A fond, sad, grateful farewell to Boston lead singer Brad Delp, who died last week at 55.
The bands Web site (www.bandboston.com) proclaimed immediately after his passing, Weve just lost the nicest guy in rock & roll.
Thats good to hear, especially coming from his bandmates. Many of us, even Boston fans, probably wouldnt know what sort of guy Delp was. As massive as Bostons 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.
Bostons sound was envisioned by an MIT graduate student guitarist Tom Scholz and it showed from the start on Bostons 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 thats no insult: Boston represent a joyous triumph of technical achievement in rock, front-loaded with hooked-out pop thrills. Delps 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 Delps 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 Scholzs 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 doesnt even really sound right and yet in another way it does. Most of us wouldnt recognize Delp from a photo, yet his vocal frequencies have been burned into the American eardrum. Seared. Theres 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 thats a good thing, for all of us. Its the sound of exuberance, of rock & roll ambition something young rock & rollers today need to learn from. Its ironic, but beautiful, that such a masterful lesson in rock performance would be given by a man so uninterested in rock stardom.
Boston Don't Look Back
Get the Music Newsletter