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Boston guitarist talks touring, taking lessons from Jerry Garcia, and climbing Half Dome


Kamal Asar / Courtesy photo Guitarist Gary Pihl, who has been a member of Boston since 1985, says he’s inspired by fans who attend the concerts and sing along.

Longtime Boston guitarist Gary Pihl compares life on tour to the 1993 film “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray’s character keeps living the same day over.

While he calls the two hours performing on stage each night “fantastic,” it’s the waking up in hotels each morning, hours of travel with the same crew and heading to similar-looking venues that can be a bit déja vu.

So what inspires him to keep going?

“The audience. The people,” he said during a phone interview from his home in — where else but — Boston. “I still get choked up when I look out and see people singing ‘More Than a Feeling.’ ”

Boston — a classic rock fixture with hits such as “More Than a Feeling,” “Peace of Mind” and “Amanda” — returns to Ironstone Amphitheatre in Murphys this weekend.

Pihl (pronounced “peel”) actually has roots to northern California, having attended high school in San Mateo.

It was then that he took guitar lessons from a guy named Jerry Garcia and went to see his band called the Warlocks play at a nearby pizza parlor. Shortly after, the band changed its name to the Grateful Dead and Garcia stopped giving lessons.

“He was a great guy to take lessons from,” Pihl said, noting that great guitarists don’t always make great teachers.

After playing in a couple bands, Pihl’s big break came in 1977 when he joined Sammy Hagar’s band. Pihl met Boston founder Tom Scholz when Hagar was opening for Boston in the late 1970s.

In 1985, Hagar joined Van Halen, and Scholz invited Pihl to help work on a Boston song for the band’s “Third Stage” album.

Pihl flew directly from Farm Aid — his last gig with Hagar — to Boston, and he’s been recording and touring with the band ever since.

Boston played a sold-out show at Ironstone in July 2015 with REO Speedwagon, and they will return Saturday on their “Hyper Space Tour” with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts.

“I heard she loves rock and roll and has a pretty bad reputation,” Pihl joked, referring to two of Jett’s biggest hits, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Bad Reputation.”

Boston typically tours for about two weeks followed by a week off.

When asked what he does during his breaks, Pihl has a one-word answer: “Sleep,” he said with a laugh.

As for his upcoming week-long break this month, Pihl said he and his wife plan to return to Yosemite National Park. The high school sweethearts, who have been married 41 years, actually got hitched at the Yosemite Valley Chapel.

At the age of 60, Pihl hiked Half Dome with his two sons. The 16-mile roundtrip trek to the top of the Yosemite’s iconic rock formation is considered by many as the ultimate day hike.

Pihl said the hiking part was no problem because he’s a regular runner, however, climbing up the crowded cables on the steep granite was another story.

“That was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.

Contact Mike Morris at weekender@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4548.

• What: Boston with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts.

• When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

• Where: Ironstone Amphitheatre, 1896 Six Mile Rd., Murphys.

• Information: ironstoneamphitheatre.net