Boston singer Brad Delp finds satisfaction in band's classic-rock status

By Joshua Rotter
Special to The Record
Published Friday, August 6, 2004

As a recording act, Boston began at the very top, the group's self-titled debut album having sold more than 17 million copies.

As performers, however, and particularly as a live act, the original incarnation has nothing on Boston circa 2004.

"Not to take anything away from the original five members, but no one really sang," said Brad Delp, Boston vocalist then and now. "I did all the vocals and background vocals (in the studio) and when we went out, I did everything live.

"But, as of last summer, we have three new members and everyone sings. So, with seven vocalists -- most of who are multi-instrumentalists -- that helps cover the earlier songs."

To be sure, Delp and founding guitar wizard Tom Scholz know that the fans turning out this summer for Boston's 31-city tour want to hear those vintage 1970s tracks.

"We play everything from the first record on," Delp said. "We certainly want people to know about 'Corporate America,' which we toured last summer, but people won't feel shortchanged because we'll be doing a lot of the old favorites."

Boston performs tonight at the Chronicle Pavilion in Concord. The lineup includes Kimberley Dahme (bass), Anthony Cosmo (guitar), Fran Cosmo (guitar), Gary Pihl (keyboards) and Jeff Neal (drums).

Delp sang primarily in cover bands before meeting Scholz 35 years ago. The guitarist was following a unique path to rock 'n' roll stardom -- Scholz had earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and was working as a senior product designer for Polaroid even as he, Delp and fellow guitarist Barry Goodreau began performing in New England clubs. Joined by bassist Fran Sheehan and drummer John "Sib" Hashian, the group recorded the demos that earned them a deal with CBS affiliate Epic in Scholz's self-designed home studio.

The label brought in producer John Boylan to work on the tapes, but it was essentially those demos that the public would come to embrace on "Boston." Powered by both AM pop hits ("More Than A Feeling") and FM album-rock tracks ("Long Time," "Peace of Mind"), the disc remains the best-selling debut album in history.

Just as it was unusual in that era to record an album at home, likewise it was rare for a top band to take two years between releases. Boston did just that, however, releasing "Don't Look Back" in the summer of 1978. While it couldn't match the debut's numbers, the title track was a top 5 pop hit and the album has gone on to sell 7 million copies.

The two years created much talk in the music industry, with some insiders questioning Scholz's perfectionism. Certainly, more than a few critics noted that Boston's music, while popular, was pristine to the point of antiseptic. In an era when the thrash of punk was starting to be celebrated, Boston was denounced as soulless corporate rock.

The two years between "Boston" and "Don't Look Back" proved the exception rather than the rule. Since 1978, new Boston albums have emerged at the rate of one every eight years.

In the '80s, legal issues prompted some delays, including a suit Goudreau filed alleging Scholz had damaged his solo career. Delp tried to remain neutral in his bandmates' case, which was settled out of court.

"Tom and I generally don't socialize ebony porn together because we have different social agendas," Delp said. "When we're off tour, we do not see each other for six months.

"Then I'll get a call from him because we live less than an hour apart. What we have is a handshake relationship for me to never get involved in his relationship with any other members."

Scholz also won a seven-year battle against Epic, which claimed Boston had reneged on its contract by taking so long between releases. The action further delayed the release of "Third Stage" (1986), but the album nonetheless topped the charts and spawned hit singles in "Amanda" and "We're Ready." Total sales: 4 million.

"There was a lot of time spent in court fighting a battle with CBS over who should determine when a record should be released," Delp said. "Tom contended, rightly so, that it should be the artist's decision. An exclusivity contract is one thing, but putting a timetable on creativity is a matter he felt strongly opposed to.

"The legal battle was decided in his favor after a great deal of time and expense. If I was more ambitious, I would have been more uncomfortable, but I took advantage of being able to watch my kids grow up."

Still, even Delp quit Boston in the early '90s, joining Goodreau in the band RTZ.

"Barry and I have been friends for years and we'd go and record these demos," Delp said. "Before we knew it, there was an album's worth of material and it turned into a project."

Delp was on tour with RTZ when Scholz was ready to record Boston's next effort, "Walk On" (1994). Scholz proceed without him, bringing Cosmo in to handle vocals. The disc, however, was a relative flop at only a million copies sold.

"As I got back, Tom asked me to join Franny on vocals because he was a little trepidatious about singing the original songs because people want the guy who sings on the record," Delp said. "So he and I traded off on older songs, and to this day it's worked out pretty well for all concerned."

Another eight years would pass before the release of "Corporate America" (2002), which attacked the system Scholz had once been a part of. The success of the ensuing tour has inspired the band to head back into the studio -- just don't expect to hear new music any time soon.

"We're hesitant to put a time limit on it because Tom is notorious for being meticulous," Delp said. "But now we have new writing input, so hopefully it won't be too long between projects. Tom is pleased with this lineup and he'd like to keep us together, so he keeps the band active and playing."

To keep himself busy between albums, the singer spends much of his time playing in a Beatles cover band, Beatlejuice.

"Ten years ago, I got together with friends and thought to put together a band that is 'all Beatles all night,' like our poster says," Delp said. "We try to stay true to the original records and arrangements. It makes me feel like a kid again when I sing 'All My Lovin.'"

As a result, Delp has developed a greater appreciation for role music plays in his audience's life.

"It helps me understand those fans who say, 'I was in high school when I bought your first record, wore it out and bought another one.' Thank goodness for classic rock because it's made Boston timeless."
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