Some might say the rock band Boston was responsible for a whole generation of girls named Amanda, thanks to its 1986 eponymous chart-topping power ballad. Although the group already had hits such as “More Than a Feeling and “Peace of Mind,” “Amanda” was the first song to reach #1 on the Billboard charts. Since its formation, Boston has recorded six albums; it is currently playing venues throughout the country as part of its Hyper Space Tour, with a stop on June 11 at the S.B. Bowl. Guitarist Gary Pihl, who has been with the band since 1985, provided some insights into the group’s history and new tour and spoke about his illustrious career. In addition to being the second-longest-tenured member (after legendary tinkerer Tom Scholz), Pihl is also known for his work with Sammy Hagar prior to Boston.
On what to expect from the Hyper Space Tour. Last year was the 40th Anniversary Tour, so it seemed kind of anticlimactic to do a 41st anniversary tour. So we came up with the Hyper Space Tour, which is “a small step for our band, but a giant leap for bandkind.” We got some brand-new special effects that Tom has invented, some visual effects, and he’s also written some new music to go along with it. People will be able to see and hear things they’ve never seen at a Boston concert before. We’re certainly going to play all the old hits that people love singing along with and then some deep cuts. You know, people will run into us and say, “Hey, you haven’t played this song in a long time; how about doing this song?” So we’re going to throw some of those in. Probably a song or two from our latest CD, Life, Love & Hope.
On how touring has changed since he started. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 15, 16 years old. You’re standing up there in front of the audience, trying to play the best you can and hope people like it. That part hasn’t changed. I ran into an old high school buddy a couple of years ago who asked, “So Gary, you’ve played with Sammy Hagar, and now you’ve been with Boston all these years: What’s it like being a rock star?” Well, it hasn’t changed much since high school. I still get up and run three miles a day like I did when I was on the track team. I’m still in a rock band. And I’m still with the same girl!
On not being a crazy rock star. I’ve been very fortunate to stay away from alcohol and drugs. In fact, that’s how I got the gig with Sammy. We had known Sammy from around the area, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sammy called me up one day and asked, “Hey Pihl, are you into drugs?” I told him I wasn’t. And then he said, “If you want, come down and jam with us.” Luckily, I had that reputation of being a straight guy, and that got me the gig with Sammy.
On his favorite current artists. Oh, I can’t even remember all the names. I’m a button pusher: I’ll just go from station to station — everything from classical to country, rock, and hip-hop. But they don’t always announce the names of who these people are, so sometimes I’d have to ask my kids.
On what drives him to keep performing. I have such a great time out here performing — it’s the reason why I picked up guitar in the first place. There’s just something special about performing live. You never know what’s gonna happen. People sometimes ask: “Are you playing with prerecorded tracks because the vocals sound good?” That’s all six of us in the band. We all sing, so if you hear a wrong note, that’s really us hitting that wrong note! But that’s just the beauty of live performance. The feedback from the audience, seeing them smiling and singing along. I’ll tell you, I get choked up sometimes. It’s just the best thing in the world, and we’re so grateful that we could continue doing this and that people still love those songs 40 years later.
On plans for a book/memoir. I often tell Tom, “You should write a book about all your experiences,” and he says, “Well, you too!” Maybe we could collaborate and write a book with the two of us. There are really some great stories, whether people want to hear them or not.
On Scholz’s refusal to tour without him. That’s nice of him to say. It’s been my privilege to have worked with him. You know, somebody asked me once: “Describe Tom in four words.” I said, “Oh, four words? Gosh, let me think. Smartest guy I know.” My mother’s the smartest woman I know — she’s a member of Mensa — but Tom is the smartest guy I know.
Gary Pihl in four words. Glad to be here.
Boston plays Sunday, June 11, 7 p.m., at the S.B. Bowl, 1122 North Milpas Street. Call (805) 962-7411 or see sbbowl.com.