Breaking Boston: Behind the Scenes the Week CBS Released Boston's Landmark Debut LP, 1976
Boston's 1st album was joined by new releases from three acts Epic/CBS also hoped to break. Those three sputtered to varying degrees, while Boston, as we all know...ZOOM!
Recently, somebody on Twitter bravely “admitted” that he was one of a precious few on the planet who had never heard Boston’s 1976 debut LP. That mere mention reminded me of the week “that little ole band from Boston” went from out-of-the-box unknowns to reaching unprecedented sales heights matched by few.
The album was released on August 25, 1976. As a 21-year-old DJ, I had just gotten several months on-air from 7 to midnight under my belt at Baton Rouge (LA) FM rocker, WFMF-FM 102, about which more can be read here:
As happened frequently when new albums were released, I received a white label promo LP, mysteriously encased in a blank, white jacket with no information. Four new Epic Records acts, including Boston, were featured, with two, maybe three tracks apiece.
History has well-recorded the Boston natives’ legendary sales figures, as well as their musical influence on others through the decades.
But, just who were those other three acts featured on that promo LP with their new releases, and why and how did they all miss sharing Boston’s rousing success?
While that courageous Tweeter mentioned above hasn’t heard that Boston debut, he can rest assured that virtually no one on the planet has heard any of the other acts who also released their Epic debuts that late summer of 1976, except for maybe one…a multi-racial band who are still touring.
The Birth of Boston, Briefly
The story of the band’s guitarist, Tom Scholz, is well-chronicled: At MIT, he puttered around writing songs in 1969, met a couple future band members, and graduated with a master’s. Then, a job at Polaroid gave him the resources to not only build his own home recording studio, but lay down a demo tape.
Tom and vocalist Brad Delp shopped the demo to various record companies, and they all responded to it with a resounding yawn. Undeterred, Tom, Brad, and drummer Jim Masdea whipped up another demo with six new songs through 1974 into ‘75.
Remarkably, Scholz played all the instruments on the demos (which included “More Than a Feeling,” “Peace of Mind,” and “Rock and Roll Band”), except for Masdea’s drums. Scholz also used self-designed pedals to create the unique guitar sounds which became a Boston hallmark.
With this demo finally reaching the hands of a label willing to roll the contractual dice on the band, it’s interesting to note that Tom and Brad only signed the deal with Epic Records. The deal wasn’t without its caveats, however:
The band must fire Masdea as drummer (they did, although he contributes drums on one of the album’s tracks), and they’ve got to re-record the demo’s songs in a professional studio (as opposed to Tom’s basement). Oh yeah, they had to perform a live audition in front of Epic and CBS execs.
This prompted Scholz and Delp to hunt for back-up, the players who ultimately became the early iteration of Boston we all know: Guitarist Barry Goudreau, bassist Fran Sheehan, and Sib Hashian on drums (although they only laid down some overdubs on a couple songs after the fact; Tom and Brad recorded most of the debut album on their own, as Epic was led to believe producer John Boylan [Charlie Daniels Band, Little River Band, and the man who introduced Linda Ronstadt to the musicians who would become The Eagles] was producing the band in an LA studio)! ”PSYCH!” as the kids would say!
The resultant showcase gig for the suits was a success, and they signed with Epic, agreeing to deliver (laughably, now) ten albums in the following six years. They ended up recording six albums in the subsequent 37 years, with but two of them for Epic!
Not exactly Bob Dylan prolific, the band ended up at MCA Records for two albums in 1986 and 1994, before moving from corporate monoliths to independents Artemis and an Italian label, Frontiers Records for a 2013 effort.
Return to the Past, 1976
Picture it: Baton Rouge, a two-story, two-bedroom townhome near Bon Marche Mall. I pull out the white label promo record from its nude, white jacket, possibly a couple days prior to the “street date” these records would know. Even if we didn’t have the respective albums at the station, yet, we were allowed to play tracks off the sampler, if we chose.
It’s likely I had a CBS-issued “one-sheet,” a brief, official bio of each of the sampler’s featured artists (each of whom currently have an active website): Jim Peterik, Herb Pedersen, Mother’s Finest, and a blurb about some new band from Boston featuring a “gear-head” guitarist who left his cushy job working on Polaroid’s Land Camera to fiddle around with his guitar in his basement.
“While I don’t recall my jaw dropping to the ground, or uttering orgasmic profanities on first listen…”
Placing needle onto Side One yielded my first listen to a song that was destined to turn radio and retail into a veritable tizzy: “More Than a Feeling.” While I don’t recall my jaw dropping to the ground, or uttering orgasmic profanities on first listen, I was certainly taken by the combination of full-sounding guitar play surprisingly mixed with soaring harmonies, and I couldn’t help playing it again a little louder.
Jim Peterik: You Know More About Him Than You Think (I Mean, Survivor Alone)!
Jim Peterik’s couple of sampler tracks were there, like Boston, touting his debut solo album, “Don’t Fight the Feeling.”
Peterik, though, by this time, was no newcomer to the studio. Not by a long shot. Born in Illinois in 1950, Peterik was 14 when, with a handful of schoolmates, he formed the Ides of March.
