“Mad? Some people think so…” Tom Scholz: Boston's Reluctant Boffin
For four decades, Tom Scholz has been the driving force behind Boston. As his band release their first album in 11 years, this controversial visionary gives his most revealing interview ever.
In August 1976, Epic Records launched Boston’s self-titled debut album with a bold advertising slogan: “Better music through science.” Tom Scholz, the group’s leader, thought that was bullshit.
Scholz was no ordinary rock musician. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was still employed as a product design engineer for the Polaroid Corporation when the Boston album was released. He had created the album in a basement studio that he had built himself, using new recording technology that he had invented. He worked mostly alone, obsessing over every detail in the music. And he did this for more than five years before the album was complete.
What Scholz had created was a groundbreaking album: hard rock elevated to a new level of melodic sophistication and state-of-the-art production. But he hated that slogan. “I thought it was a terrible reflection on the album,” Scholz says now. “I can’t argue that I put my technical background to work when I was trying to make the record. But the music itself had nothing to do with science. Music was my escape from that world.”
Scholz wanted the ads pulled and made this clear in a heated exchange with Walter Yetnikoff, then President of Epic’s parent company CBS Records International. It was the first shot in a war between the two men that would lead to a courtroom battle in a landmark case for the music industry. But Yetnikoff wouldn’t back down over the ads. And that slogan would stick like glue to Tom Scholz.
“The mad scientist in the basement,” he says. “That was something that Epic really cultivated in the early days.”
But, 37 years on, as a new Boston album, Life, Love & Hope, is released after 11 years in the making, Scholz accepts the truth in it. “The fact is I do work in a basement. So that part of it is accurate. A scientist? I do have a couple of degrees. Whether that makes me a scientist or not I’m not so sure. What I do is I like to design things – to come up with things that solve a problem. And in this case I did come up with some gadgetry, things that people called ‘wizardry’. Mad? I suppose some people would think so. So I suppose it’s not altogether undeserved.”
He pauses momentarily and laughs.
“I’m not even sure that I don’t like it, to tell you the truth.”