We’ve got a brand new Journalism addition to the site today as Cameron profiles the rock group Boston in this lengthy interview for Rolling Stone. Boston was on top of the world and dominating the charts and sales, but feeling the sting of being a critical after thought. Topics include the bands history and the pressure on founder/leader/perfectionist Tom Scholtz to deliver their sophomore album…
Boston: The Band From the Platinum Basement
THE PHONE RANG AT SIX IN THE morning, early in 1975.
Twenty-eight-year-old recordman Paul Ahern grumbled into the receiver: “Who the fuck is this? This better be good!’ “It’s McKenzie. You gotta hear this, PA….”
As employees in Warner-Elektra-Atlantic’s regional office several years earlier, Charlie McKenzie and Paul Ahern were the young lions of Boston-area promotion. McKenzie had the ear, Ahern the rap. They became buddies with all the jocks and, one golden month in 1972, broke Yes and the J. Geils Band and placed thirteen company singles and album cuts on the Top Thirty playlist of Bostons WRKO. They had dreamed of finding the band that would take them off the street and make them “the idle rich,” but their era passed. Ahern moved to L.A. for a better job with Asylum Records. McKenzie left WEA but continued to work for other record companies in Boston. And he hung on to the dream…. You gotta hear this,” he was saying that early morning” in ’75. “Local guy, Tom Scholz … the group has no name. The whole tape is like this!”
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” came blasting over the phone. Amid a torrent of mediocre disco, here was something powerful and melodic., The kind of hard rock that’s never lost its huge audience. Within two days Ahern and McKenzie were partners again in the management and song publishing) of the five-man group led by Tom Scholz, a Polaroid engineer who’d produced, arranged, written, played guitar and keyboards and paid for the demo.
Ahern, who would later suggest the name Boston , sat up ; “Get tight with them,” he said, “and airfreight me a tapes! The first Boston album, released in August 1976, was the biggest debut in the history of recorded music. Gold in seven weeks, platinum in eleven weeks, twice that in sixteen, and at this writing, Boston is upward of seven million in domestic sales alone.
“I would like to say that we made a colossal executive decision to make them this big,” says CBS Records Group President Walter Yetnikoff. “But we did not. The album took of immediately, all by itself. I didn’t even hear the first album until it was platinum.”
IN THE SUMMER OF ’78, BOSTON’S INCREDIBLE debut is no longer the issue. They may have had twenty-some years to compile the first album, but two years seems about all Boston will have for number two. Everyone, from critics to rack jobbers, is poised and waiting for more, asking about the Second Album, now a full year off schedule. “Well, I haven’t heard it yet,” shrugs Paul Ahern, a cross between Groucho Marx and Ringo Starr, and whose eyes are hidden by dark aviator shades. It is evening, and the shimmering North Shore lights outside the tinted windows of this limo mean we are approaching Swampscott, Massachusetts, the group’s home base. “It’s not easy slaving over a hot band-especially when they haven’t left town in fifteen months. They won’t leave until the album’s done.”
McKenzie is out of the picture now, bought out through a complex “dissolution-of-partnership” agreement that made Boston’s discoverer a wealthy man. And alone at the reins, Ahern has not had much time to live like the idle rich. Though a millionaire at thirty, he can barely get through the paper work of the summer- tours and offers that havepiled up during the grouts “inactive” period. To escape the pressures, he disappears for days on end. And, living in L.A., Ahern has other problems. “I gotta get to know these guys better,” he says as his limo whooshes up to a two-story home in Swampscott. “We’re here,” he says. “This is Fran’s place.”
FRAN’S PLACE IS THE ideal spot to begin one’s education concerning the North Shore music scene, where names like Cool Ray and the Polaroid’s, the Uncalled Four and the Revolting Tones Revue were far more memorable than the warmed-over Zeppelin they played. Fran Sheehan, Boston’s bassist, is a veteran of most of these groups. His dining room was their rehearsal room.
The house (which he grew up in and now occupies alone) is renovated. The once-peeling wallpaper is fresh; downstairs is a well-stocked wine cellar. An Old Chicago pinball machine (a Christmas gift from Ahern) rests in the dining room. Presiding over everything is an Epic Records display case with six platinum albums spread out like so many medals on Mark Spitz’ chest. And there’s a copper-colored Lotus parked outside. All of Boston-except for Scholz-is at Fran’s tonight. Gathered around the television and searching for the catch phrase Saturday Night Live might supply for the coming week (“Give me five, black soul mad’), they seem thoroughly normal and good humored.
