Forty-plus years ago, Tom Scholz saw his life and career path get turned upside down — in the best way — when he got a record deal, released his first album in 1976 as the musical genius behind the band Boston and watched that album turn the group into instant superstars.
“I was an engineer working full time (at Polaroid) and I saw what my sort of career path and my life was going to shape up to be, and I was perfectly happy with it,” Scholz recalled in a recent phone interview. “Boston was a pipe dream and I never, never expected, even after I got the record deal, which was totally unexpected, even after I got that and made the (first) record, I went back to work at Polaroid. (I didn’t expect) it to succeed.”
Always a huge crowd pleaser with a high-energy stage show, Boston brings its timeless music Wednesday to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.
Scholz had good reason to keep his expectations in check. For six years, he had been making demos of his songs, shopping them to record companies, radio stations and other music business contacts and getting nothing but rejections.
Finally, he decided to take one last run at making a new demo, and if it didn’t get him a record deal, he would do the responsible thing as a husband approaching his 30th birthday by selling his studio equipment and continuing his career at Polaroid.
Scholz decided his final demo would be made his way. Instead of recording with other musicians, as he had done on the earlier demos, he would use his own basement studio that he had assembled over that period and record everything himself but the drums and vocals (handled by his singer and right-hand man, Brad Delp).
“There were no egos to deal with, there was no second guessing about what somebody thought about what I was doing,” Scholz said. “It was just wherever I felt I could go with the ideas that I had.”
The approach worked, and Scholz got interest from three record labels with that final demo and a deal from Epic Records.
Scholz recalled one particular moment that captures how he felt about that turn of events.
“I sent the first four songs out. I got calls from three major labels saying they were very interested,” Scholz said. “I remember the third call came in while I was working at Polaroid one afternoon. It got routed to my desk, and somebody introduced himself as the vice president of A&R from A&M Records, and he said he had somebody else, the vice president from somewhere else in the company, and they were both on the phone. He said, ‘We’re really excited about this demo you sent. We want to hear more music. And do you want to come down?’
“So I got off the phone and I’m in a room full of engineers and draftsmen, probably about 20 people in a technical wing of Polaroid. And I’m jumping up and down on top of a desk. And of course, that got some attention from a few different people, including a draftsman that I had handed the demo tape to about two months earlier to give to a cousin of his at, I think it was ABC Records. So he sees me on top of the desk and he says ‘What are you doing?’ I said ‘I just got a call from A&M Records’ vice president. I’m going to go to A&M Records.’
And the guy goes ‘Oh crap,’ and he reaches in his desk and he pulls out the cassette and said ‘I should have given this to my cousin.’”
That draftsman may still wonder if he blew a chance to have been part of one or rock’s most unique success stories. Let’s at least hope he and his cousin are still on speaking terms.
Guitarist/keyboardist Scholz, of course, is still going strong, touring and recording with the latest Boston lineup, which includes Gary Pihl (guitar), Tommy DeCarlo (vocals/keys), Tracy Ferrie (bass), Beth Cohen (keys/guitar) and either Jeff Neal or Curly Smith on drums.
And several songs from that debut album remain cornerstones in a live set that encompasses 40 years of Boston as a band — a career that has seen the group sell 75 million copies of its six studio albums, including 17 million copies of the first album, one of the best selling debut records in history.
“My most important goal is always, it is to provide ouraudience with an experience that will both excite and delight them, be the most fun possible for that evening,” Scholz said. “You have to pace the set in a way that makes sense with the energy level that you want from the audience, and let them calm down and be thoughtful or insightful at certain spots and bring them back. That kind of thing has to be done.”
Top spot on the chart: No. 1 during Nov. 8, 1986
Spot before the week the song peaked: No. 77
Weeks on Top 100 charts: 18
Date released: Sept. 26, 1986
2. Don’t Look Back
Top spot on the chart: No. 4 during Oct. 7, 1978
Week before highest place: No. 50
Weeks on Top 100 charts: 13
Date released: Aug. 2, 1978
3. More Than a Feeling
Top spot on the chart: No. 5 during Dec. 25, 1976
Spot before the week the song peaked: No. 29
Weeks on Top 100 charts: 19
Date released: September 1976
4. We’re Ready
Top spot on the chart: No. 9 during Feb. 14, 1987
Spot before the week the song peaked: No. 52
Weeks on Top 100 charts: 15
Date released: December 1981
5. Can’tcha Say (You Believe In Me)/Still In Love
Top spot on the chart: No. 20 during April 18, 1987
Spot before the week the song peaked: No. 87
Weeks on Top 100 charts: 13
Date released: April 1987
WHO: Boston with special guests Blue Oyster Cult
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 24
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave NE, Cedar Rapids,
TICKETS: $46, $56, $66, $100.50, $126