SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week Sue will showcase a particular artist or band during her entire two hour set. Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where she will write about her memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits about the artist. The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits. The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault. As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories. “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…” She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences.
The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites. She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other assorted curios. So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 PM SLT as she lets you into her world.
|Boston's Debut Album (1976)|
Last week I told you about a camping trip in the fall of 1976 and maybe I should have told the story I’m about to, first. It happened a few weeks or maybe a couple months earlier but I don’t recall the details of timing. It was America’s Bicentennial Summer and it was when I first heard the band, Boston. Being named for a city or place was not unusual as there were bands like Chicago and Kansas already well established but this was a city that literally hit close to home. Only seven years early we had moved from Massachusetts in 1969 and went back several times a year to visit family. I knew this city very well.
During the summer, I began to see a commercial on TV for a new album by a new band named “Boston.” Commercials for albums weren’t really unusual at the time but what got me about this one was the way the band sounded. I can’t really describe it but the vocal harmonies were delicate and beautiful but the guitars were hard rock, or were they a part of the delicate harmony? Was it possible that they were both? Below is a video of Bradley Delp, Boston’s lead singer, singing More Than a Feeling. This is the performance video that was edited into the commercial I recall seeing. They sounded so different from any other band and I fell in love with their sound.
That unique sound was the work of mastermind, Tom Scholz, the leader of the band. He was already writing some of the tunes that would appear on Boston’s first album when he graduated with a Master’s Degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Scholz designed various pedal effects for the band’s guitars that gave them their unique sound. One created a “violin-like sound” for the electric guitars. That is why they sounded so unique.
That debut album was recorded almost entirely in Tom Scholz’s basement, which did not make the record company happy, but it was one of the bestselling debut albums ever. I’m sure you are not surprised that I bought this album as soon as I could. It remained a permanent fixture on my turntable for a couple of weeks as I almost wore it out playing it constantly. The song, Rock & Roll Band, further hit home as they sang the line, “Dancing in the streets of Hyannis.” I was still a bit homesick for my old home in Massachusetts and Hyannis MA was just a couple of towns over from where I used to live.
The album cover (shown at the top) is interesting and depicted a planet, probably Earth, exploding and several ships escaping. They seemed to each carry a city and the one in the foreground was labeled, “Boston.” It was during this initial “binge phase” that I noticed something when I was looking at the album jacket one day as it lay on my bed. I was looking at it upside-down and it struck me that the ships were actually guitars! (See below.)
|Click to enlarge|
It took two full years for their second album, Don’t Look Back, to come out. This was due to problems with management and Tom Schloz’s perfectionism. This album contained many more great tunes and still carried the signature Boston sound.
Now years went by and many, including myself, wondered what happened to this great band. There was never an announcement saying that they had split up and we’d here nothing for seven years. Then in 1986 they finally released their third album, aptly named, “Third Stage.” The album quickly climbed to the #1 position on the Billboard charts, along with their single, Amanda. Those of us on the sidelines watching had assumed that this album would just be a footnote and would be the final death throes of Boston. Weren't we were pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong?
So, why seven years? There were many problems, especially legal ones with management, the record label and even between the members themselves. These problems would continue to plague the band through its various incarnations and future albums, which would come out only once a decade: Walk On (1994), Corporate America (2002) and Life, Love & Hope (2013).
The Nicest Guy in Rock and Roll...
Brad Delp, the lead singer for Boston, so prominent in the video above, had a golden voice that everyone loved. He also played guitar, keyboards and other instruments, though he rarely did so with Boston. The superstardom, talent and success never went to his head. In fact you would find Brad Delp still signing autographs hours later after a concert was over. He didn’t want anyone to go home disappointed so he took it upon himself to treat the fans with that much care. It wasn’t long before he had earned the moniker, the “Nicest Guy in Rock and Roll.”
|Brad Delp, the Nicest Guy in Rock and Roll|
It wasn’t just signing autographs. Jim Hinkle of the band, Aces and Eights said of Delp, “Brad was the kind of guy who’d always remember your name, no matter when you saw him last. He was real, as genuine a man as you get.” His love, kindness and generosity were legendary in the industry. He was often described as brightening up any room he entered. That is why the Rock & Roll world was shaken to its core on 9 March 2007 when we learned that Brad Delp had taken his own life. I recall weeping at the news.
I’m going to discuss Brad’s suicide in considerable detail because I feel it is a story that should be told. I also understand that many of you really can’t face the topic and I invite those to skip ahead to the next section, “Aftermath.” You should be okay picking up the story there.