“We all hear the most amazing things about ourselves” Sheehan tells me the next morning at the Swampscott pancake house where he eats regularly. “And it’s all because most people don’t have any idea who we are, just that we’ve sold all these records. We’re always hearing that we’ve been replaced or that we’re just studio cats … or that we’ve never paid any dues. We’ve all played around here for years. I remember all of us playing a Hell’s Angels bar one night. There was a rail around the band, so the Angels could gulp a hindfia of whites and just hang on. They’d scream at us. They’d throw bottles off the ceiling. We’re talking about dues”
“Hey Frannie!” The teenage host of the restaurant scoots alongside Sheehan in the booth “When’s that album coming out?”
“Soon,” Sheehan smoothly replies. He shifts to less imposing matters. “How’s the buffet doing?”
“Aw, you know-same old slop leftover from all week After breakfast, Sheehan offers a short tour of Swampscott sights, like the Surf Theatre, where Fran and second guitarist Barry Goudreau were watching Hard Times when singer Brad Delp came tearing in with the news of their first contract. Everywhere Sheehan passes, small schoolchildren recognize him and yell, “Boston!. . . Allright!” Aging store owners come bounding out onto the sidewalk to salute that Sheehan boy, the most famous Swampscott resident since Walter Brennan. They all want to know when the Second Album is coming out. “Yeah, pressure,” Sheehan alternately addresses me and the road.
“You know that we never played a headlining concert until we had a gold album, right? On our first tour I would be twitching in bed, going over songs in my head, staring at the ceiling. Then the sun would come up and I would still be lying there thinking, ‘Oh no, I gotta play in front of 20,000 kids tonight … better than they ever heard before.’ It’s better now.” Sheehan points out an expansive, wood-frame house on the side of a hill, the new home of Barry Goudreau. Next stop.
The nucleus of Boston, these three practice almost every day. They seem intent on matching up to their reputation, honing their live attack and working up demos for presentation to the “Mother Studio.” “It’s like reporting in with homework ‘ ” cracks Goudreau. For some time now they have been all revved up with no place to go.’ Until the album is completed at Scholz’ basement studio forty minutes from here, they are still on call. Over the next week, they will all be anxious to point out that there is no tension between Scholz, who has been the object of most of the initial publicity, and. the rest of the band. There has been a conscious effort to deemphasize him as the total mastermind of Boston. Nobody really mentions Tom Scholz, as if talking about him too loudly might disturb him as he’s agonizing over the Second Album. But when a Polaroid Instant Movie System commercial comes on television, they point at the screen. “There,” say Sheehan earnestly, “that’s Tom.”
“OH, HI,” SAYS TOM SCHOLZ. HIS GRIN unveils an endless vista of gleaming white teeth. Like an absent-minded basketball star, he springs his six-foot-six frame up off a small swivel chair in his studio, adjusts his wire-rim glasses and loses confidence halfway into his first sentence. He winds up saying, “Just let me get … this one line … really bugs me.”
The upstairs of Tom and Cindy Scholz’ petite suburban residence is green with plants, the mark of a botanist (Cindy) in the family. Downstairs, past the washing machine, the Foosball (a football game found in bars) and two stray basketballs, is a tiny, studio the size of a large bathroom. The air is different down here. This is pressure central.
The “aw-shucks” grin quickly gives way to a grim stare, Scholz falls back into the swivel chair and hunches over a guitar. Surrounded by state-of-the-art electronic equipment, most of which is connected somehow to a foot pedal before him, Scholz controls it all with his long white-tennis-shoed foot. He listens intently to the same two seconds of tape, trying to record a single sustaining note that sweeps across an avalanche of guitars.
He wheels around suddenly. “Want a beer or something?” No, Tom, it’s okay.
It’s futile, of course. He tries a few more passes before giving up … for now. Working virtually alone in his basement for months upon months, Scholz has not often entertained guests. Any visitor is a reminder of the outside … and after only a few moments of small talk, Scholz is wearily and sheepishly drawn to the inevitable. He explains that he’d even promised Walter Yetnikoff he would have the Second Album in by a certain deadline. But that deadline was ten days ago. “I give up,” he says.
(Replies Yetnikoff. “I’ve tried to get to know Tom in the last year. Sometimes I think he’s overly harsh with himself. I don’t want him to feel pressure. He’s working. He’s striving for artistic perfection. With Boston as a group, it’s the long haul we’re interested in. If the record is late, the record is late.’!
