2013 - Elmore Magazine Interview
Interview by Elmore Magazine
Born William Royce Scaggs in Ohio on June 8, 1944, Boz Scaggs was raised in Oklahoma and Texas. He was soon swept away by music—“It seemed there weren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with that first wave of rock and roll,” he said—and by age 13, he’d taken up the guitar. Not long after, at a prep school in Dallas, he met Steve Miller, and their musical journey together began when Scaggs joined Miller’s group, the Marksmen, in 1959. Over the next few years, journeying across the Atlantic and back, Scaggs played in a variety of bands (some with Miller) before landing in San Francisco and reuniting with Miller in 1967.
After appearing on the fledgling Steve Miller Band’s first two albums, Scaggs went solo again with 1969’s Boz Scaggs, which featured especially noteworthy assistance from Duane Allman. A string of critically successful albums followed before Scaggs’ commercial breakthrough with 1976’s Silk Degrees. Though his next few albums stayed near the top of the charts, Scaggs ceased recording between 1980 and 1988, focusing largely on his San Francisco nightclub. “I just didn’t have any music in me,” he later said.
By the ’90s, Scaggs found himself reinvigorated and embarked on a high-profi le tour with Donald Fagen’s New York Rock and Soul Revue and also released a string of albums of originals, covers and standards. Recently, in another high-profi le collaboration, Scaggs toured with Fagen and Michael McDonald as the Dukes of September, and has just released a new solo album, Memphis. Recorded at Willie Mitchell’s famed Royal Studios in Memphis, TN and produced by Steve Jordan (drummer with the John Mayer Trio, Blues Brothers, Booker T. & the MG’s), Scaggs’ new album is deeply steeped in the soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll of the American South, the music that first swept Scaggs away years ago.
What are you listening to right now?
Boz Scaggs: I just downloaded Eric Clapton’s album last night to see what he was up to. Mostly I listen to piano jazz.
What was the first record you ever bought?
BS: A Fats Domino 78. It could have been “Blueberry Hill.”
Where do you buy your music?
BS: I download it off iTunes. I have a pretty good record collection of my own, but I haven’t been to a record store in a while.
What was the first instrument you played?
BS: The first one I actually took lessons on was the cello. My father was in the military for a while and we moved around a lot and happened to land in Dallas, Texas, when I was in the third or fourth grade. They had a youth symphony, and they offered lessons with classical instruments. I’m not exactly sure whether I chose the cello or whether it was suggested that I play it.
What brought you to the instrument you now play?
BS: Mostly I play guitar, number one, because I love the instrument. I was a child of the ’50s and radio music. The guitar was a featured instrument from the beginning, with rockabilly and Chuck Berry. I grew up in north Texas, where there was a lot of blues, so I heard a lot of the music coming out of the South, out of New Orleans, out of the Delta, out of Texas: Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed and that kind of stuff. But I also loved anything guitar, including classical guitar, or Chet Atkins out of Nashville, or a whole line of jazz guitar players—George Van Eps and Barney Kessel—and the folk phase with the Kingston Trio, the Limeliters, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. There was a lot of guitar around. In Texas, you could buy a guitar for ten dollars, usually made in some border town in Mexico, and that was, in fact, my first instrument.
Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?
BS: I collaborate with a couple of people on music and then I go off and write words by myself. It’s a very private pursuit for me. I find that I’m more nervous about being around somebody who I don’t know very well than I am thinking about spilling out my guts in a song. I’m collaborating now with Mike McDonald and Donald Fagen. We have a band called the Dukes of September, and we go out and tour, performing music from our own repertoires. As a part of that, we’re considering writing some original material together.
What musician influenced you most?
BS: The musician who had the most impact on me early on was Ray Charles. I loved Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent and Fats Domino and Little Richard. Jimmy Reed remains one of my greatest heroes. Bobby “Blue” Bland is one of my top three favorite singers, and Elvis had one of the smoothest, most beautiful voices of our time. There’s a song on my latest release called “Cadillac Walk,” which is a Willy DeVille song. I lean toward the Nat King Cole or the Bobby Bland style because that’s what my voice will do. I wish I could sing like Ray Charles, but I don’t have that element in my voice. It’s so soulful and I love it.
What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
BS: I saw Ray Charles live when I was about maybe 14 years old at a concert in Dallas. That concert changed my life. I saw one of the most powerful musicians of our time at a time when he was at his most powerful, in a place that was pure energy, and it was electric. Something changed in me when I saw him. I didn’t know that I was going to be a musician, but I had never been so deeply…it was almost a religious experience.
I’m not by nature a screaming extrovert, but something turns you around when you play in front of people. There’s an exchange going on that’s practically indefinable that extends the experience. You’re sort of sharing the energy, and you’re the source of the energy. That’s a real turn-on, and I think every musician or every artist remembers the first days of it, and also the first time that you ever play and somebody pays you for it. It’s kind of like, “What!? You mean I can do this and get paid for it?” I remember vividly the first night at a hotel near the airport in Dallas, Texas, on New Year’s Eve when I got paid $15 or $25 to play bass for a band that I was sitting in with. It’s a powerful combination.
Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
BS: Probably the same people that I use today, the same people who are on this record: Steve Jordan on drums, Willie Weeks on bass, Jim Cox, who plays keyboards.
Would you have Ray Charles in your band?
BS: If you’re in the room with Ray Charles, you let Ray Charles do what Ray Charles wants to do. If I was in the room with him, I’d be terribly intimidated.
What’s your desert island album?
BS: Probably the same one that most other people would listen to: Kind of Blue. I think that’s everybody’s top five record.