Any town where people are ready to rock is a favorite for the classic rock band Boston.
Washington will have a chance to be that town Saturday night, Aug. 8, when Boston takes the Main Stage at the Washington Town and Country Fair. The show is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m.
Gary Pihl (pronounced Peel), who has been with Boston since 1985 performing rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, wasn’t giving away any secrets about the upcoming show when he spoke with The Missourian’s Currents Arts and Entertainment Editor Ethan Busse last month in a phone interview.
Will there be any cool lighting tricks like back in the day when the band ended a show making it look like a UFO was taking off the stage?
“I won’t give anything away,” Pihl remarked. “People seem to like the show, that’s all I’ll say.”
Some things that may surprise casual Boston fans to learn are:
• Founder Tom Scholz went to MIT and earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering in just five years.
• After graduating college, Scholz worked for Polaroid as a senior product design engineer.
• Scholz didn’t start learning to play guitar until he was 21, and he taught himself.
• Scholz was classically trained on piano as a child and always had a connection with the music from the masters like Beethoven, Rachmonov, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Ravel among them.
• Pihl has been Scholz’s right-hand man for over 20 years, serving as vice president of Scholz Research and Development.
• Pihl assisted in building Tom’s Hideaway Studio II, and is a crucial part of the massive technical undertaking of managing the stage equipment on a Boston tour, including all of the back line and audio equipment.
• Pihl also manages tech people, teaches band performers their parts, organizes rehearsals, integrates the “front of house” sound company system and personnel.
Following are highlights of the The Missourian interview with Pihl:
Besides the fact that you are in one of the coolest bands in the world, I thought it was really cool when I read your bio that Jerry Garcia was one of your guitar teachers.
Yes, I was in a high school band, and one of the other guitarists in the band said, “Hey, there’s this guy giving lessons in the next town over. We should all take lessons from him. He’s so good.” And we did. Of course, we were too young to drive. Somebody’s mom had to drive us over there. But he was great. Taught us some cool stuff. He was in a band called the Warlocks, at the time. We went to see them play at a pizza parlor. And a few months later they changed their name to The Grateful Dead.
So you’ve been with Boston since ’85. That’s wild.
Yes, where did the time go? It’s been a wonderful experience. (Founder) Tom (Scholz) is such a terrific guy. Somebody once asked me to describe Tom in four words, and I was thinking about it, four words . . . ‘smartest guy I know.’
When they put together those lists of 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time, he always shows up there. But he also shows up on the 100 Greatest Keyboard Players of All Time. He’s the only guy in the world who is on both of those lists.
Throw in a Top 100 Rock Songs of All Time, and there’s always a Boston song in there. The fact that he designed the amplifiers that we’re building — he’s just a really special guy, and it’s been a real education for me to be with him these last 30 years.
We’re really excited about Boston coming to play at the Washington Town and Country Fair. What can we expect for a show from a big band like Boston coming to our Fair?
Certainly we’ll be playing all the hit songs — “Peace of Mind,” “Rock & Roll Band,” “Smokin’,” “More Than a Feeling,” all those songs that people love and want to hear and want to sing along with.
But we’ll also be doing some stuff that we haven’t played for quite a while. People will write into our Facebook page and say, “You haven’t done this song or this song,” so we’re digging up some of those. Plus we’re going to be doing some new songs from the album we just put out last year, “Life, Love & Hope.”
So we’ll be singing some old, some new, some middle-age kinds of songs and hope we’re covering all the bases.
I’m excited for the show, and I know our readers and viewers are too. We put out to our readers if there were any questions fans have for you. One was, “Are any of you guys from Boston?”
As it turns out, no. I’m from Illinois. Tom is from Ohio, and the other folks are from anywhere else around the country. As it happened, Tom went to MIT in the Boston area, and loved the area, and just stayed. So when it came time to name the band, someone said, “Hey, how about Boston?” and they were like, “Sure, that’s as good as anything else.”
Another question was “What three songs are the band proudest of?” Commercial success aside.
I’m sure everyone in the band would answer differently, but certainly all of the classic hits are so much fun to play again. People are smiling and singing along with us. There’s no better feeling than that.
I personally like playing our song, “Walk On.” It’s quite a long song, about 10 minutes, and it’s the title track from the “Walk On” album, and it’s kind of difficult to play, and it gives us all a chance to improvise along the way as well.
So we never play it quite the same two times in a row, but when we really nail that, it’s like, “Wow, that was great! We got that one!” So that one is a lot of fun to play for me.
Another question is a viewer had seen you play years ago whenever you ended the show by lighting up the stage like a UFO was taking off. Are we going to experience anything like that in Washington?
I won’t give anything away. People seem to like the show, that’s all I’ll say.
I’m sure they do. There’s no way you can’t have fun with all of the Boston hits. Like you said, one of the best things is seeing how much fun the audience is having while you’re playing.
Yeah, that’s just something special that happens every night, you know. For a couple of hours, everyone is just there, having a good time. No better feeling than that.
You are in charge of organizing all kinds of things from the way it sounds — organizing the tour and making sure that everything is running right. Is it overwhelming ever?
No, because it’s a labor of love. Thinking back to when I was in Sammy Hagar’s band and we were opening for Boston, I was always an electronics geek, like Tom, so I’d be bugging him, asking him questions every day — Hey, what’s that thing? How do you get that sound? What’s this thing over here? How do you do that?
So we obviously developed a friendship with electronics for guitar as a common bond. So when I joined the band, I also started working at his company where we were making the amplifiers that we’re still using today.
And since we built them, nobody knows them better than we do, so when we have new crew people come on, they’ll ask, “Well, what’s this thing here?” So it usually comes down to me or Tom telling them, “Well, here’s how you get this sound, and that sort of thing.
So we’re still involved in describing it and trying to put it all together to get those sounds.
Very cool. That is probably one of the reasons why you guys sound so unique.
Absolutely, again, because we built the amplifiers for the sound that we want. There’s nothing else that exists like that to get that sound.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the fans before we see you in August?
Just that we’re really looking forward to being there. As we travel across the country, people say, “What’s your favorite place to play?” It’s like, you know, any place that’s got people who are ready to rock. So we’ve been very fortunate to experience that all around the country. So I know we’re going to have a good time at the Washington Town and Country Fair.
I’ve got some relatives out there, so I’ll probably have some friends and relatives in the audience too.
Boston includes founder Tom Scholz on lead and rhythm guitar, keyboards and backing vocals;
Tracy Ferrie on bass guitar and backing vocals;
Jeff Neal on drums, percussion and backing vocals;
Tommy DeCarlo on lead vocals, keyboards and percussion;
Beth Cohen on keyboards, vocals and rhythm guitar; and
Gary Pihl on rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards and backing vocals.