Engineering a Rock and Roll Life
Tom scholz ‘69, sm ‘70, never expected his passion for music to be much more than a hobby. After graduating from MIT, he worked as a senior product design engineer at Polaroid by day and spent his nights composing and recording demos in his basement studio and playing in local bands. But in the summer of 1976, he found himself in the limelight with the release of his band’s self-titled debut album, Boston. With hits like “More than a Feeling” and “Long Time,” it quickly became the best-selling debut album in history. Scholz soon quit his job at Polaroid to follow his bliss.
For the past three decades he has been the driving force behind Boston, as a composer, producer, engineer, and performer, playing lead and rhythm guitars, bass, piano, organ, and some percussion. The band has produced six albums with cumulative U.S. sales of 31 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The debut album alone has topped 17 million in U.S. sales, garnering the RIAA’s diamond award status (for sales over 10 million) and ranking 11th in the top 100 bestselling albums of all time. Of the remaining five albums, three have achieved multiplatinum status (sales of over two million), including Don’t Look Back, (1978) and Third Stage (1986).
Scholz didn’t become interested in pop music until he heard “powerful sounding” bands like the Kinks and the Who in the mid-1960s, and he didn’t pick up the guitar until he was a junior at MIT. “When I heard that music, it reminded me of really powerful Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.It was the power of the music and those guitars that made me want to play.” So he began playing guitar with local cover bands with names like Middle Earth and, he admits with some embarrassment, Mother’s Milk.
The transition from engineer to rock star was “bizarre,” Scholz says. “The music side of it was great, because I had only dreamed that I might get to do that. The life experience side of it was a bit of a cruel joke. Finding out what people are like in the world of entertainment was really a scary experience.I had a very nave expectation that people were basically intelligent and honorable, and all of that was completely destroyed once I got into the music business,” he says.
He’s seen his fair share of the dark side of the music industry-not the artists, he notes, but some of the people on the business side who are driven by drug addiction and greed. He weathered (and ultimately won) a series of lawsuits in the 1980s, including a $20 million claim brought by CBS, owner of the Epic label, because it was displeased with Boston’s productivity. Through it all, it’s Scholz’s love of music that has sustained him, as well as the devotion of fans.
Scholz’s engineering skills have been an integral part of his success; to date, he has some 34 patents to his name. In 1980 he formed Scholz Research and Design (SR&D), an audio-electronics company that built signal-processing equipment for musicians. Two of his inventions, the Power Soak and the Rockman headphone amp, became widely used by other rock musicians. “I run into more people who want to talk to me about the Rockman guitar amp than about Boston albums,” Scholz says with a laugh.
Scholz decided to close SR&D in 1995. Innovation was what inspired him, not maximizing profits, so he hated the emphasis on the bottom line and worrying about competition. These days he only toys with projects that are of interest to him, without regard to marketability, and they don’t all revolve around music. For example, as an avid freestyle skater, Scholz wants to improve current skate design, which he calls “basically walking boots from the 1800s with a steel blade stuck on them.”
He’s also involved with several charities, including the Sierra Club. During Boston’s summer 2003 concert tour, the band donated more than $170,000 in ticket sales to the environmental organization.
Still, music remains in the forefront of his mind. Scholz spent much of the spring in the studio working on a rerelease of Corporate America (2002), which had a “disastrous” release because its record label, Artemis, ran into financial troubles. This summer he’s on a limited tour with the band. Even after all these years, he loves touring. “If I could, I’d pack a suitcase and a guitar, and I’d stay out on the road for the rest of my life,” he says.
But he’s got a good reason to stay close to his home outside Boston. Scholz’s son, who he claims is “a lot smarter than I am,” will be a senior at MIT this fall. And does he like his dad’s music? “I think he does,” says Scholz, “but he’s such a nice kid that he would pretend he did even if he didn’t.” Elizabeth Durant
Las Vegas a Sure Bet for Class of 2000
Location, location, location-that’s the mantra for retailers and Pi Reunion organizers, laughs Mimi Yang ‘00, one of the organizers of the Class of 2000’s Pi Reunion, held last year in Las Vegas. “Las Vegas turned out to be an ideal location,” said Yang. “There’s plenty to do, but it’s also an easy city to disappear into should you want to get away for a few hours.”
Yang said her class was inspired by the Class of 1997, which created the Pi Reunion concept. “We were enamored with their creation,” says Yang. “At the same time, we playfully wanted to try to outdo them for attendance, fun, and location.”
