Tom Scholz – from Polaroid to the BIG STAGE and beyond!
After filming and producing dozens of documentaries and interviews over this last decade, we have come to find that there is a common thread among all artists - great stories. No matter the style of music, it seems that musicians always have some truly fascinating stories to tell.
Let’s take a moment to explore a true staple of the classic rock realm: the band is Boston their lead guitarist (read: multi-instrumentalist) and all-around mastermind Tom Scholz. Tom made a name for himself in mainstream pop culture via the guitar-driven power rock tunes of Boston, but, did you know he also made a name for himself in other industries and avenues? Boston’s anthemic songs went on to cement the band as one of the most well-known and best-selling artists in the world (75 million albums!) along with being one of those elusive mega-acts that still isn't in the RRHOF somehow (We don’t understand either, but read on).
The driving creative force behind Boston’s Tom Scholz is truly a tale for the ages. His larger-than-life guitar sound went on to define a genre, whilst his playing and tones have been inspiring legions of bands and guitarists in his wake. As it turns out, his story is equally as massive as his sound. This guy is not your average lead guitarist. In fact, if FRET12 is considered the anti-record label, Tom Scholz could be rightly viewed as the anti-rockstar.
Tom began his creative days in music as many of us do, with no money and the urge to make new sounds. While attending school at MIT, he worked on writing instrumental tracks that he recorded himself, all while performing ALL of the parts himself, minus the drums. It was within this context that the foundation for his future band was created, along with the fuel to inspire the many inventions and achievements he would fulfill outside the typical definition of a lead guitar rockstar.
After graduating from MIT with a Masters in Engineering, he landed an engineering job at Polaroid, and used his salary to construct a recording studio in his basement, along with financing demo tapes at pro studios for the music he was making. As Scholz began to kick out the jams in his new space, he found that much of the gear available did not achieve that sound he craved. So, like any engineer that builds his own recording studio, he went about building his own effects and guitar devices as well!
“When I put my own studio together, I wanted to have a place that I might be able to go and get my ideas down on tape. Once I started that, I discovered that I had to build devices to create certain sounds that I was looking for.”
This creator, can-do attitude helped get him noticed, but also raised red flags as the band caught the ears of industry pros. When the music biz came-a-knockin', the powers that be wanted Tom to record his parts their way, at their studios, with the sounds everyone else used.
“When we were recording the first Boston album, they all thought I was out of my mind for wanting to use my home-engineered contraptions on a professional recording.”
Yet again, Tom found himself forging his own path as he put his foot down, insisting to record these future anthems as he envisioned them, with sounds that were produced by devices he dreamt up and built himself.
The story gets extra heavy when Tom’s successes at engineering came face-to-face with his forthcoming success as a professional musician and he faced the dilemma of leaving a career at Polaroid to pursue a risky path in the unpredictable music business.
My father was in a band when he was younger. He played trumpet. He told me repeatedly:
"[There’s] no future in music, stay away from it!”
After Boston became a huge hit, I started a company, building my devices for musicians. Novel, new devices. And I remember him on the phone with me saying:
"What are you doing wasting your time on this engineering stuff? You should be making a new record!"
Eventually I had some success with my new electronic equipment company, then he didn't know what to tell me. I knew I'd get mixed up sooner or later.”
We love this attitude, much as we love these sounds that Tom invented. Other pros must have seen his genius and talent as well because guitar icons like Jeff Beck got in touch with Scholz to buy his expertly engineered guitar creations. As engineers often do, Tom Scholz found a way to be a success at engineering AND music: he is an all-around 20th century Renaissance man. He wrote songs that many consider to be nostalgic opuses for a generation, and all the while was literally building custom sounds.
After all, this still from the featured video below shows Tom’s Les Paul utilizing a roller-edge string tree, yet again showing the guitarist doing things HIS way to improve his sound. We love it!
In this great video piece by NPR Music & NOVA, you’ll get to hear this amazing story in Tom’s words, along with the man himself demoing some of his signature licks and playing techniques - all filmed in his own studio that looks more like a room at NASA’s Mission Control than a studio. In addition to some riffs that are guaranteed to give you ‘more than a feeling,’ you gear-heads out there will especially love seeing him demo his special effects - just wait for the Hyperspace! Yes, in this short video, there are some great sounds to be heard, all backed up with a story that seems almost too good to be true.
By the way, as if there needed to be more proof on how much of a badass Tom Scholz is, Tom has devoted a good amount of his life and earnings to philanthropy:
“He set up his own charitable foundation, the DTS Charitable Foundation in 1987 to help support 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 his work with his foundation, he has raised millions of dollars. PETA awarded him their Compassionate Action Award in 2013.” via Wikipedia
Tom Scholz, you are indeed the anti-rockstar! And even though, there are only 2 of your Hyperspace pedals in existence, we’ll be patiently waiting for our chance to buy our own! (Seriously, the pedal world needs some innovation like this!) Attention Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we think it’s time to get this true embodiment of all that is rock and roll into its rightful place! Then again, perhaps it’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that needs Tom, not the other way around.
When asked about this, Tom answered in a way that we find completely fitting and 1000% rock and roll: “What hall of fame?”
And just in case you'd like to know more about what makes this Boston song so great, this video by Rick Beato is worth a watch!