An amazing number of great musicians come out of Ohio. Many famous artists – from Dean Martin to Marilyn Manson, Chrissie Hynde, Tracy Chapman, Ronald Isley, Roy Rogers, David Grohl, my father’s old friend’s Cowboy Copus, Grandpa Jones, Dave Dudley and hundreds more that you’ve probably never heard of but are just as good as the famous. Ohio is a breeding ground for great talent in music and engineers.
One of the cats that most don’t recognize by name is Tom Scholz. Who? Only afficionado’s of the band Boston are likely to know his name. Boston had major hits with More Than A Feeling, Foreplay / Long Time, and the beautiful power ballad Amanda.
Tom is self-described tinkerer. He loves pull things apart and improve upon their design. He started with mini-bikes and motorcycles as a kid. While growing up in Toledo, Tom was constantly building go-karts, model airplanes… anything mechanical.
Scholz then propelled himself through Massachusetts Institute of Technology.obtaining a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1970. While working as a senior product designer at Polaroid, Tom used his income to build a recording studio in his basement where he recorded demo tapes of the songs he was writing. He pitched the recordings to Epic Records who signed him straight away.
Even though Tom believed his recordings were suitable for release, Epic requested that he re-record the songs at their studios. But that wasn’t the sound that Tom was after. There are portions of Boston’s eponymous album that were recorded at Epic, but most were recorded by Tom in his basement.
Tom’s debut album, titled simply Boston, was an instant hit in 1976. Boston became the largest selling first album by any band at that point in time. What you hear on the album is Tom Scholz playing bass, keys, guitars and backing vocals with lead vocals provided by Brad Delp. Barry Goudreau contributed guitar tracks, and Jim Masdea provided drumming. Delp’s smooth transitions from natural voice to falsetto became the signature of Boston.
Epic then pressured Tom for a followup platter on the heals of their enormous success. Despite Epic’s impatience Tom’s dedication to perfection, Don’t Look Back would be two years in the making. Still, Scholz was dissatisfied with the outcome and unhappy that he had been rushed to deliver the product. He declared that he would never again release an album until he was completely satisfied with the results. It simply did not measure up to his standards and he wasn’t about to release anything due to industry pressure again. Few have the clout to do that.
Therefore, Boston’s third album wouldn’t be released until 1986 when Tom delivered his masterpiece Third Stage, which has been certified 4X Platinum (over 4 million sold). The single, Amanda, shot to the top of the charts for two solid weeks. That from a band that most had presumed dead. I love the Boston album covers because they all feature alien spacecraft – the ultimate tinkerers dream.
Tom now had enough money to finance Tom Scholz Research & Development, Inc. to funnel his tinkering energies into musical products that would bear his name. The company was later renamed to Rockman to better brand its line of effects devices.
However, their first product wasn’t the Rockman, but the Power Soak, a box that fit between and amplifier output and speaker cabinets addressing the problem of maintaining the crank of the amp without blowing out the room or the speakers, for that matter. I built a similar device in the 70’s that became popular in the Gulf Coast area, but my boxes looked like botched home projects no matter how well they worked. I learned a hard lesson back then: You can’t sell it if it doesn’t look great.
Tom went on to design electronic products that simulated the Boston Sound. The first product to carry the Rockman brand was a simple headphone amplifier. I designed a similar product at PAIA, though ours was cheaper it came in a kit that you had to assemble and solder while Tom’s was ready to play. Both products addressed a need most common to guitarists: how to practice electric guitar in private.
By the mid-80’s, Tom Scholz had built two empires: Boston and Rockman. That was the point where Tom turned his attention to giving back rather than succumbing to greed.
Tom, a fellow vegetarian, created the DTS Charitable Foundation supporting animal protection, vegetarian resources, stopping world hunger, creating homeless shelters, animal rescue and shelters, and advocating children’s rights. These are all topics that are close to my heart.
Relatively unknown as a musician and virtually unknown as a humanitarian, Tom Scholz is a worthy candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize & one of the greatest people I’ve never met.