Tommy DeCarlo, lead singer of Boston, is a contradiction: a rock star who’s a regular guy. In 2008, he was catapulted to fame and fortune as the lead singer of his favorite band, a classic rock juggernaut. In 2012, he launched his own successful group DeCarlo, featuring his son, Tommy DeCarlo Jr., on guitar. And through all the adulation and exhilaration of playing packed auditoriums, and recording new music with a beloved group that has sold more than 75 million records worldwide, the 55-year-old DeCarlo remains a down-to-earth husband and father.
“We have a wonderful following here in the Charlotte area and it’s been a lot of fun,” DeCarlo says of the five-piece rock combo that shares his last name. “The true blessing for me is being able to do this with my son.”
DeCarlo brings its brand of melodic classic rock for a new generation, along with a selection of Boston’s hits, to the Barrel Room at Catawba Brewing Company on Saturday. True to his modest demeanor, DeCarlo says the focus of the show is All Things Possible (ATP), a charity that will receive 100% of the night’s proceeds.
The organization provides mobility solutions for those who are unable to walk or in wheelchairs. Those solutions range from motorized wheelchairs to wheelchair-accessible vans that can transport people safely to their medical and therapy appointments, says Lisa Sexton, ATP’s executive director. “We’re the only ones doing it, and there’s a big need out there, in Charlotte and beyond,” Sexton says.
Sexton has partnered with Terry Hudson of Hudson Media Concept to present Saturday’s show. Hudson, a speaker, consultant and entertainment industry coach, drew on his music industry connections to book the opening performers on the concert’s bill.
Creating Peace of Mind
Since the concert may be the first in-person event that many audience members have attended since Charlotte’s shut down in mid-March, organizers affirm that the show will be compliant with restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Although the Barrel Room can hold 230 people, seating is limited to 88, well below North Carolina’s requirement of 50% occupancy, Sexton says. She adds that face masks are required and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the venue. Hudson offers that temperatures will be checked at the door.
“They’re very strict,” Sexton says. “Catawba told us that if somebody is even like a point over, if they’re 98.7 instead of 98.6, they’re not letting them in.”
DeCarlo tells Queen City nerve that the Barrel Room concert is not the band’s first in-person show since the pandemic swept through the nation. The band, which consists of DeCarlo on lead vocals, his son Tommy Jr. on lead guitar, Payton Velligan on keyboards and guitar, Edward Sturt on bass and Christian Sturt on drums, has played four or five non-virtual house shows, DeCarlo says. In each instance, social distancing and masks have been required.
“Not only have a lot of venues canceled because of [the pandemic], but we have also canceled some that we just didn’t feel comfortable doing,” DeCarlo says.
Rock & Roll is a Family Affair
DeCarlo and his son started the namesake band 12 years ago. “We both decided to get involved in the project because he wanted to start performing and playing guitar,” the elder DeCarlo says. When Tommy Sr. got home from tours with Boston, the father and son would start working together on their band. In 2008, they had cemented a lineup and felt ready to start playing shows. “It’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had as a musician,” DeCarlo says.
He maintains that his son is far more than just the band’s guitarist. The younger DeCarlo is in charge of almost every aspect of the band. Details including wardrobe, sound and lighting fall under his purview. “He handles everything … and does a great job,” DeCarlo says of his son. “I’m very proud of him.”
An unexpected benefit from forming a band came in 2018 when Frontiers, the Italian hard rock record label that Boston calls home, floated the idea of a recording contract for the DeCarlo combo. “It was a bonus,” DeCarlo says. “We weren’t even trying to get a record deal.”
At the label’s request, DeCarlo, who had been writing songs and playing piano ever since he was a teenager growing up in Utica, New York, sent over a few demos he’d been working on. The label liked what they heard, and offered a record deal. “Then it was time to get to work and write the rest of the record,” DeCarlo remembers “It was a lot of work, but it also was a lot of fun.”
Though DeCarlo teamed with a couple of songwriting collaborators for his band’s debut Lightning Strikes Twice, he wrote the bulk of the album’s material. He remembers spending a lot of time in his music room crafting new songs.
The resulting album, released last January, draws inspiration from some of DeCarlo’s favorite artists growing up, Boston being among them. But the uplifting and melodic collection of classic rock-influenced tunes is far from a mere tribute to DeCarlo’s main gig. He says the song “Rock N’ Soul” takes its cue from 1970s and ’80s British-American chart topper Foreigner, and adds saxophone to the mix of bass, drums, guitars and keyboards.
DeCarlo offers that he has received some online criticism for the album’s revved-up pop rocker “Gotta Go.”
“A couple of people commented that it sounds dated, that its kind of ’80s,” DeCarlo says. “I’ll take that as a compliment because that was my goal.”
