Every musician starts off as a fan.
You grow up, listening to your favorite band, the same songs over and over again. You sing along, memorizing every word, pantomiming the notes on your air guitar, every beat on air drums. You picture yourself up on stage with your heroes. And, if you’re dedicated and lucky enough, some day you get to the stage with your own band.
Or, you know, maybe you just end up joining the same band you grew up idolizing. That happens, too.
It happened for Tommy DeCarlo, the new lead singer of the legendary rock band, Boston.
When Boston takes the stage at the Bismarck Civic Center on Aug. 6, the legendary musicians will be backing up a lifelong fan who went from a job as a credit manager for Home Depot in Charlotte, N.C., to singer of his favorite rock band.
“I’ve always considered myself an extension of the fans,” DeCarlo said in an interview with The Great Plains Examiner. “I’ve been a fan much longer than I was a member. So, to me, whenever I’m up on the stage, I just think, man, I’m just one of guys who happened to get up here, and I’ll try to live this dream for all of us.”
DeCarlo’s association with the band began after Boston’s original lead singer, Brad Delp, committed suicide in 2007. Until then, DeCarlo was just a family man, married and raising his kids in Charlotte after growing up in upstate New York.
During DeCarlo’s formative years and into adulthood, he was a passionate fan of Boston and spent countless hours singing along with his favorite songs.
“I never really set out to sound like Brad Delp,” DeCarlo said. “It really wasn’t something I was trying to do consciously. Maybe when I started singing as a youngster to Boston music, maybe it’d be like kids that are playing baseball would try to swing the bat like their favorite baseball player, and ultimately they end up 20 years later swinging the bat the same way.”
Following Delp’s death, DeCarlo posted several recordings of himself singing Boston songs over karaoke backing tracks and a tribute song he wrote and posted on his MySpace page. He sent a link to Boston’s management after hearing about a tribute show the band was planning in honor of their lost singer.
His offer was initially rejected, but a few weeks later, Boston’s guitarist and lead songwriter, Tom Scholz, heard his songs and was awestruck by how similar DeCarlo’s vocals sounded to Delp’s.
Scholz told USA Today it’s “downright eerie” how much DeCarlo sounds like Delp.
“My wife was at her computer playing our tunes, and I asked her whether it was us playing live,” Scholz told USA Today. “She said, ‘It’s some guy in North Carolina singing your songs.’ I said, ‘I know Brad’s voice, and that’s Brad.’ She turned it up, and only when I heard the backing track did I know it wasn’t us.”
DeCarlo was invited to perform a few songs at the tribute concert, and then found himself on tour with the band in 2008 as their newest vocalist. Before joining one of the most revered rock bands in American history, DeCarlo had never performed in front of a crowd larger than 20 or 30, and had never been part of a band.
“You know, I think given the fact that Boston was the first band that I ever was in, I really didn’t have anything else to compare it to,” DeCarlo said. “So, as odd as it sounds, it was all very normal. In terms of, wow, there’s crew members and caterers and people who do things for you, I never had the opportunity to be in a small band before, or any band, for that matter. So I would just assume, well, isn’t this what all the bands do?”
Touring with the band has allowed DeCarlo to travel the U.S. and Canada, and see places he’s never been before, including North Dakota. Boston’s show in Bismarck will be his first time in the state.
“I’m so excited for the fans that get to go to these shows for the simple fact that the band doesn’t tour every year,” DeCarlo said. “So I’m really excited for the fans, and we’re really looking forward to coming out there.”
DeCarlo didn’t reveal details about the planned set list for the tour, to preserve the element of surprise, but he speculates that diehard fans will be impressed by the choices they’ve made.
“Rehearsals have been going amazingly well, all the way around, musically, vocally, everything,” he said. “I’m a fan, and I think the set list is amazing. I’m telling you, it’s just one hit after another. And I think the fans are going to pleasantly surprised with some of the stuff that Tom (Scholz) has decided to pull out of the vault.”
Beyond all the fans in attendance at the shows, DeCarlo and crew certainly hope to gain the approval of the person whose absence has opened up all of the opportunities DeCarlo is now enjoying: Brad Delp.
“I try to perform the songs in a way that, if I have a little bit of nerves, and it does happen, I try to use Brad as an inspiration to get through those tough times,” he said.
DeCarlo said he felt Delp’s presence during a show in New York where Michael Sweet was performing vocals on “To Be A Man.”
“During the song, I remember I was looking out into the audience and there was a really big grandstand in the back that went up quite a ways,” he said. “It was a crystal clear night, and there was this huge, bright star that was just shining really bright. I went over to our bass player, Kimberley Dahme, and I pointed up at that star, and we just both smiled to say, ‘Man, it’s pretty amazing.’”
Tickets for the show can be purchased at the Bismarck Civic Center, charged by phone at 800-745-3000, bought online at www.ticketmaster.com or at any Ticketmaster outlet. Prices for tickets range from $68.50, $48.50, $38.50 and $28.50.
Visit www.bismarckciviccenter.com for more information.
-Kelly Hagen is features editor and a columnist for the Great Plains Examiner.