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Jeff Moehlis: Boston at the Bowl

Classic rockers bringing Hyper Space Tour to Santa Barbara

Boston, including Tom Scholz and Gary Pihl on guitar, will perform at the Santa Barbara Bowl on June 11. Click to view larger
Boston, including Tom Scholz and Gary Pihl on guitar, will perform at the Santa Barbara Bowl on June 11. (Kamal Asar photo)

It's official! According to KTYD's recent Shoreline 500 Countdown over the Memorial Day weekend, Boston is one of the all-time greatest rock bands. The metric? They had two songs ("More Than a Feeling" and "Don't Look Back") in the Top 100 classic rock songs, according to local voters. This tied them with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, and only The Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, The Who and Neil Young had more.

We can look forward to these two songs — and many more that we know and love like "Peace of Mind," "Rock & Roll Band," "Long Time," "Amanda" and "We're Ready" — when Boston performs at the Santa Barbara Bowl on June 11. Tickets are available online by clicking here.

The mastermind of Boston is guitarist Tom Scholz, but that's only part of the story. Since the recording of the band's third album, Third Stage, released in 1986, Scholz has called on the talents of guitarist Gary Pihl to perfect the band's sound onstage and in the studio. Pihl's musical resume extends back to the 1960s with the San Francisco band Day Blindness, and his most notable pre-Boston gig was playing with Sammy Hagar for eight years.

Pihl talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show and all things Boston.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at the upcoming concert?

Gary Pihl: This is the Hyper Space Tour, so this is a small step for a band, but a giant leap for bandkind. Tom Scholz, our fearless leader, has invented some brand-new visual effects and written some new music to go along with them. So people are going to hear and see stuff that they've never heard and seen at a Boston show before. But we're also going to play all the old hits that people love to sing along with. And then we'll be playing some deep cuts, some songs that we haven't played for a while that we get requests for, and even some new songs from our latest CD, Life, Love & Hope.

JM: How did you first come to join Boston, three decades or so ago?

GP: In 1977, I was playing in Sammy Hagar's band, and almost one of the first shows I did with Sammy was to open up for the end of Boston's first tour. Sammy's manager knew their manager, and we got to open up some shows. They liked us, wed them and they said, "Hey, you guys can open up the entire second tour for us." And that's what we did. From '78 to '79 we traveled all around the country as the opening act.

Since I'm an electronics geek myself, I was asking Tom, "So how do you get that sound? What's this thing over here? How do you make that sound happen?" He was nice enough to tell me what he was inventing and working on, and his guitar setup.

Then in 1985, when Sammy got the call to join Van Halen, Tom Scholz from Boston called and say, "Hey Gary, I'm working on the Third Stage album. Would you come down and please help me finish it?" And it was a dream come true for me, so I've been here ever since.

JM: What do you remember about the recording process for Third Stage, when you got involved?

GP: Of course I had known Tom as a perfectionist in the studio, so I was expecting that there would be a very formal sort of process, that he would be standing over me as I did my parts, a micromanager even. I didn't know what to expect. But then when it came time to do it, he goes, "You know how to record," since I had my own recording studio, and he said, "Look, I'm going to go upstairs and have lunch." You know, he had his studio in his basement. He said, "I'm going to have lunch. You just punch in and play your part and go ahead." So I just did it on my own. I just sat there and put on my part on the tape, and that was it. He probably knew I was as nervous as could be, and it would probably be best if he left the room, which he did. So, yeah, that's what I remember. But he's a great guy, and intuitively knew that I'd probably do better if I was on my own.

JM: What's your favorite Boston song to play in concert?

GP: Of course all the hits are great, because you look out in the audience and people are smiling and singing along. I tell you, there's no better feeling than that. But I really like playing the song "Walk On," the title track from the fourth album. That's a long song, and it's kind of hard to play, but there's a point where we all get to improvise during that song, so you never know what it's going to be like from night to night. That's a lot of fun to play.

JM: You mentioned that you were in Sammy Hagar's band. Are there any crazy stories that you're willing to share from touring or working with him?

GP: No [both laugh]. People ask me, "What's it like working with Sammy?" and I always say, "He is what you see and what you get." He's always in a good mood, a terrific musician — guitarist and singer. It was great working with him those eight years, because he was so enthusiastic. He was the cheerleader of the band. "The next album's going to be even better, the next tour ... ." And it was. Every album and every tour was bigger and better than the previous one, and we were sorry to see it end when he got that call from Van Halen.

JM: Maybe you at least tell me, how was it different being in a band with Sammy Hagar from being in a band with Tom Scholz?

GP: Again, Sammy was a great guy, a lot of fun to work with. But Tom Scholz is always on those lists when they put together 100 greatest rock guitarists of all time. Tom always shows up. But he's also on the list of the 100 greatest keyboard players of all time. There's nobody else in the world that's on both of those lists. And then you throw in songwriter — again top 100 songs of all time, there's always a Boston song or two. He designed and built the amplifiers that we use here on stage. So he's a real special guy. It's been my privilege to work with him these 30-something years.

JM: What are your future musical plans, either in Boston or otherwise?

GP: Actually, I've got a charity band on the side that I do during November and December — it's called December People — where we play traditional holiday songs but in the styles of other classic rock bands. So we'll do "White Christmas" as if Billy Idol were doing "White Wedding." And "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" like ZZ Top. It goes on and on — The Who and Journey and Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, but again, as if those bands were playing holiday songs. So it's a lot of fun, and every show we do is a benefit for a local food bank. So it's a great thing that we can do that at that time of year.

JM: What about with Boston? Of course, you're in the midst of a tour now, but is there any talk about doing another album maybe?

GP: You know, Tom is always writing songs, as are the rest of us. So we're always working on new material. So you never know. I hate to make any promises, but Tom is a creative guy, and he's always working on new stuff.

Click here for the full interview with Gary Pihl.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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