Yang says the class conducted an online vote, and Las Vegas beat out New Orleans as first choice for location. More than 100 people, counting alumni guests, attended the reunion, and Yang says the fun-filled weekend featured a number of highlights. “In addition to some quality pool time together, the class also held a banquet that was very well attended,” says Yang. “Then on Saturday night, we took over the dance floor at Studio 54 and danced the night away.”
Yang admits that organizing a Pi Reunion takes a bit of work but says that it’s well worth it. “It was really great to see everyone again, relive some of our student days, and swap stories from the working world,” says Yang. “Turns out more than a few of us have been through a few jobs already in this economy. But sharing the corporate war stories with classmates makes it that much more tolerable.”
Lang hopes the Pi Reunion will pay dividends at the class’s fifth reunion, to be held on the MIT campus this June.
Courses For Entrepreneurs
MIT OpenCourseWare, the Institute’s renowned and ambitious project to put all courses online for free, continues to expand, with more than 700 courses now available.
OpenCourseWare’s most recent offerings demonstrate a decidedly entrepreneurial bent with courses from the MIT Sloan School of Management, including:
- Law for the Entrepreneur and Manager
- Entrepreneurial Finance
- Marketing Strategy
- Entrepreneurial Marketing
- Global Entrepreneurship Lab
- Taxes and Business Strategy
- Designing and Leading the Entrepreneurial Organization
MIT OpenCourseWare course materials, reading lists, and other information are available online at ocw.
AMITA and BAMIT Awards for Academic Excellence
Amita, the association of mit Alumnae, and BAMIT, Black Alumni of MIT, presented their annual student awards in recognition of outstanding academic performance at the Awards Convocation on Tuesday, May 4, 2004. The AMITA Academic Award is given to a senior woman who has demonstrated the highest level of academic excellence and professional promise through her coursework and other projects at MIT. This year, the winners were Irit Rappley ‘04, a brain and cognitive sciences/linguistics and philosophy major, and Sonya Tang ‘04, a chemistry major.
Other nominees included Yun-Lin Wong, chemical engineering/biology; Ana Ramos, materials science and engineering; Nirupama Rao, economics/ management science; Monica Sircar, chemical engineering/bioengineering; and Kathleen McCoy, aeronautics and astronautics.
The BAMIT McNair Fund Award also selects outstanding seniors and is named in honor of Dr. Ronald E. McNair ‘77, the black NASA astronaut and MIT alumnus who lost his life in the space shuttle Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. Dr. McNair’s commitment to excellence and service in the black community are qualities that the fund recognizes and rewards in black MIT undergraduates. The financial-aid office selects the recipients using both academic and extracurricular leadership qualities as its criteria. The McNair Fund Award recipients for 2004 were Kasetta Coleman ‘04 of Philadelphia, PA, Nnennia Ejebe ‘04 of Plymouth, MN, Christine Fleming ‘04 of Bronx, NY, Adrian Townsend ‘04 of Rochester, NY, and Afiya Whisby ‘04 of Macon, GA.
Boston Club Welcomes Chairman with Shakespearean Gala
This past april, the mit Club of Boston held a special gala dinner honoring Dana Mead, PhD ‘67, the new chairman of the MIT Corporation. The black-tie event featured a special Shakespearean theme in honor of Mead, who sits on the board of the British Royal Shakespeare Society and is director of its American counterpart. As part of the celebration, guests could attend the black-tie event in Elizabethan attire, with prizes awarded for best costumes.
“It was a delightful evening,” said Paula J. Olsiewski, PhD ‘79, president of the MIT Alumni Association. “Some of the costumes were elaborate, to say the least. It was a warm and creative way for the MIT Club of Boston to officially welcome Dana to the MIT Corporation.”
As part of the evening’s festivities, President Charles M. Vest HM, Howard Johnson HM, Olsiewski, and former chairman of the MIT Corporation Alex d’Arbeloff ‘49 all spoke. Musical entertainment was provided by the Early Music Trio Ensemble Chaconne, which performed period pieces from Shakespearean plays. Dr. Stardust (yes, he really has a PhD) was the official jester of the evening and provided entertainment during the reception and after dinner.
The MIT Club of Boston posted an array of photos from the event on its website at bostonclub.mit.edu/.