The record is late. In my-dog-chewed-it-up tones, Scholz runs down all the delaying factors, from his twenty-four-track’s self-destruction, to a basement flood.” As far as calculated, best times to release an album for career and money and all that garbage, I figure I passed that three or four months ago. I would think people would be sick of [the first album] by now.”
But, if anything, there has been yet another wave of sales and airplay for Boston. Only this time disc jockeys no longer play “Long Time” without punning … or chastising the nonappearance of a follow up. So Tom Scholz no longer listens to the radio. He has watched all his other tardy peers slip past him: Springstein, the Stones, Dylan, Tom Petty, Foreigner, Seger.
“We could have put out a decent album last fall” Scholz contends. “It would have had two or three good songs on it, but I didn’t want to do that .A lot of people were kind of waiting in the bushes to see if we were going to do that”
Waiting in the bushes? Some suggest Scholz’ pressures are self-imposed, pointing to the many time-consuming responsibilities he has chosen to assume in his life-from”” producer/bandleader to business overseer/husband. Scholz stares downward, not answering, and Cindy Scholz appears at the doorway to announce she’s taking Tom out for a steak dinner.
Sprightly and friendly, Cindy is enormously popular among those who work with her husband . She is totally supportive, right down to lending the hand claps on Boston records. “He was just asking me about the pressures of being a husband,” Scholz informs her. “Don’t tell him about the mirrors in the bedroom.”
“They both giggle and exchange rapturous smiles–, their eight-year marriage is a notoriously happy one-,,. “Anyway, we’ll go out in just a minute.” According to one of the Scholz’ few close friends, “Tom has a very definite order of opinions that he trusts. First is’ himself. Second is Cindy, whom he often listens to over himself. And in far-descending order, next is the band and then [producer] John Boylan. Then Ahern. And no one else in the music business.”
Staring at his menu at the family steakhouse, Tom Scholz looks enormously happy to be out of his basement. I wonder if it is still any fun down there. He becomes Annie Hall for a moment. “Ah … uh … uh …no. Lately it’s been a hassle, with lawyers and garbage like that’ Fun is when you’re writing a song and you’re trying a rough shot at a demo and … it works. That’s when it’s fun. After that, it’s work.” just as the waitress has arrived, he blurts, “I’ll tell you. This was all the right bunch of people at the right time… and luck. Lot of luck. Wanna know what the most fun of all was … ?”
“Two steaks, medium” inserts Cindy.
“Getting the contract,” continues Tom. A quiet engineering student, he had traveled to MIT from hometown Toledo “by way of a’55 Chevy and Route 90 ‘ ” Young Scholz left behind a home that had also served as a showcase, for his designer/builder father. “I was tired of people coming through all the time,” he recalls. “I saw a lot of people I didn’t want to be’ ”
He graduated MIT with a masters and immediately threw himself into the musical aspirations he’d been harboring since hearing “You Really Got Me” on his transistor in Toledo. “Whenever I was at a show I really liked,” he recalls, “it was always just plain old rock & roll, like the James Gang. I’ve been in bands that wanted to play nothing but Zeppelin. I wanted to be in a band with great songs … no dinosaurs.,,” recalls Barry Goudreau: “I was in my last year of high school and Tom had just graduated MIT. My band needed a keyboard player and placed an ad in the local paper. Scholz answered the ad. He was just starting to play guitar, too, the first month we were together. He’d say, ‘Why don’t I play guitar on this one.’ We’d say, ‘Oh, Tom, don’t play the guitar, just play keyboards.’ One month he was learning how to play guitar. The next month he was unbelievable. It wasn’t long before it turned out to be his group-and we were doing his material.”
Scholz stood by the material he was writing, songs like “Long Time,” “Smokin,” “San Frasisco Day.” (later Hitch a ride ) and ” Rock & Roll Band”. He became obsessed with finding permanent players, even though it was a cold period in Boston. “The most important thing was to find a singer I really believed in and to stick to him like glue. I also knew that if I wanted to get signed, you should make your own record. And I knew that, if nothing else, I had the ability to work on tape until it fell apart. I’ve done it many times. So Scholz developed the habit of recording his own release quality demos. It was only when he couldn’t afford it anymore that he took a top secret development post at Poloroid engineering.
