guitar player, but that he needed a bass player. I believe she said, as the story goes, that she asked him to send her six or eight songs that we were considering doing for the tour. She got a bass guitar and had a friend in Nashville who tutored her and she came back having them pretty much down. And I have to say that next to Gary, she has probably worked hardest in getting ready for the tours. Now I can t even imagine her not being the bass player. Plus with her vocal ability she lends another voice to the band and she contributed a song to the C.A. album, that was quite well received last summer, and that was from people who weren t familiar with it. In addition, she is just such a personable individual and we try to meet as many people as possible given our schedule and she is always the first person out there greeting the fans.
DMG: Does the band get a chance to tour overseas at all?
BD: The last time we played over there was in Japan on the 78-79 tour, the Don t Look Back shows. We ve been close to going back and it s been discussed. Tom makes the last call on those types of situations and he maybe considering it somewhere down the line. We ve only just been there once, which I guess is once more than Elvis.
DMG: So the band is rolling thru Texas on the 13th and 14th of this month, after the tour what s in store then?
BD: I m going back to playing Beatles songs. If I was a more ambitious person, maybe I d go work on a solo project or something, but I enjoy doing that. We get off this tour on August 30th, and then the drummer for my Beatle band has us booked for the first weekend in October, so we can t wait to get started again. I know there s going to be no break for Tom, he actually got together a week or two prior to the tour with Kimberly and Anthony and started working on new Boston material that they ve both submitted. Anthony actually wrote three songs on the C.A. album, and that is a really new and encouraging thing for the band that we have all these writers in the band now. Had we not be doing this tour, they d be in the studio working on some things, so I know Tom is proceeding with that when he gets home. Unlike myself, Tom is really a workaholic and even though it seems like it, he wasn t sitting still all those years between records; he s always got something going on. And as a lot of people know, he started his own company way back when (Rockman) and came up with the amplifiers we currently use on stage. He s got his hands full because if he s not on tour or in the studio, then he s inventing something. I think it bodes well for another Boston record, and I know better then to put a time limit on it, but I don t see it taking as long between projects given the line-up that we have now.
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DMG: Boston has sort of branded this sound , and given that these other writers are entering the picture, will Tom always make sure that the songs have the elements of Boston songs?
BD: Yeah, I think so, and with him being our producer, there is just no Boston without Tom. In all modesty, you could do a Boston record with anyone else but Tom is really the indispensable member. It really is his sound and I was very fortunate to be the singer on those early records. As far as the creative input, and that sound of the guitars and the harmonies being layered, that s really all Tom and a trademark. He likes the new input and the new members are aware of, for lack of a better word, legacy, so when they re playing stuff for him they have that in mind too. In the case of a song like Kim s With You , she never thought that would be on a Boston record. It was just a case of when she came to audition, she brought along her resume of sorts and she had that song which she initially recorded in Germany, and Tom listened to it, and to his credit and he said he d love to do the song if anything just to step out of the mold of traditional Boston songs. So he just took the song and added some of the Boston guitars that come in at the end of it, and put his stamp on it. One of my favorite songs on the last album was Cryin which Fran did the vocals on, and though it takes the band in a little different direction, but all you have to hear are the first guitar notes and you know right away that it s Boston.
DMG: Quick question (*I ve had twenty years worth of questions), do you happen to know the sales figures for the debut album currently?
BD: Honestly I have no idea. If I had a nickel for every record we sold I could quit my Beatle band. No I d never quit that. I still think we're in the Guinness Book for a debut album, but I really don t know and I don t need to know. Its done well enough to afford me the luxury to go out when Tom needs me to tour, and it s a privilege to get to go out and do those songs. And when I m not doing that, its great that I get to do something that is just strictly enjoyment for me. When I m in the Beatle band I feel fifteen again, and it makes me feel like I did when I first heard All My Lovin .
DMG: Finally I was asked to inquiry with you regarding some big plans that Boston had for the 30th anniversary.
BD: I don t know because some of that will be a surprise to me as well. Technically we have never done a video outside of the promotional ones from the first albums. Those kind of snuck and we re done somewhat begrudgingly. They were done with the intention of being sent to Europe so people could get a feel for the band. They were never meant for distribution over here because Tom never liked the idea of lip-synching. So there has been talk and the fans have asked for a DVD or something to that effect, so there are some plans for filming this tour with an eye towards releasing something. I suspect if we did anything like that, it would be a live DVD that Tom would want to do. Again, Tom has final say on but that is certainly something that I would be excited about because I m a fan of the medium.
So there you go and hopefully that shines a little light on a band that has always been a mystery of sorts to some. Boston s Corporate America is still available thru Artemis Records and by now you re on your third or fourth pressing of the Boston album, thus showing further evidence that quality always stands the test of time. Personally speaking, get in your car, make the trip and check out Boston live because regardless of what you think you hear, it is all very real and plugged in. There is nothing quite like having More Than A Feeling and Long Time wash over you at 120 decibels.