Tommy DeCarlo Finds Himself in Boston
Similar to Frontier’s serendipitous recording contract, DeCarlo’s path to becoming the lead singer for one of the most iconic bands in classic rock’s canon was unlikely and unexpected. It all began because he was heartbroken. In 2007, Boston’s longtime lead vocalist Brad Delp unexpectedly took his own life. Tommy DeCarlo, a lifelong Boston fan who had drawn inspiration from Delp’s vocals, sat down at his piano to write and eventually record a tribute to the Delp. The song “A Man He’ll Always Be” was a rejoinder to the Boston song “A Man I’ll Never Be.”
“To me [Delp] will always be a man,” DeCarlo says. “I really felt for what was going on with the band Boston — the loss of a great singer.”
DeCarlo recorded the song, and with the help of his daughter Talia, put it up on MySpace. He also sent the MySpace link to Boston’s website and offered to sing the song at an upcoming Brad Delp tribute concert in the band’s hometown of Boston, never expecting to hear an answer.
A short time later, Boston founder and songwriter Tom Scholz contacted Tommy DeCarlo asking him to sing a few songs onstage with the band at the tribute show. “It’s often been written that this opportunity with Boston has been a childhood dream of mine,” DeCarlo says. “Honestly, I never had dreams of being a rock star. I don’t consider myself one. Music was something I did just as a hobby.”
DeCarlo fronted his favorite band at the show. It was an awesome experience, DeCarlo says, but he was sure it was a one-off gig, a memory to treasure as he returned to his day job as a credit manager at a Home Depot in Charlotte’s Steele Creek neighborhood. DeCarlo didn’t expect something great to happen, he maintains, but then something did.
“[Scholz] got in touch a short while later and we talked about doing some touring together,” DeCarlo remembers. A short while later, DeCarlo was up in Boston, rehearsing for the band’s 2008 tour. “It was a complete shock that the band felt I was worthy of that opportunity,” DeCarlo offers. “I’m thankful that I’ve been with them ever since.”
Tommy DeCarlo knows that stepping into the spotlight with Boston would be daunting for any musician. In 1976, Boston released one of the fastest selling debut albums in history, muscling aside disco and punk rock for a place in the charts. The band would eventually score four top ten hits, including one chart-topping song, “Amanda,” in 1986.
Today, practically every song on the band’s self-titled debut is a staple on classic rock radio stations. Ever since that rehearsal in 2008, DeCarlo, who had never sung with a band before, has been the frontman of the original area rockers, the onstage voice for one of his musical heroes. After years of touring with the band, DeCarlo also recorded with them as well. He’s particularly proud that his singing is featured on Boston’s 2013 album, Life, Love and Hope.
At that first rehearsal, DeCarlo was relieved to discover that his rock ‘n’ roll inspirations were a bunch of down-to-earth guys — even Scholz, the rock fan who earned a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before recording the bulk of the band’s debut in his basement studio. “Tom doesn’t think of himself as this iconic rock star,” DeCarlo says, “nor does he act that way.”
DeCarlo, with a similar temperament, felt he was a good fit with Boston. He feels he clicked with the band because he didn’t bring any rock star baggage or behaviors to the table. But one thing in DeCarlo’s life did change. To go on tour, he had to quit Home Depot. Perhaps it was prophetic that the first song he sang in rehearsal with Boston was “Don’t Look Back.”
Don’t Look Back
DeCarlo’s main hope for the Catawba Brewing Barrel Room show is that the band can generate some money for All Things Possible. “I know that they’re very proud of what they do,” DeCarlo says. “I think it’s a wonderful cause.”
Hudson promises three opening acts for the show. The featured performers include inspirational gospel and soul singer Abraham Staten who fronts the Abraham Staten Experience; and Ashanti Munir, who has performed at the Middle C Jazz Club. Hudson predicts that music lovers will soon be hearing a lot about Lauren Celaya, the third singer to entertain the intimate audience on Saturday. Hudson hopes the show is an opportunity for people like DeCarlo and the supporting performers to use their gifts and talents to make a positive impact.
“I think that positive impact is needed in a confused world right now,” Hudson offers.
At the same time, the show represents an opportunity for All Things Possible to gain name recognition. “It’s important to get our name out there and let people know we exist so we can continue to help these kids in wheelchairs,” says Sexton.
“Music has that healing power and this will be a cool thing when people, little by little are starting to come together again,” Hudson says.
The concert will also include a Q&A with DeCarlo and an auction where concertgoers can bid on prizes, including a guitar signed by the members of DeCarlo. With typical modesty, DeCarlo sees his band’s role that evening as a supporting act for All Things Possible. He says he hopes to bring some excitement to the event.
“The main thing is helping the organization as much as we can with some good music,” he says.