Besides money, the job provided the built in intrigue of a mini-CIA. Projects were given code names to avert corporate spies. Scholz was putting in eight hours (“Well, maybe seven”) a day developing the Instant Movie cameras and their second generation, sound-system hardware. By night, he commuted to a cut-rate studio an hour and a half out of town. He later purchased his own four-track and set it up in the basement of his apartment house. Adding an unconventional twelve-track, Scholz was set to begin Boston.
“I was blowing a lot of money’ ” he remembers. “Cindy and I hadn’t had a vacation in eight years. We were living in this little apartment. I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I was gonna stop. It was getting too crazy …. I’m not the kind of person who can stay up all night or exist on four or five hours of sleep. I imagine I would have continued to write them, but it would have been a leisurely hat it was, which was … a rat race.”
The break would come from the engineer who sat next to him at Polaroid. The engineer’s cousin worked in the ABC regional warehouse. Scholz ran off a copy of the tape for him, as he did for most anyone else he thought could help. The engineer took it and put it in his desk, where it remained for weeks.
One day Scholz’ phone rang. Columbia was interested in the demo. Scholz yelped. The fellow engineer came over to find out what the commotion was, and Scholz told him. The engineer took the tape back out of his desk … you know, maybe he should send this to his cousin after all.
The Columbia tape didn’t pan out. The other one, however, caught the ear of Charlie McKenzie, then working at ABC. McKenzie first took Scholz around town for a flashy display of clout, introducing him to local stars like the James Montgomery Band and Duke and the Drivers. I was only impressed,” says Scholz, “that he knew someone in L.A …. namely Ahern.” Scholz and the band signed on with Pure Management-Ahern and McKenzie.
There were some classic rejection stories in the begining, like one from then-Capitol Records executive Al Coury, (whose family lives in New England): “This is great! I’d love the trip to Boston, but I don’t think I can sell, this.” But when the tape found its way to Epic (a subsidiary CBS) A&R man Lenny Petze, formerly Epic’s Boston promo man, he wanted to release the meticulously crafted demo as it was. (It is available as a rare bootleg called Honest. I Found It in the Trashcan.)
The still-unnamed group presented a showcase performance in November 1975, renting Aerosmith’s warehouse and ragtag equipment. They barely made it through the show, but still passed the audition. Most of the album was finished at this point. “But,” says, Scholz, “we didn’t let anybody know, because CBS rules required that a union engineer be present for all the sessions.”
But Scholz arrived with the completed tracks within two weeks and the higher-ups at Epic and CBS were allowed to thinking the whole album was recorded in Los Angeles. Their reaction was, “Jesus, you work quickly!”
Scholz had also just finished the demo for “More than a Feeling,” a simple ode to daydreaming featuring a guitar solo reminiscent of “Telstar” (“Only two people noticed that,” says Scholz). “My initial feeling,” Scholz swallows earnestly, “was that it would be my best single shot. Then I listened to it, decided it wasn’t a single at all and got very depressed about it. But Ahern liked it. I couldn’t figure out if he was just telling me that to make me feel good ’cause he knew I was upset about it.” Ahern was sincere: “It starts off’ sweet and then gets heavy, which does not disqualify it from housewife airplay time, he explains excitedly.” With ‘More than a Feeling’ I knew we’d get twenty-four-hour-a-day airplay … and airplay was the key to it all ‘ ”
So sure was Ahern that at the next CBS convention, just after Boston was signed, he took to charging quantities of filet mignon and Grand Marnier to the company president every day.
“Nobody,” many recall him saying, “will be upset when the record comes out” In the time between first hearing the demo and the release of the first album, Ahern and McKenzie had poured it on. They had played the tape for all of CBS and virtually the entire music business. People would hide their stereos when they saw Ahern coming.
In September 1976, it all paid off. The album broke out of Cleveland first, and by the next week had been added at 392 stations.
“I was pessimistic about it until it sold 200,000 copies Scholz says. He has trouble looking me in the eye, and has turned to face his twenty-four-track machine completely. “And all of a sudden I realized I was in the music business. I got word on what the sales figures were while I was still at Polaroid full time. It wasn’t easy staying there two more weeks.”
(Contrary to popular myth, Scholz did not invent the SX-70 camera, though he knew its code name, Project Aladdin. “I didn’t even like the SX-70.”)
When Premier Talent, the prestigious booking agency run by Frank Barsalona, picked up Boston as clients, Scholz still could not listen to the finished album. “I hated it,” he says. “Now I listen to it and I think it sounds … pretty good. Certainly wouldn’t give it a great, though.
