If you were anywhere on Planet Earth in 1976 then you remember Boston’s first album. Its self-titled debut LP sold more than 17 million copies. But did you know it was mechanical engineering, even more than the songs themselves, that rocketed the band to stardom?
That’s right. Band leader Tom Scholz wasn’t just your everyday guitar hero, he was a mechanical engineer, and it was his genius at the control board, even more so than in the recording studio, that made the band an overnight sensation.
With such timeless classics as More Than a Feeling and Peace of Mind under his belt, Tom Scholz not only earned himself a place in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, he has been immortalized in rock history.
Whether he and his band actually saved rock ‘n roll from the onslaught of \disco, that’s debatable. What’s not open for debate is the fact that the band’s debut album sold more than 17 million copies (a record at the time). Even today, Boston is still the only band to make its NYC debut at Madison Square Garden.
While all this is a fitting requiem for any musician, this story takes an unexpected turn when you realize that being a famous rocker was not Tom Scholz’s first gig. In fact, it was something that happened quite by chance for Scholz who was in real life not a classically trained musician or even a child prodigy at all, but a mechanical engineer.
The Rockman line is a series of headphone amplifiers and other equipment, developed and produced by Scholz Research & Development, Inc. (SR&D), a company formed by Boston founder Tom Scholz. SR&D was sold to Dunlop in 1995. Tom Scholz’s signature still appears on the units sold by Dunlop.
It was under the name Rockman in fact that Scholz invented his own line of guitar effects. He created them to give his band what he called the “true” Boston sound. Today, those original boxes that created the unique sound that is Boston are considered collector’s items.
The MIT years
Scholz earned his bachelor’s degree at MIT in 1969 and his master’s in 1970. From there he went on to Polaroid, a cutting-edge technology company in its day. It was during his tenure at Polaroid in fact that he became interested in music demos and how they were made.
It was his demos that attracted marked interest at Epic Records and Scholz believed the tapes he made in his basement were ready for prime time. But Epic wanted Scholz to rerecord the songs at its studios. While he did record the songs all over again at Epic (most all the instruments on that 1976 album are played by Scholz), the songs you hear on the album itself are almost entirely those same demos Scholz made originally in his basement.
More than a feeling…
While a life of fame and fortune might have lured Sholz away from even more inventions, it just goes to show you what a motivated mechanical engineer and his axe can accomplish. For Sholz however, it seems the life of a rock ‘n roller and mechanical engineer just weren’t enough to complete his repertoire. Now, add philanthropist to the list.
Through his non-profit organization, the DTS Charitable Foundation, Sholz has helped such causes as animal protection, providing vegetarian resources, stopping world hunger, creating homeless shelters, food banks, animal rescues, and sanctuaries, and advocating for children’s rights. Through the years, he has raised millions for these causes and more.
It was through one of his charitable foundations in fact that the 2007 concert in honor of lead singer Brad Delp was organized. Delp died in 2007, but the memory of the band lives on.
Rock ‘N Roll will never die
For those 17 million of you out there who like me not only bought that first Boston album back in 1976 but cherished it, you know the memories it invokes even today.
It’s important to remember that it wasn’t just the songs but the sound itself, created by Sholz through engineering, that made the band standout back in 1976, and even today.
…original content by Philip Loyd