Anyone who asks Sal Baglio if he’d like to talk about music had better be ready for a marathon chat. The genially verbose frontman for the long-running Boston rockers the Stompers (still together for limited gigs after forming more than four decades ago) is just as comfortable discussing his newest solo album “Music for Abandoned Amusement Parks” – released under his musical nom de plume The Amplifier Heads – as he is recalling being smitten by the guitar when he was growing up in East Boston.
Might as well start with those guitar memories.
“My first one was a little plastic guitar when I was 3,” he said from his home in Marlborough, where “Amusement Parks” was recorded in his Electric Zucchini Studio. “My first real guitar, an acoustic Stella, was a gift from my father’s cousin when I was about 7. My father, who was a wonderful musician, but had stopped playing professionally before I was born, taught me my first chords, and how to play.
“My first electric guitar, which I got for Christmas when I was 11, was a Harmony Roy Smeck model – a red guitar with a whammy bar. When I think of that moment, when I saw that guitar, man, it was just really heavy to get that. Right away I said I wanted lessons. I didn’t really need them because my dad taught me everything I needed to know, but I signed up for guitar lessons with someone at the local music shop. He was trying to teach me how to read and play songs, but I only wanted to learn the intro to ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ He kept putting me off, but finally he said, ‘OK, it goes like this.’ He taught me that, I said thank you, and I left.”
Baglio was writing songs by 12, and was on the road, in cover bands, right out of high school, when he was 17.
“I was playing with these older cats, mostly R&B and the Top-40 of the day, but it was like going to school,” he said. “At one point I thought I wanted to try Berklee, but my concentration isn’t set up for learning in a school environment. But I learned a lot on the road. When I would come home from the road, I would hear about things going on at this place called The Rat and at The Garage. There were rock bands playing, and I was thinking, ‘Hey, I want to write my own tunes and have a rock band and be able to play, too. I can do this! I don’t want to keep playing cover music’. So, I found some guys, we started the Stompers, and we played our first gig in ’77.”
But for the year off due to the pandemic, Baglio has regularly been on the stage, sometimes with the Stompers, sometimes with assorted local friends – there was a run with the collective known as Urban Caravan – and occasionally going solo. He classifies his current project, The Amplifier Heads, as a solo endeavor with some musical assistance.
“On the first album, ‘Loudah’ (2019), I played most of the instruments, [my co-producer] Ducky Carlisle played the drums, and I had some friends come in on a few songs. I liked the idea of a band name, rather than my name out there as a solo artist. So that’s how The Amplifier Heads came to be.”
That was followed up by the EPs “The Man with the Sun for a Head” and “Oh Golly Gee,” and then the full-length “Music for Abandoned Amusement Parks,” which has an interesting tie-in to the Beatles’ white album.
“When I listen to the white album, I take the time to do it from top to bottom, the way I did when I was 11 and got it for Christmas,” he said. “Back then you bought the record, you went home, you opened it up, and you put it on the record player and listened to it. You started with ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ and you went all over the map until you got to ‘Good Night.’ ‘Music for Abandoned Amusement Parks’ was made for listening to all the way through. That’s how I make records now.”
The new album doesn’t tell a story per se, but it places the listener in a setting and establishes a sweeping atmosphere that runs from the pure pop of the opener, “Funhouse Mirrors” to the haunting instrumental “Addio,” and from the mid-tempo pop-rock of “September Song” to the unusual vocal harmonies of “Black Mascara.”
The album features new songs as well as reworked versions of older songs. Baglio explained, “Last March, when the first quarantine started, I decided to start writing a song a day, and see what happens. Well, March went into April, and then into May. The first song I wrote was ‘Welcome to DeathWorld Amusement Park, USA,’ which I later shortened to ‘Welcome to DeathWorld.’ Then I wrote ‘Black Mascara,’ and I just kept on writing. The one that put it all together for me was ‘Song for an Abandoned Amusement Park.’ I wrote that song in July, and after I finished the lyrics to it, the whole thing was put in perspective. That was the center song for the record.”
One of the album’s oldest songs is “Funhouse Mirrors,” which Baglio thinks was written about 20 years ago, and had a version of in his computer.
“I can just go in and listen to something, and maybe I’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, that song.’ The first version of ‘Funhouse Mirrors’ might even be older than 20 years,” he said. “I’ve always liked it, but I just had no place for it. A lot of those songs had no place with the Stompers. They stand on their own, they’re for something else. So, I wrote that one a long time ago, but I finished it and recorded it in 2020. A soon as I was onto the idea of music for an abandoned amusement park, I thought, ‘“Funhouse Mirrors” … remember that song?’”
Baglio is eagerly awaiting the time when it’ll be OK to return to the stage. Meanwhile, he already has 20 songs recorded for his next record. But for now, the question has to be asked: Does he have a favorite Stompers memory?
“We started opening for the J. Geils Band in 1980,” he said. “We had been playing in clubs and were doing pretty well. But the first time we got onstage at an arena was with Geils, and when the spotlights hit me and the crowd roared, it was like a jet airplane coming at us. You just get filled up with all that energy, and the testosterone of youth, and you just start jumping around. It was a beautiful experience. And today, still, when I get up on a stage, I think, ‘Wow, you’re really lucky to be doing this.’ ”
“Music for Abandoned Amusement Parks” is available at Bandcamp, iTunes, and Apple Music.
Ed Symkus can be reached at [email protected]