We get up to leave the steakhouse and, as Scholz rises to his full height, he is recognized by a young female fan. He lopes out the door in several long strides, with Cindy alongside, but the girl follows and pokes her head out the door.
“You with Boston?”
“Hmmmm ‘ ” Scholz responds. “Yeah.”
“When’s the album coming out?”
“Hmmm … oh, soon:’
She asks for an autograph.
“Make sure it’s not a bill or something,” says Cindy.
“I already did” says Tom, signing.
Back at his basement studio, he explains the Boston recording process. Like Scholz, it is deceptively simple. Using a click track for drums, Scholz assembles a basic guitar/keyboard/bass track. Then Sib comes in to drum the part, Scholz assembles an arranged track, which the band then learns. They record the demo and Scholz begins overdubbing again. Perhaps it will be used. More likely it will be junked. He uses tough tape.
There are endless nuances in the system. ” Now I am at the point of getting the performance down on tape,” Scholz explains “The sounds are pretty much cataloged at this point…literally. That guitar you heard when you came in…..” His eyes asked, how into this you want to get? Given assurances, he beams and swivels around to rummage through a sack of 3 x 3 , black & white Poloroids laying near the console.
“It’s this one here.” He hands over a small snap of the, I seismograph like readout of his Frequency Spectrum Analyzer. “These are my ears, to save time. Once I establish sound that I like a lot, I can repeat it pretty closely-”
Out of convenience, Scholz plays most of the guitar bass parts, making it nearly impossible to assign instrument credits on Boston albums-. In fact, the solo in “Long Time” is actually Barry Goudreau. I don’t mind,” Goudreau says. “I only play on three or four tracks on the album, but it’s a group sound.” Onstage, that’s pretty obvious.”
Asked how much he thinks about band politics and hurt feelings, Scholz is anxious to explain. “Everybody is open to everything. I like being in control because it’s come this far that way. Not because of my ego. Let’s face it, I was thirty-years old when this thing happened. I don’t know if people change so much at that age. I’m in a band for the first time. It feels important to me. I don’t think much about it. Except, I that I like it better than when I was at Polaroid … and I wasn’t sure on the first tour.”
THE FIRST TOUR HAD TURNED INTO A. heavy make-or-break ultimatum from a respectfully skeptical music business. After a short tour of out-of-the-way clubs in the Midwest, they were placed on the 18,000-seat circuit opening for Black Sabbath, Foghat, and Jeff Beck, among others, it was not without problems. Beck, says Scholz, didn’t allow them a sound check. Their equipment blew up and misfired (“Their gear,” recalls one roadie who worked the tour, “wouldn’t have sounded good in the shower”), an accountant lost $40,000, and in Milwaukee, a DJ introduced them as the best rock & roll band in the world. One problem-Foghat was headlining. End of Foghat tour.
But there were encores every night. In six months, they’ went from $750 a night to $120,000 for two sold-out shows at Philadelphia’s Spectrum Theater. They kept to themselves, mostly. “I didn’t want to bother anyone. I felt like a groupie … gee, I always wanted to meet you,” says Scholz.
The lifelong dreams of most musicians with ten albums became commonplace. “Just imagine how nervous we were before Madison Square Garden” says Fran Sheehan, his mouth dropping at the memory. “And it sold out. I could barely breathe ,but once we set foot onstage, it was wild. It was like the whole stage was ready to just take off. I forgot about being nervous and had a great time.”
There is another arrival at the doorway to Scholz’ basement. “The whole contingent has arrived announces Fran Sheehan. In another moment all of Boston has timidly I packed into the tiny studio. Bleary-eyed and exultant, they have been with the lawyers all afternoon signing contracts that add their name to Scholz and Delp on all of the record company contracts. They are legitimate now. No more people asking if they’re still in the band. “Congratulate me,” Sheehan tells Scholz, “I’m hitched for life.”
“And he’s still smiling,” says the voice of experience. “Wait till he finds out”
They break for a foosball celebration. Scholz, the retired champ, is coaxed out for one more game. Not a flashy player, he conducts his Foosball shot like his life. He painstakingly set up a sure-fire aim, then, at just the right moment, blasts the helpless wooden ball into the goal, where it pings around for several seconds. Scholz seems transported, grateful to be one of the boys again. “Tom” Sheehan is compelled to interrupt, “Norman and Joics ( the lawyers ) are right here at this moment, right now. Upstairs. They only need a half hour”
Scholz becomes like a child going to the dentist. “No” he quakes. “No-no-no-no-no Aaaaaaaagh! I’m hiding, I’m locking the door. Why can’t I just be a musician?”
