Outside The Studio – Boston: Boston

By Robert Kaiser

I know that the struggle can seem long, with never-ending difficulties.  It’s easy to believe that artists who have changed the music world came to success with relative ease.  Sometimes, it’s comforting to hear of a story that is (at least slightly) similar to your own . . . this may be one of those stories.  The tale begins in Tom Scholz’ childhood, where he studied classical piano at eight years old.  As he grew, his fascination and love for music moved him to teach himself the bass, drums and guitar.  When he was 22 years old, he started recording music that would eventually end up on his debut album: Boston.

Image: Boston

Scholz seemed to stay grounded, keeping an arguably realistic outlook on his future career in music.  He worked for the Polaroid Corporation, using his degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make a living.  He dreamed of stardom, but he believed that his job as a product engineer is what would continue to pay the bills.  From his actions though, it seems clear that he wanted badly, nothing more than to share his music.  Many of his evenings, he could be found playing the keyboards for a variety of Boston based bar bands.  Quite a few of his nights, he could be found following his passion of writing and recording original music.  Through his keyboard playing, he met, and often played with Jim Masdea who would end up playing drums in Scholz’ first band, Mother’s Milk.

In 1970, Scholz and Masdea began working on recording their music with exacting standards.  Many songs were recorded over, and over again.  When singer Brad Delp was added to the band, the songs were recorded yet again.  Over the next three years, the group had amassed a solid collection of four songs to mail out to dozens of record companies.  Every company said no.  Things started to get really shaky for the band.  Brad Delp says “There was a period when I had to leave the band, because there just wasn't any money coming in . . . I had a wife and I had rent to pay and that kind of stuff.  So I had to leave the band . .”  About a year later, Tom called his old vocalist to enlist some help on a few new tracks.  In 1975, the last demo tape was created . . . finally, there was a small amount of interest at Epic Records.

Keep in mind, Scholz’ band was no longer playing live, at this point.  The entire effort was placed towards creating a great recording.  The band was in such a degraded state, that there were really only two people left, Scholz and Delp.  When Epic called, they requested a live audition to seal the record deal.  Scholz and Delp scrambled to fill the other three positions in order to play live, for the first time, during their record audition.  While waiting for Epic’s response, Schulz finished the last two demos of his new songs.  The newest song to the line-up: “More Than a Feeling” which was actually written over a five-year period.

Once the band earned a deal with Epic, the demo songs needed to be recorded again.  “. . [Epic] wanted a studio version exactly like the demo. Now, the only way that could be possibly done was if I played those parts just like I did on the demo . .”  Scholz found that the only solution to this request, was to re-record each of the tracks in his home studio.  So, he and his band went to work in the basement of a Boston apartment, again.  Scholz remembers, "The acoustic guitar on 'More Than a Feeling' was recorded using a $100 imported Yamaha 12-string guitar, through a dynamic [Electro-Voice RE-17] microphone, and the drums were recorded by a few Shure SM57s in a little tiny closet.”  For Schulz, it’s not about the equipment you have, it’s about the sound you get.  To that effect, Tom says "My only objective is to record the music in some way that it sounds good when it comes out of the other end of a CD player.  I don't think it's important enough to have a $2,000 microphone on your acoustic guitar; that's actually a pain in the ass."

The values we learn from Boston are not as much about the recording process, but they revolve around perseverance.  The six year period that Boston trekked through, might make them the longest awaited “overnight success” in history.   The band lost, and re-gained two-thirds of its line-up.  Boston was dedicated enough to perfecting its sound that they spent three years recording a four song demo.  They were turned away from dozens of record labels over a multi-year period.  They did, however, learn what worked, and they stuck to it.  Scholz says "I still record the same way I always did, the master goes to tape, and I mix in analog.”  We can’t stop pressing.  We can’t stop chasing our passions.  Find a way feed your dreams, and one day your dreams will feed you!

Resources:
Tom Scholz 
Tom Scholz Speaks With The Sierra Club
Boston (album)
Boston's Scholz engineers a rock dynasty
The Rock Man - Maximum Guitar
Tom Scholz Recalls the Making of 'Boston' and 'Don’t Look Back'
Heaven is a Reel-to-Reel Tape
Classic Tracks: "More Than a Feeling"  
Boston History

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