Dr. Robert Rines ‘42 and wife Joanne
Alex d’Arbeloff ‘49 and Mindy Garber ‘82
Dr. Steven A. Carlson, PhD ‘69, and wife Marian
President Charles M. Vest HM and wife Becky
The Small Joys of Accomplishment
According to chiquita white ‘85, the decision to volunteer was an easy one.
“It’s simple. I volunteer because I feel my MIT experience contributed a great deal to the career and life I now enjoy,” White explains. “I want to give back. I want to try to help other young people achieve the things my MIT experience enabled me to achieve.”
Behind this “easy” decision are 19 years of outstanding service to MIT and its students-with a list of accomplishments that reveal exceptional energy and management skills. White has served as class agent, solicited reunion gifts, volunteered as a leader in BAMIT (Black Alumni of MIT), recruited MIT students for Procter and Gamble, and served on the Alumni Fund Board. She has also served as a member of the Alumni Association’s board of directors and spent two years as a member of the Audit and Budget Committee. And just last year she was one of three awardees at the Institute’s annual Martin Luther King celebration, recognized for her work with students through the Office of Minority Education. And this is only a partial list of her volunteer accomplishments.
“When you list it all together, it sounds tiring,” White modestly laughs. But to her, it’s the small individual contributions that can achieve a larger goal. “For me, it’s not simply an allegiance to the Institute, which is important, but rather giving back to the people who more and more make up MIT’s ever expanding community.”
White notes that many excellent MIT programs continue in large part through donations from alumni. And her own work has been aimed at perpetuating programs that were meaningful to her as a student.
“By contributing to the things that are important to you,” says White, “you help ensure that they continue for the students that come after you. That’s a large part of my motivation, to keep the programs that I found so valuable going.”
In 2001, this sense of personal involvement earned White the Alumni Association’s Henry B. Kane Award for exceptional service and accomplishments in fund-raising. While honored by the recognition, White considers her volunteer work far from finished.
A person of indefatigable energies and easy humor, White finds her volunteering hindered only by distance, as she lives in Ohio. “If I lived in Boston, I could do so much more. I’d just walk down the street. My trips to Boston are limited since the plane tickets,” White laughs, “are so expensive.”
These days White finds her volunteer activities focused on BAMIT and its upcoming 25th anniversary, which will be celebrated on campus in October 2004. As the current president of BAMIT, White is among a number of alumni planning the celebration of BAMIT’s quarter-century of active commitment to MIT’s African-American students and alumni, and the Institute at large.
“BAMIT’s 25th anniversary is an important milestone for the Institute,” says Beth Garvin, executive vice president and CEO of the Alumni Association. “I’m delighted that Chiquita is not only leading BAMIT but has agreed to serve as a vice president of the Alumni Association for the next two years. Her leadership will help us continue to focus on the areas of recruitment and student experience that BAMIT has championed for 25 years.”
White says BAMIT’s anniversary is an opportunity for African-American alumni and their families to return to campus, see old friends, consider BAMIT’s history, and affirm its role for the future. The anniversary will feature a day of workshops, where members will have the chance to share their insights and hear several noted speakers. White says that when reviewing a list of possible speakers, she was inspired to see the names of so many people who helped make BAMIT what it is today. “The membership is filled with so many notable people that it is a joy to be just a part of this event,” says White.
BAMIT has long been committed to attracting African-American students to MIT, but White says the organization is equally committed to bringing more African-American professors to MIT and championing them for fully tenured positions.
“Professors have a powerful influence on student lives,” White points out. “They serve as role models, mentors, and important voices that command attention of students and the MIT community.” White points to BAMIT’s belief in the excellence of example. “Aspiration is often entwined with emulation,” says White. “So many students go on to careers, graduate degrees, and PhDs because they saw someone else achieve that. Role models don’t necessarily make the path easier, but they do show that the goal is attainable. All students need the encouragement that role models inherently create.”
White’s BAMIT presidency, like all her volunteer work, is a testament to the lasting influence an individual can have. Volunteering, she says, communicates the vitality of an organization.
“It speaks volumes about the MIT Alumni Association that volunteers stay committed for decades,” White says. “Alumni have such an opportunity to create crucial relationships. The little-known secret is that these volunteer relationships produce some enduring rewards.”
Asked to elaborate, White sums it up succinctly but clearly. “Meaningful things,” she says, “have a way of shining through.” Samuel Howard
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today