Let me start by saying that I have had a bit of experience with this subject. As an Emergency Medical Services worker, I have been on many suicide scenes and witnessed many things. Once I also contemplated taking my own life. Those near me intervened and pulled me back from the brink. Don’t worry, that was 15 years ago and I’ve never come close again, but it does give me a unique insight.
There are two types of suicides, those by people that want to die and those crying out for help and don’t want to die. Unfortunately, due to the incredible engineering, preparation and effort, it was obvious to me that Delp wanted to die. One of the great misconceptions about suicide is that there is always a suicide note. I have found that there usually isn’t one in the real world. This is because suicide is usually a selfish act. The suicidal person is only thinking about escape for themselves and usually doesn’t consider what their death will do to others around them, though sometimes there is an expressed belief that people would be better off without them. In my particular case, I just wanted the images in my head to stop and I could think of no other way to end them.
Bradley Delp was an exception to this. The “Nicest Guy in Rock and Roll” was thinking about everyone else, even thru his own self-inflicted demise. I should probably explain what he did.
Brad Delp died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Before he did this, he took great pains to seal the room airtight using plastic and duct tape. He sealed a dryer vent hose to the tailpipe of his car and ran it through the window, carefully sealing that up too. In addition, he had obtained two charcoal grills, which he lit up in the room, creating more of the deadly gas. He then prominently taped a sign outside of this room warning responders of the danger inside. The “Nicest Guy in Rock and Roll” was thinking about the safety of others until his final breath. I have never seen nor heard about such efforts taken before a suicide for the wellbeing of others, especially strangers. The room was sealed with great care to keep the rest of the house from becoming toxic and then warnings had been placed outside. In my opinion, that was unprecedented and it was unlike any suicide I’ve ever seen or heard about.
He was found with a note clipped to his tee shirt which said, “Mr. Brad Delp. J’ai une ame solitaire. I am a lonely soul.” The note continued with contact information for his fiancé before continuing, “Unfortunately, she is totally unaware of what I have done. I take complete and sole responsibility for my present situation.” The use of the French is not surprising since he was raised as part of a French Canadian family.
There was nothing in it trying to blame or guilt anyone. Instead, he explicitly says that the blame remains with him and no one else should feel guilty. He also left behind letters for his kids, his ex-wife, his fiancé and others. It is my understanding that these letters were written to help his family and friends understand and cope with his death. That was Bad Delp.
The following day, Boston’s website had been taken down and visitors were greeted by a black screen and only one sentence written in simple white letters. It read, “We've just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll.”
Brad Delp’s letters and notes, as stated above, went out of their way to blame no one for his situation, so why he did it would become the subject of much conjecture and discussion. Friends and family were quick to point out how unhappy he was with Boston and being in the middle of all of the fights between band members, management, etc. They claimed that he especially didn’t like Tom Scholz and they saw him as the source of Delp’s unrest. This view of holding Scholz to blame was put forth by the Boston Herald and Scholz sued members of the Delp family and the Herald for defamation of character.
In true Boston fashion like one of their albums, Brad Delp’s death would be drawn out over many years and many lawsuits. It wasn’t until 2015 that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the highest court in the Commonwealth, found in favor the Herald and the Delp family. Tom Scholz was not about to let the matter finally rest. In early 2016 he filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the United States. Last summer, 9½ years after Bradley Delp died, SCOTUS refused Scholz’s petition. We are now just past the 10th anniversary of his death this month and I think his “ame solitaire” can finally rest in peace.
DJ Sue’s Vault…
Above, you can see my original vinyl copy of Don’t Look Back (1979). I really don’t have anything rare or unusual from them. I did look for my original copy of their debut album, the one I binge listened to in 1976, but found that it is somehow missing.
The fights, lawsuits and disagreements abounded but they came out with some of the most unique sounding and kick-ass Rock that the world has ever known. I look back to that summer of 1976 and watching that commercial on TV of a happy Bradley Delp singing More Than a Feeling. Who could have foreseen where it all would go in the end? I certainly could not.
The Grateful Dead are famous for the line, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” I think it perfectly describes Boston. In the end there were lots of hurt feelings, bruised egos, and lawsuits but in the end we also lost the greatest guy in Rock and Roll. Despite it all, we were left with some amazing music.
Join me Sunday Night at AWT from 7-9 PM SLT as I share two hours of Boston.
Update posted 3/24/2017
After I made this post three days ago, I learned of the death of Boston drummer, Sib Hashian, on March 22. Hashian was the drummer for their first two albums but was replaced during the making of the third album. After he left Boston, he sued Tom Scholz, in true Boston fashion, for the back royalties he was due. The two settled out of court.
Sib was performing on stage Wednesday when he collapsed and died.