This Wednesday, September 3, legendary rock icons Boston will return to Boise for the first time in years. The band whose 1976 eponymous album was the best-selling debut record for over 20 years, is bringing its mammoth vault of platinum-selling hits to the Ford Amphitheater in Nampa. California rockers Night Ranger will open the show. Tickets for this event are still available. Boston's classic songs can be heard on radio stations around the world hundreds of times an hour, every day. Songs like, "More Than a Feeling", "Don't Look Back", "Amanda", "Peace of Mind", "Smokin'", and "Foreplay/Longtime" have been pop culture staples for almost 40 years.
This week, Boston guitarist Gary Pihl checked in from the road to discuss Boston’s new album, Life, Love & Hope; as well as sharing memories of his joining the band, working with Night Ranger, and his years with Sammy Hagar. Pihl is one of the nicest guys in rock and roll and he has been a part of Boston for nearly 30 years. He was asked by band mastermind, Tom Scholz, to join Boston after the two met during back-to-back tours in the late 70s when Pihl was working with Sammy Hagar.
An Illinois native, Pihl moved to Northern, California with his mother in his early teens. Born in 1950, he expressed a passion to perform music early on and has been doing so for half a century. Almost 30 years of his career has been spent side by side with one of rock and roll’s iconic geniuses, Tom Scholz. Their mutual love of technology and gadgetry drew them together, and when Sammy Hagar got tabbed to join Van Halen in the mid-80s, Scholz reached out to Pihl to join Boston. Gary vividly recalls the first time he heard Boston’s music, and hails that 1976 debut album as life-changing:
“I remember where I was when I first heard it. I was driving down the street in my home town at the time of Petaluma, California—pulled up to a stop-light and there was a car in front of me, and the guy in the car jumps out of the car, runs back to me, and I realize its someone I know, and he goes, ‘Quick, turn on the radio. You gotta hear this. This is Boston! This is the most amazing stuff ever.’ So I flipped on the station and there was ‘More Than a Feeling’, and I was like ‘Wow, what is that sound?’ It was just so unique at that time, and obviously it just caught fire. That is something really special.”
It was shortly after discovering Boston that Pihl found himself joining former Montrose vocalist, Sammy Hagar in his solo band. Over the next eight years he would record 10 albums with Hagar, with records that included such rock anthems as “I Can’t Drive 55”, “There’s Only One Way to Rock”, “Three Lock Box” and “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy”. The band was reaching new heights when Hagar’s move to Van Halen halted the momentum. As Pihl relates, he was not even out of work for a day after Hagar's departure before he joined Boston to help finish recording the last song on the band’s Third Stage record. He admits that joining the band was a bit surreal:
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After knowing Tom [Scholz] those years, I knew that he was a perfectionist and he knew his way around a studio. That was for sure. In my mind, he invented home recording, cause up until then you had to go into an official recording studio to make a record. But he did it all at home and started that revolution of people saying ‘Well, gee, if he can do it, so can I.’ So, obviously we worked on the song, and when it came time to actually record it, he said, ‘Well look, you know how to run the recording gear. Here, you do it. I’m going to up upstairs and have lunch’ (laughs). So I was on my own doing it. That was unique.”
Boston’s new album, Life, Love & Hope is the group’s sixth studio effort. The band is currently playing two songs off the new record during the current summer tour. The songs are bookended by a back catalog of platinum hits culled primarily from the group’s first three records. Pihl shared his thoughts on the difficulty of getting fans to embrace new music when so many cling to the vintage sound from Boston’s heady 70s era:
“You know, I heard Tom talk about that. He just says, ‘Hey this is where I am. I hope people like it.’ And he just goes for it. It’s his instinct about what should and shouldn’t be on the record and how to approach it. Some people have said, ‘Wow, some of the songs sound like the first few records, and some of the songs sound like completely new stuff.’ So it’s all good as far as I’m concerned."
As a guy who was first a fan of the band and then a long time member, we asked Pihl if there is a particular Boston song that still gives him chills when he performs it. Not surprisingly there was more than one song that fit the bill:
“A lot of them to tell you the truth: And you know what makes it for me is the audience. People ask us if we’re tired of playing the same songs after 30 years. I would if we just had to sit in the basement and play these songs, but it transcends that. When we’re on stage, people are smiling, and all of the sudden they’ll just start singing along, like, louder than the band. I tell ya, I get a lump in my throat. It’s really something special."
As an interesting bit of rock and roll history, as part of Hagar's band, Pihl would eventually perform as the concert opener for Boston on their first two tours, meaning he has technically performed on every Boston tour to date.
During the interview above, Pihl also talked about his part in recording the demos that led to Night Ranger’s first record deal; his holiday side project, December People, and much more. Check out the full interview and catch Gary Pihl and Boston performing over 20 classic songs on the 2014 Heaven on Earth Tour this fall.