When it comes to making records, the general practice is for a band to get to the point where the guiding hand of an A&R executive is needed to bring your recordings to fruition. But, once in a while a true mastermind will appear with the finished article, without help from anyone at a label, Tom Scholz is one of those artists. In 1976, Boston, and their self-titled debut showed that you can, in fact, achieve multi-platinum status even when the album hasn’t been guided by record exec’s.
An MIT grad, Scholz loved messing around with gear, and whilst working at camera giant Polaroid, he used his paychecks to buy gear for his fast-growing home-recording studio. Although a classically trained pianist, Scholz decided to pick up a guitar in his early twenties, and as a hobby, he built himself a studio in his basement for recording his song demos.
In the early 1970s, Scholz had played a few shows in different bands with his buddies drummer Jim Masdea and guitarist Barry Goudreau and others. They made and sent out some demo tapes but got no interest. In early 1974, Scholz stopped playing in bands and decided to focus on creating the sound he wanted. For the next year or more, Scholz devoted all time not spent at his engineering job at Polaroid, toiling in his basement studio focusing on writing, arranging, playing, and engineering the 4-song demos that would eventually get the attention of Epic Records.
Scholz brought Delp and Masdea to record on his recently purchased Scully 8-track tape machine. His mics were simple, he used an EV RE16 dynamic microphone for recording the infamous 12 string intro to “More Than a Feeling,” and Masdea’s drum tracks were cut using a handful of Shure SM-57s. It was those four new songs that caught the attention of promoters Paul Ahern and Charlie McKenzie, who decided to manage the band and started shopping the band’s demo tapes through their network of industry contacts.
Epic Records had already passed on the band, and became fond of telling people after that once the band made its breakthrough, Scholz said: “I understand Lenny has been very quick to mention in public that he was a big part of [us] getting signed to Epic Records, so I always keep the letter that he signed, saying that they had no interest,” he also said years later: “I have one framed and hanging on the wall in my office.”
Scholz’ manager set up a showcase for Epic/CBS. The performance didn’t go well and there was no response from the record company. Then Scholz created another 2-song demo, which included “More Than A Feeling,” and sent it to Epic/CBS. Within a week or so, CBS signed Scholz and Delp to a recording contract.
Recording the album:
When it came to the recording, Epic insisted that the album sounded like Scholz’s demos but needed to be recorded in a professional studio instead of his basement.
The label chose producer John Boylan to oversee the album, and studios were lined up in Los Angeles. Scholz wanted nothing to do with that idea so he and Boylan decided to send Goudreau, Sheehan, Delp, and Hashian to Los Angeles to show face, and Scholz stayed at his home studio, tidying up his original demos in order to give Epic the same sounding tracks that sounded more polished.
In an interview with Guitar World, Scholz explained: “I worked alone, and that was it; I had been doing it for years and years, and I had adapted to it,” adding: “So I took a leave of absence from my Polaroid job — I was gone for several months — and I would wake up every day and go downstairs and start playing. It was a little bit annoying, because I was basically reproducing the same exact parts that I had played on the demo, and I don’t usually do that. What you hear on most Boston albums, the licks I play, that’s the first time it ever happened. But in this case, they wanted the same thing, so I had to replay the same parts exactly the same way with the same equipment — and in the same basement, for God’s sake!”
Boylan ultimately took a co-production credit on the album, and with a new name, and sci-fi-inspired logo, Boylan and Scholz finished the band’s self-titled debut in the spring of 1976, and the album hit stores on Aug. 25thof the same year.
The album was, and still is, a masterpiece of pop/rock. Delp’s vocals are nothing short of amazing, and Scholz’s guitars were groundbreaking. It’s easy to forget just how much influence the songs and production has had on bands and recording technics since its release.
From the opening track and first single, “More Than a Feeling,” you get the impression that this AOR classic is pretty darn close to perfect.
“More Than a Feeling” sold half a million copies in just a few weeks shot into the Top 5 on the charts, with the album selling 2 million by year’s end.
Scholz quit his job at Polaroid and went on to sell at least 75 million copies of its six studio albums, including 17 million copies of their self-titled debut, which to this day is one of the best-selling debut records in history.