Last year, Tom Scholz celebrated the 40th anniversary of the blockbuster debut album by his band, Boston. This year, he’s marked another milestone — his 70th birthday.
But this is one 70-year-old rocker who doesn’t look or act that age. Still tall and slender, with a full head of brown hair he doesn’t need to color, Scholz said turning 70 was a non-event for him.
“I don’t notice that 70 is any different than 60. For that matter, I didn’t feel that 60 was any different than 50,” Scholz said. “So I’m not feeling it.”
That might be an understatement. Scholz called during a brief, five-day break in the headlining portion of Boston’s Hyper Space Tour, and as someone who has no free time once the group is on the road, he chose to spend part of his free time doing the kinds of physical activities that he’d typically do when he’s not on tour.
Boston will perform during an evening of music that begins at 7:30 p.m. July 25 at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain. Special guests Joan Jett & The Blackhearts will open teh show.
“I have been to the (ice) rink twice because I had been off of the ice for over six weeks. So I had to go through my repertoire of ice skating jumps,” said Scholz, an avid skater, of his time off. “I did that and I went to the gym twice and I raced my dog up the hill yesterday.”
Sports and other physical activities have certainly played a role in Scholz’s fitness. But he also believes his decision to follow a vegetarian lifestyle more than 30 years ago has paid huge health dividends.
“I have a family that has a history of cardio-vascular (problems). I have none of that,” he said. “My blood pressure is normal. I don’t take any medication or anything else. There’s no question that the fact that I became a vegetarian over 30 years ago changed everything about the way I sort of aged and also healed. You know, since I’m always active in sports and building things and doing things, along with ice skating, come injuries. It’s automatic. So I haven’t had a problem with being able to recover. I think that (being vegetarian) has to have something to do with it.”
The 70th birthday, obviously, was something Scholz saw coming. The same can’t be said about that 1976 debut album and the immense success that followed its release. In fact, Scholz said, he had spent the preceding five-plus years making demos of his songs, shopping them to record companies, radio stations and other music business contacts and getting nothing but rejections.
He decided to make one last set of demos, and if nothing happened, he’d give up on music, settle into family life, and stick with his job at Polaroid.
“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. “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.”
But then that final demo generated interest from three record labels with Epic Records eventually signing him to a deal. Scholz recalled one particular moment that captured 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,” he continued. “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.
This year’s tour, though, has plenty of aspects that set it apart from shows Boston has presented on recent tours, beginning with some new visual effects.
“We do have some of the things that people have come to expect. You get to ride in the jump seat of the Boston mothership as it goes through space and various other places,” Scholz said. “There are some really phenomenal on-stage high-energy electrical discharges, as I call them, pops of lightning that interrupt the show in a few places — as always, a fan favorite.
(But) we have a lot of new bits that we do. Tracy Ferrie, the bassist, and I have a guitar duel with the lights off and the instruments light up. So we’re duking it out in the dark. That is some of the most fun I’ve had (on stage). And that ends, actually, in a terrific lightning strike and explosion that covers the stage. We have some really awesome video journeys we take the audience on along with the music.”
The show is also different than the usual rock concert on a musical level.
“Of course, we cover as many of the hits and the songs people would like to hear as possible, but this is a real concert, where we don’t play a song and then talk about the next one and then play that one,” Scholz said. “Basically when you get there you’re going to be enveloped in this ongoing performance. There are only two spots in the whole night where the music actually stops. It was a big effort. A lot of new writing went into segues and new instrumental passages and so forth. But we have a great time with it on stage, and the audiences have been really going bananas over it.”
“You know when you go home you saw something special,” he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Boston with special guests Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Where: The Pavilion at Montage Mountain, 1000 Montage Mountain Road, Scranton
When: 7:30 p.m. July 25
Additional information: Tickets start at $24 and are available online at livemu.sc/2vbgDO1.