Cindy eventually retrieves her husband for Norman, an imposing figure who looks like Allen Ginsberg, and his equally imposing wife, Joyce. Just two in a fleet of the lawyers who’ve been wiping their feet on the doorstep the past year or two. Dutifully, Scholz trudges upstairs to meet them and sign several other sets of papers-the dissolution of the Ahern-McKenzie partnership, record-company re-negotiation papers. All of them, I overhear, are tied into the “lump sum” going to McKenzie as compensation.
The lawyers find a “Snag,” naturally, and while they pounce on the phone for a slew of late-night calls ordering new contracts, Scholz slips back downstairs. Trying to say goodbye, I stumble across a definitive picture. Not unlike Brian Wilson writing some desperate surf classic from his room, here is Tom Scholz in his dark basement, back turned again and immersed in capturing two seconds of a screeching guitar solo that will soon sound in the cars of millions of cruising teenagers.
THEY GREW UP ON THAT FIRST TOUR that’s when it happened,” a longtime local tells me in Fran Sheehan’s kitchen one day. “They got back from playing on the road to find all their new houses and shit … but it was weird. McKenzie must have disappeared and never called them. He lived in town, too. He had it all, a friendship with Tom, the respect of the band, he had the ball … and he just stood there with it. So this band got tired of managing, their manager. They learned to take care of themselves.
When asked to comment, McKenzie replies-. “When we finished the tour the guys went off in their own direction and bought cars and houses and videotape players-toys. Tom went immediately to work on reconverting a house he bought into the new studio. I felt I did drop out of the picture, knew what was going on. I think certain people misread that as a lack of interest on my part. I was always reachable.”
Through everything, the album kept selling, racking up sales figures like the Old Chicago pinball machine Sib is thrashing around in the next room. The tilt mechanism has been long since deadened, so Hashian literally picks the machine up to guide his ball.
“Fireaway,”he addresses me.” I used to use Brylocreem … !” Ahern picks up a guitar and begins to play some blues. Sib wails along-
I just wanna tell you, my mama worked … my father left home at three…my brother was scrubbing floors…anything he could do for me, so I could play drums at night. My sister didn’t get braces so I could play drums. My family never used could buy condiments so I could buy brushes and sticks. What is Mayonnaise?
Actually, Hashian is not Sib Hashian’s real name. It is John (at least that’s what his paratrooper buddies from his Vietnam regiment call him). Hashian, who chose the last, name because of the hash-smoking nomads, is said to be the son of a famous novelist.
“I am the same man today, even after the success” Hashian confides. “And, as Joe Namath says, I can’t wait till tomorrow’ cause I get better-looking everyday”
He has, while we’ve been talking, racked up 28,000 points.
“It’s all about the extra ball, my friend.”
BLUE JAYS HOP ACROSS THE green lawn in front of lead singer Bradley Delp’s rambling, modern house. Construction men work on a swimming pool in the backyard. Delp gestures humbly across the entire scene. “I am perfectly happy to do anything and everything to make this band work;’ he says. “Why shouldn’t I ? I got it made”
Two years ago Brad was biding his time at Hot Wad Industries, a company that makes heating elements for Mr. Coffee machines. “I always knew singing in a band is what I wanted to do,” says Delp “But I wasn’t doing anything personally to promote it. I felt, kind of naively, that someday it was going to happen. But I felt, what am I possibly gonna do if I end up being thirty and haven’t made it yet? I’ll go crazy’ ” Delp claps his hands. “So I figure I just lucked out!”
Delp, whose natural hangdog expression usually hovers around glumness, hasn’t been interviewed often enough to build up sturdy philosophies of life for mass dissemination. So his stark honesty is both embarrassing and refreshing. Especially when he says things like: “It’s not easy being successful and having money. We don’t have that much money. Well, we do … but we had to borrow money to pay our taxes. It’s weird. If you’re not used to handling it, it’s all cut up. So I really don’t know. I have no idea what kind of financial situation I’m in. I read the other day that the Singing Nun owes $127,000 in back taxes …. What kind of shape must I be in? So it’s crazy, and I don’t even think about, having the money. Because I don’t know whether I have it or not. It doesn’t concern me”
One feels compelled to mention that such a cavalier attitude might just find him fleeced of his new home and pool one day.
“Yeah ‘ ” he agrees pluckily. “Fortunately, Tom has a little more of a level head on his shoulders. ‘Cause that’s important. You can blow it all. Being a genius, he knows how to be practical when you have to be.”
