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Superstar Everyman 

Remembering Boston’s Brad Delp, the voice of arena rock

Wednesday, Mar 14 2007
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A fond, sad, grateful farewell to Boston lead singer Brad Delp, who died last week at 55.

The band’s Web site (www.bandboston.com) proclaimed immediately after his passing, “We’ve just lost the nicest guy in rock & roll.”

That’s good to hear, especially coming from his bandmates. Many of us, even Boston fans, probably wouldn’t know what sort of guy Delp was. As massive as Boston’s sound (and sales) may have been, they were the least personality-driven of the stadium-rock bands — and Delp was the least iconic singer in an era of vocal icons and mini icons. Boston was the star, not its members.

And yet as thrilling as the music of Boston was and is, the band never would have swaggered and shimmered and towered and smashed the charts as it did without the vocal heroics of a single man, Brad Delp.

Boston’s sound was envisioned by an MIT graduate student — guitarist Tom Scholz — and it showed from the start on Boston’s huge self-titled debut in 1976, from the almost robotically harmonized guitars to a sphincter-tight rhythm section to the geeked-out, glistening perfection of its production values. And that’s no insult: Boston represent a joyous triumph of technical achievement in rock, front-loaded with hooked-out pop thrills. Delp’s awesome, awesome vocal power and ridiculous precision fit right in to that equation: His voice had a kind of ’70s rock Everyman quality to it, and he was able to belt with soul and shriek with the combined abandon and control demanded by the stadium-rock ethos Boston were helping to invent. And yet Delp’s voice also had a vulnerability to it, a real romance (crystallized in “More Than a Feeling”), and a kind of comforting, hetero but never meatheaded masculinity to it, softening the right angles and cutting through the calculus of Scholz’s creation.

Tommy Shaw of Styx, who were hugely influenced by Boston, wrote on the Styx Web site, “He was THE most unaffected superstar vocalist I ever personally had the opportunity to meet and spend a little time with.” (Not surprisingly, Delp was also a huge music fan himself, recently fronting a Beatles tribute band he adored, called Beatle Juice!) “Superstar” doesn’t even really sound right — and yet in another way it does. Most of us wouldn’t recognize Delp from a photo, yet his vocal frequencies have been burned into the American eardrum. Seared. There’s just no mistaking his piercing, deceptively boyish falsetto the moment it hits the jukebox, as it does every minute of every night of every week in bars across the country.

And that’s a good thing, for all of us. It’s the sound of exuberance, of rock & roll ambition — something young rock & rollers today need to learn from. It’s ironic, but beautiful, that such a masterful lesson in rock performance would be given by a man so uninterested in rock stardom.

Boston – More Than A Feeling


Boston – Don't Look Back
Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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