By John Stix
Sometime after the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and before the great collapse of last year's World Series, Boston was discovered by Tom Scholz. Here's how it happened.
"Rock 'n' Roll Band,' was written because Jim (Masdea), always the hopeless dreamer, was playing in bands in Hyannis, like it says in the song," Tom said. "He was always saying how so and so was going to come to see them. I had heard it so many times before. All these kids playing in bars thought some record guy was going to come in and discover them. You're a rock 'n' roll band and it's something special. That's what you like to think about when you're playing in a bar. I finally thought, I'm going to write a song about everybody who dreams about that. It's what I dreamed about. But that's not what happened with Boston.
"Here is the true story. I did a lot of demo work starting in about 1969.1 worked for about a year and bought a twelve track tape deck with my savings. I had to keep working full time through the whole thing to make the money to cover all the expenses. On some of the earlier demos there were other people involved. Barry Goudreau played on some of them. Epic became interested on the basis of six demo songs. Jim helped with the drum arrangements and playing the drums, Brad (Delp) did all the vocals and I did the instruments. That was it. All six of those songs eventually appeared on record.
"Those demos were started in 1974 and completed in 1975. The actual demos were not cut on the vinyl. There was a big back and forth thing about whether we should use the demos themselves and do some touch up work and re-mix or should we start over. I had to actually re-record exact copies of them. The demos weren't good enough because the drum sound wasn't good enough. In some places the meter wasn't very good. We had to record between the hours of 12 midnight and 8 a.m. because I was working full time at Polaroid. Brad worked full time. Jim played in bands either up north or down south. So we would record on days where he had to play afternoon sets. He would pack up his drums and drive two hours to the studio, meet me in the middle of the night, unpack his drums, set up; we'd mike him, get our sound, he'd play the part as best he could at 4 a.m., tear everything down, pack the drums back in the car, drive back down to the Cape and try to get a few hours sleep before his next show. He had to set his drums up again that night to play on stage. I had to get back in time to go to work. And this is what we did for one year.
"This was my last big shot at it. I was about 29 at the time and I had already lost a fortune. I lived in a rented apartment and I hadn't gotten anything that even amounted to a solid nibble on anything I had done up to that point. So when I bought that tape deck I knew it was a long shot and I was going to try it. I was making the ultimate commitment. I spent five years getting a degree so I could get the job. I got the job and used all that money to go for this. I spent every dime that I had saved for five or six years working at a professional level. If nothing happened with those demos, that was going to be it. I was going to cool it and go back to trying to live a normal life."
Twelve years and three multi-platinum albums and one Scholz Research & Development Co. later, we sat down with Tom Scholz to talk about his normal life as consummate inventor and musician.
On the first Boston album you wail on the organ as well as the guitar.
I was an organ player before I was a guitar player. I started on piano and then went to organ. I became a guitar player because I couldn't stand the guitar players in the bands I was in. I didn't like the way they played so I decided to give it a try myself.
Did you go through an imitation/innovation stage?
That's the only way you can learn how to play any instrument to start with. You can't invent a new thing on an instrument until you've at least mastered some of the basics. I listened to most of the Yardbird descendants, Jimmy Page, Beck and Clapton, plus Joe Walsh, and I have to put Todd Rundgren in there because he was really the guy who gave me the idea of getting involved with harmony guitar playing and playing melodies on guitar. "I Saw the Light" is a great example of what I mean. Those are pretty much the guys that got me interested. Iron Butterfly were pretty good when they first came out. If I listened to them now I wouldn't think so.
Did you have a rock'n'roll dream of playing in the arenas?
I always imagined myself on stage at a local club. That's all I had in mind. I wasn't planning on being on those eight-foot stages. I wanted to play because I liked the instrument. I liked the sound of it. But I found it very difficult to play. I still do. It's very hard. I have to practice constantly if I'm going to record a part. For live performing I have to start months in advance trying to get my chops up. It's miserable. If I don't play the thing every few days for a good while, I just go downhill. It's such a physical thing for me. It takes me 30 minutes to warm up to the point where I can do anything that I would like to be able to do. So I can't just pick it up and play things and find it enjoyable because I have this limitation with my left hand. It's very different from keyboards where I can sit down and entertain myself endlessly because it doesn't seem to go away. I don't practice the organ at all. Not even once during the year. It's never been a problem for me to play it to the degree that I'm happy with. With the guitar it's not enough just to play the songs like being on stage. That doesn't do it. I have to be able to work on things outside of the group. I try to develop things that I would like to be able to do, moves that I have trouble with. I work on those to try and smooth them out, get them faster or cleaner. I try to find new things. I'll come up with ideas that I can't quite hack and I work on those.
Do ebony porn you record yourself when you practice?
I never used tape for trying to develop some lick I might use here or there. When I'm practicing I know the kinds of things that I get traditionally weak on right away, like trills and playing in certain parts of the neck. I'll start with that just to get loosened up. There have been lots of things where I'm working on a lead and I try to stay away from doing the standard things. Often times I play more of a melody part. Sometimes things will come up that I've never heard. Somebody else has probably done them but I will pick those up afterwards and add them to my repertoire.
You seem to have mastered string bending.
I got interested in better controlling pitch changes with bending once I started trying to put things down on tape. I realized how important it was to the feel. It took a long time to develop the ablity to put vibrato on at the speed and intensity you wanted it. Of course, at the upper and lower part of the neck it's a completely different physical motion. That took a lot of conscious effort.
Did you have a role model?
Lots of them. Most guitar players, back when I was listening, had one way they put vibrato on notes. Every note ended the same way if they used it. I liked someone 5 in one place and somebody else's method in another. I wanted to be able to learn how to do it all different ways. There was a guy named Randy California that people told me used to give a little demonstration in the middle of the concert about how well he could play a funky lick, then a blues lick and so on. He had excellent control of the vibrato. I decided I wanted to learn how to do that. The vibrato has to fit in the spot in the song. It has to sit on the note. If you pick out a solo on Third Stage there would be places where there would be several different kinds. I do it strictly by feel. There are no rules.
You have mentioned that everything you did before the first Boston album didn't help much.
I meant that all of the playing in public I did was no help. It was no help because it didn't help generate any music. It was only playing or covering tunes or performing tunes that I had written or arranged. But nothing evolved from it, no improvement in my playing. It amounted to nothing. The recording efforts were helpful from day one. Anything I know about music either came from listening to other people many years ago or from learning in the studio.
Was your guitar style on the first album at the club level or did it too evolve totally in the studio?
It was in the studio. I was a struggling guitar player for a long time, trying to get to the point where I could play my songs. I listen to the first album now and I can see that it was right at the edge of my talent level. I could just barely do those parts. Now I think that would be so easy, how could that be hard for me? I was still struggling to get my competency on the instrument at that time.
So while a dancer works with a mirror to develop his or her talent, you worked with the studio in the same way?
That's exactly what it is. There is nothing that is more honest than putting something on tape, especially if there is not much else on the tape besides your instrument. Playing it back you get a good feel for how bad you do things. You also pick up when you do something good and you can remember it.