Brad Delp views his life as a victorious battle over terminal anonymity. Now he’s in the position of having, become a personality before he is a “whole” person. And speaking of persona, Delp, as Bostons frontman, has had to come up with one fast. His complete concert credentials, before Boston consisted of opening a show for Mitch Ryder (“Didn’t get paid, but we met Mitch’) to playing one with Barry “Ballad of the Green Berets” Sadler.
On the first Boston tour, Brad and Sib would walk among the oblivious Boston fans for the vicarious thrill. But eventually, shy Delp was jumping into audiences, wildly pumping hands and working every corner of the biggest hockey arenas.
For all this fantasy fulfillment, he does not appear the happiest of men. Certainly not the exultant rock god he seems on the Boston poster adorning his studio wall. “I think everything’s wonderfull,” he corrects me. “All the people that we’ve met, Bob Seger-we headlined over him and I was embarrassed. Whaddya gonna say ‘Howdy Bob!’? Getting to meet Mary Kay Place and Stevie Nicks. I just think that’s great. We went to the Grammys the first year. Ella Fitzgerald was sitting behind me. I felt like they were cardboard cutouts and I was in a wax museum. I could never figure out why I was there. I could see what Tom was doing there … but I’ll take it.
“I don’t feel like a rock star at all. I would deny being a rock star. We only have one album out. It did pretty well. The material was not difficult to latch onto.”
Delp carefully shows me a scrapbook he and his Student /wife Kathy have put together. He sits down at his grand piano in his living room to play a flawless “Martha My Dear.” Then we take a pleasant ride back into Swampscott.
“I feel like I know what the Beatles went through,’ he says, narrowly missing a drunk strolling down the center divider. There were always guys doing coke and smack and acid. I never did it, but I knew a lot of people who did. It’s not an easy business to be in. The critics build you up. Then they shoot you down … why do they do that?”
Take a band like Boston. They may sell 9 million records, but there about as exciting as a plate of tripe.
Rock & roll is about sex, and they might as well be eunuchs. They’re just a wet dream for an accountant….You Tell Elvis Costello, instructs Tom Scholz “that we have been attacked by people who made it better….That he had to beg for his CBS contract. He is just jealous….We must drive him crazy ! I love it !”
The occasion of this second ‘visit with Scholz, who usually doesn’t have time for second visits this close to the wire, is that he’s making good on a promise to play me the Second Album. This is a big thing for Scholz, as he explains when we sit down to talk first on his living-room sofa. Drinking a small-size beer, Scholz is, considerably more scrappy than before. He even looks me in the eye. I wonder how he feels seeing his name linked now with Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend and others. Does he feel he must cultivate some sort of alluring mystique?
“I’m not after being a rock superstar,” Scholz replies. “I don’t think my principal ability as a musician is as a guitar player. I consider it one of my most limiting things. It’s difficult for me. I get the impression with some of these guys that they can just pick up a guitar any time ‘of night or day and whip off these incredible leads. I have to work at it quite a bit’ ”
He would, he says, rather be compared to a great songwriter. “Which probably wouldn’t happen … but I think the songs are really the most important thing. You can take a piece and not really play it all that well or do a lead that’s not very hard to play, but just sounds great. None of it really matters unless it’s got some song. The song is the vehicle for getting across those golden little licks and melody lines people can’t get out of their heads. I think that’s more important than the guitar playing. I’m all for using the best of our technical knowledge and ability to make good records. In this band there’s very little science that goes on. I, was real upset when somebody started the rumor that the” songs had been written by computer.”
How does he feel about spending so much time and anguish making a record that, under most conditions, will be listened to with more expensive drugs than stereo equipment? “Fine with me if it’ makes me sound better”, replies Scholz. He laughs. “Let me tell you about some Polaroid engineers I know…
Scholz is most comfortable talking about music and the electronics involved. Mention the money flow or Charles McKenzie and he tightens. “Charlie’s the type of guy that even if you hated him, there’s something about him you’d have to love, you know,” he says. “Nobody wanted to see the thing get screwed up because of a stupid legal hassle. Everybody who’s involved here, McKenzie, Ahern and the band … we’re all … it was the first time we hit it. They had just hit the jackpot and the money was starting to pour out. I don’t think he and Paul worked all that well together. But it worked out painlessly. The only pain was the fact that, as usual, the lawyers walked away with a bundle of money, so you know someplace somebody lost something they should have had. Let’s not talk about lawyers.
