The annals of rock and roll are littered with tales of tragedy, missed opportunities and heartbreaking losses. The musical dustbin is littered with groups who once ruled the charts, only to see their fame and fortune snuffed out far too early.
In the wake of last year’s suicide of original vocalist and co-founder Brad Delp, famed hit-makers Boston seemed to be heading for just such an end. But thanks to the determination and leadership of guitarist Tom Scholz and a fortuitous meeting with a longtime fan, the group who still claims the honor of having rocks best-selling debut album is back on the road and playing to sell out crowds across the country.
During a gathering last August of fans, musicians and well-wishers who had come to pay their respects to Delp’s family and see what was scheduled to be Boston’s final performance, Michael Sweet, lead singer of the Christian metal band Stryper and a long-time admirer of the band, took the stage to play guitar and sing three songs with the group. Scholz was so impressed with Sweet’s performance that six months later he contacted the veteran rocker and invited him to join the band for a national tour.
During a recent interview with the Daily Herald , Sweet discussed the events that lead to the current tour as well as his plans for the future.
“A lot of healing took place at that tribute concert last year,” said Sweet, “You could tell Tom was deeply moved. It was a really unique experience and we just hit it off. But it was still a shock when I found out they wanted me on this tour. I was in Spain with Stryper when it was announced.”
The tour has been an experience he’ll never forget. “It’s gone incredibly well,” Sweet said, “I think everyone was nervous at first, about ticket sales and turnout. But things have been great, we’ve had a lot of sold out nights and great crowds. Everybody’s been very supportive.”
Sweet is no stranger to the concert stage and screaming crowds. As a founding member of pioneering Christian rockers Stryper, Michael, joined by his skin-pounding brother, Robert, and their bandmates, released his first album in 1984. The group quickly built a national following based on their high-energy concert performances and catchy, pop metal song craft. In 1986, the band released the platinum selling album “To Hell With The Devil,” which included the ballad “Honestly,” a Top-40 hit that spawned a video that rapidly became the number one most-requested on MTV.
Although the band continued to tour and record throughout the 80s, the members went their separate ways in 1992, taking a 15-year hiatus before recently regrouping. Since that time, Sweet has continued to record and released his latest solo album, “HIM,” in 2006.
Sweet says the experience he gained from running across a stage shouting out hard rock anthems has served him well in his new venture, bringing a fresh sense of energy and excitement to Boston’s stage show.
“Everybody’s moving around a lot more than on previous tours. I’m used to running around on-stage and putting a lot into the showmanship, which is a little different from what Boston normally does. We’ve got some new guys in the band and we’re all having fun up there.”
One of the new guys Sweet refers to is co-vocalist Tommy DeCarlo, a former Home Depot credit manager from Charlotte who struck gold after sending the band a video of himself singing along to Boston tunes karaoke style. Tom Scholz was instantly taken with DeCarlo’s eerie vocal similarity to Brad Delp, and after flying him in for an audition, invited the stunned fan along for the current tour.
“The audiences have been really accepting of me and Tommy,” said Sweet, “I picked the songs that suit me and he picked the songs that suit him. He sounds very much like Brad and I don’t sound that much like him, so it’s a nice balance. We really seem to have captured the hearts of the diehard fans.”
In addition to radio staples such as “More Than a Feeling,” “Long Time” and “Rock and Roll Band,” Sweet says the group is pulling out numbers not performed since Boston’s seventies heyday.
“We’re doing “Hitch a Ride,” which hasn’t been done in years. We’re playing “Smokin,” and that hasn’t been done in years. This is a greatest hits show. It’s one hit after another. We’re playing for an hour and forty minutes, which seems like a perfect length.”
Joining the group for their Aug. 16 appearance at Carolina Crossroads will be fellow road warriors Styx. Sweet has high praises for the band, who, like Boston, first gained prominence in the mid 70’s.
“Styx are a great bunch of guys, we’re having a blast hanging out with them. Everyone’s enjoying themselves and the crowds are feeding off that. We’ve got a great light show, great songs. Nobody’s thrown any tomatoes at us yet.”
Beyond the tour, which has covered sixty-four cities with fifteen shows left, Sweet is working with Boston on their new studio album and preparing for the release of a new Stryper disc, “Peace of Mind,” in 2009.
“We went back to the old school Stryper style, but without it sounding exactly like the 1980s. It’s got a modern twist,” he said of the new album, whose title track and first single, a cover of the Boston hit, includes Tom Scholz on guitar.
Looking back over the years, Sweet says he’s seen numerous changes in the music industry.
“I liked the old days when there weren’t as many bands. Nowadays I can’t keep up with it. Everything seems to be geared towards the flavor of the week mentality. It’s hard to stay focused on what’s good and what’s not. It’s just different. It’s a different world and a different business.”
But some things, he says, remain the same.
“I’m a firm believer in the maxim ‘If you have a great song, you have a great song.’ It’s all about touching people’s hearts.”
Having signed a recording contract at age 20 and played before crowd-filled stadiums around the world, Sweet seems content to let the future unfold at its own uncertain pace.
“Life has a great way of working itself out,” he stated, “I’ve been doing this 25 years and I’ve truly been blessed.”