‘Twas he who wrote and even sang their horn-driven hit, “Vehicle,” which rocketed to #2 on the charts in May 1970. In fact, he was attending classes at Cicero, Illinois’ Morton Junior College when the single was becoming the fastest-selling single in Warner Bros. Records history at the time.
With his Ides of March hit six years previous hoping to be his solo career springboard, Peterik’s “Don’t Fight the Feeling” sold miserably, and its rousing, similarly-titled single never caught on at the radio level. Too bad…would’ve sounded right at home on the AM side, between Orleans’ “Still the One” and Steve Miller’s “Rock’nMe”:
To promote the album, Peterik assembled a band that actually opened for the likes of Heart, and even labelmates, Boston. The album still languished, and by 1977, Peterik and Epic soon parted.
In 1978, Peterik co-founded Survivor with guitarist Frankie Sullivan. While Survivor was getting off the ground, Peterik proceeded to co-write hits for .38 Special and Sammy Hagar. In 1982, Sylvester Stallone came calling and commissioned the band to write the theme song for Rocky III. “Eye of the Tiger” was born, and it found a home at the top of the Billboard Top 100 chart for six weeks, and even won Peterik and Sullivan (who also produced the song) Grammy nominations for Best Song. One inspirational rock anthem, comin’ up (Peterik on keys):
Owner of 193 guitars, Peterik, 71, has kept himself busy with several different musical projects over the decades, and currently resides in a tony suburban Chicago enclave. As for his inclusion in that late August 1976 Epic release foursome, after all is said and done, it’s arguable that Peterik’s volume of musical output eclipses Boston’s, and publishing royalties might run neck-and-neck as well. Imagine.
Herb Pedersen: You’ve Heard Him More Than Boston Without Even Knowing It
Like Peterik, Herb Pedersen had several years of professional playing under his belt before making this Epic debut. Way more “rootsy” than Peterik, Pedersen is a dyed-in-the-wool folk’n’bluegrass songwriter and singer, and is fluent in guitar and banjo.
Pedersen did outlast Peterik, though, with his Epic product: Southwest, the album represented by two tracks on this 1976 four-act sampler, and 1977’s Sandman.
The lead single from “Southwest” was a breezy thing featuring Linda Ronstadt on harmonies, in what sounds like it would segue neatly between an Eagles and Ozark Mountain Daredevils set on AM radio: “Our Baby’s Gone”:
Born in Berkeley in 1944, Pedersen was 32 when Southwest was released. Most of his musical accomplishments happened in the ensuing decades, like playing with Chris Hillman, and being a member (with Hillman) of the Desert Rose Band.
A short list of the artists Pedersen has played and sung with include Tom Petty’s pre-fame Mudcrutch, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, and John Denver. That’s the short list.
So, you could, conceivably, have never heard of Pedersen, but if you’re a fan of any or some of the above, you’ve heard Herb’s playing more than Tom Scholz’s band, even if you’re a Boston completist and have heard every album multiple times!
A gutsy and impressive Beatles cover also graces “Southwest.” Set a spell and enjoy a fiddle and pedal-steel adorned “Paperback Writer,” replete with shimmering, spot-on harmonies:
Still alive and pickin’ at 77, Herb is active and performing, in mostly clubs, on a regular basis!
Mother’s Finest: "Too Funk for Rock, Too Rock for Funk"
When it’s all boiled down, Boston was the only real “rookie” artist on that CBS promo sampler from August 1976. As noted above, Peterik and Pedersen had many years of pro playing and recording before Epic came calling.
Born in Atlanta in 1970, Mother’s Finest actually had an album on RCA Records in 1972 (self-titled as this sophomore ‘76 Epic LP was)! A second was recorded for RCA before being shelved by the label. Songs from it were later re-recorded by the band for other albums, and some appeared on a compilation years later.
Billed specifically, in the official Epic Records bio, as a “multi-racial” band, MF was Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy on vocals, Glenn “Doc” Murdock, vocals, Gary “Moses Mo” Moore, guitar, Jerry “Wyzard” Seay on bass, and Barry “B.B. Queen” Borden, drums.
Weaving effortlessly across funk, rock, hard rock, and R&B, Mother’s Finest had a sound like they might’ve been the bitchin’ offspring of Sly & the Family Stone and Molly Hatchet. Or, to fine tune it: A super-charged Stoneground with a really heavy and funky bottom. Here’s one of the singles off that Epic album, with a live performance from the syndicated classic, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, “Fire”:
Mother’s Finest actually sold enough units to stay on Epic for three more albums through 1979. In fact, all four were certified Gold, signifying 500,000 units sold (at the time).
They also toured heavily in the late ‘70s to promote those albums, opening for such heavyweights as Epic labelmates REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, The Who, Aerosmith, and AC/DC.
They’ve since released nearly a dozen albums since 1981, on labels like Atlantic and Capitol. 2011 inductees to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, MF is still touring, looking something like this:
Epilogue: Thanks to that anonymous Twitter gentleman for his inspiration for this look back at a musical summer decades ago. Hopefully, by now he’s heard that debut Boston LP, and if he gets to this page, he can know what else was released by one particular label on August 25, 1976!