“I’ve been through all the ups and downs of realizing I’m not going to make the perfect album,” Scholz continues as we walk downstairs. “The big deal with the delay is just that it took a lot of time to write the songs. And I did spend three months physically building that studio.” Pause. “Actually, I have to be honest. I don’t think we’ll ever do them faster.”
Scholz plays two tracks, “Don’t Look Back” and “Take a chance on rock & roll” I have been told that the accusations of over commerciality has been driving Scholz to re-write and record much of the Lp with a heavier emphasis. Sure enough, he purposely mixed a guitar sound that, coming out of the “cheap speakers”, could crush entire city’s. The melodies are strong. I am just about to deliver these and more impressions when….
Tom shuts off the tape. ” I can’t watch you listening.” Says Tom Scholz. ” Just remember, we are everywhere.”
WHERE ARE WE GOING, PAUL?’,’ ASKS Barry Goudreau.
Paul Ahern owns the Paradise nightclub tonight. When he swings through the Boston hangout with Barry Goudreau and a writer he introduces as the “NiceGuy journalist,’ all his old disc-jockey buddies want to know if they can score the exclusive world premiere of the second Boston album. “I’m re-releasing the first one as Boston’s Greatest Hits,” Ahern says.
One DJ asks, “How rich are ‘you?” “Just got a check for seven figures,” he tells them.” Life is like a shit sandwich. The more bread you have, the less shit you got to eat.”
Well oiled after all the rum, Ahern is on his way back to Swampscott when he pulls a 180 across three lanes of a bridge and heads back toward the city.
“Where are you going, Paul,” Goudreau tries again.
Ahern pulls a parking ticket out of his shirt and hands it to Goudreau. “Put this in the glove compartment,” he says. Goudreau opens the glove compartment to find it brimming with other tickets.
“Paul” asks Goudreau, “where are we goin?”
“He’s gonna get the whole story,” Ahern points into the back seat. “We’re going to Charlies.” “No,” says Goudreau. “Not at four in the morning.” ‘Yes,” says Ahern. “Yes at four in the morning”
At four in the morning, Charlie McKenzie is wide awake. Two empty wine bottles and one empty champagne magnum are in front of him. He sits still, smiling serenely and watching his television with the sound off.
“Nice to meet you,” he says with urbane charm. Ah, the idle rich.
He has a baby face rimmed with thick, black, wet-looking hair. Eager to help, he offers a hastily assembled quote about how “nice it is we can all sit here as friends ”
One can see Ahern get impatient for the real shit. “Oh, don’t be Michael the Archangel,” he snaps. “Tell him about the settlement we dropped in your lap. You were too untogether.”
“Too untogether?” They are a couple of old cockfighters, as hateful and competitive as two old friends who enjoy this kind of company should be. McKenzie turns to “He tell you about the CBS convention in Atlanta last year.
“Tell him,” says Ahern , The album had gone to 3 million in sales, and CBS wanted to fly the group and its management in for a platinum record ceremony. There was also the matter of their second royalty check, for $400,000, to be presented.
“Ahern,” concludes McKenzie, “left the check rolled up in the Atlanta hotel room. Everybody found out.”
“The new rich,” laughs Ahern. “We got another one, didn’t we?”
Being a nice-guy journalist, I wonder why Ahern is placing his career in my hands. “We’d be nowhere if you guys hadn’t heard the tape and got us the contract and everything,” Goudreau says to Ahern and McKenzie. “But boy, we hated the name Boston. What right do we have to be called….”
“Hey,” says McKenzie, “if the group is successful, it’s happening. If it isn’t, it’s not happening”
After a few more laughs, each one a little less forced, Ahern stumbles to his feet. “I’m taking Highway One’ ”
“Good,” says McKenzie. “The state patrol isn’t monitoring it much anymore.” He smiles, reaches over to his barrack and plucks three wrinkled shirts. “Here, you left these cheap silk shirts over here last time.”
Ahern takes them. “Just thought it was my duty to bring them over here…” Why this produces a genuinely emotional goodbye is unclear, but I can see each strain to let the other know he’s still on the street and not idle rich. Goudreau, watching this oddly touching scene, digs his hands into his pockets and turns to the street outside. It’s already daylight. ” I keep telling myself,” he says “just settle in. You’ve got a long career ahead of you.”
Courtesy of Rolling Stone #271 – Cameron Crowe – August 10, 1978