Love Is The Music
[Vol. 13, Issue 130 - Friday, May 9, 2008]
Expect all the classic hits as the legendary Boz Scaggs closes out the Hawaii Romance Festival
By Gary C.W. Chun
When Boz Scaggs decided to retake control of his recording career, it resulted in a landmark album filled with songs that have made his name synonymous with smooth 'n soulful R&B music - and romance.
Speaking of which, Boz and his eight-piece band will be the featured act at Sunday's finale to the Hawaii Romance Festival in a special benefit for the Queen's Cancer Center. And you can be sure he'll be singing "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle" and "We're All Alone," all from his 1976 pop breakthrough, "Silk Degrees."
The much-traveled soul man has called San Francisco his longtime home, although hearing his voice over the phone line, you can still detect a bit of a Southwest lilt, traced back from his schoolboy years in Texas.
Since early on in his career, when he first came to notoriety as a sideman with the Steve Miller Band in the late '60s, his subsequent solo projects have always used black music as a touchstone. His eponymous Atlantic Records debut in 1968 was recorded with the well-versed Muscle Shoals studio session players, with one track in particular, his stretched-out cover of Chicago bluesman Fenton Robinson "(Somebody) Loan Me a Dime," becoming an FM rock radio staple.
When he signed to Columbia Records, he released three consecutive albums in the early '70s - "Moments," "Boz Scaggs & Band" and "My Time" - that have yet to see domestic reissues, a crime considering how much great music is contained on those albums. They have been re-released in the Japanese market, in a country that has always appreciated his music.
"Me and my band go there every year," he said. "In fact, we just did eight shows there in February.
"My 1999 album, 'Fade Into Light,' was first released there before it came out in America six years later. On one tour, I was invited to play in their chain of Blue Note jazz clubs. Performing in such intimate places is an important thing for me. We got to play six nights straight, with me just being a musician.
"I feel fortunate because it was something I couldn't do in the states. The Japanese audiences appreciate all my music, whether it R&B, pop or standards."
Scaggs says he also feels fortunate that he never had to change his sound to appease the suit-and-ties during his long stay with Columbia. But he admits that it took his experience of recording 1974's "Slow Dancer" to take a more active hand in putting together what would be "Silk Degrees."
"I was really excited, because with doing 'Slow Dancer' in Los Angeles, with producer Johnny Bristol and mostly ex-Motown players, I had never been so uninvolved in making a record, although I did like working with these expensive, high-level studio players. So with 'Silk Degrees,' I looked at the lay of the land in L.A. and saw what key players were available."
So working with producer Joe Wissert, arranger David Paich, and a core rhythm section of David Hungate and Jeff Porcaro (the latter three becoming part of Toto a year later), Scaggs "evolved to a more high-toned and slicker sound" prevalent at the time with the popularity of disco.
But despite the change, Scaggs' distinctive signature was still all over it, whether in a ballad like "Harbor Lights," a well-chosen cover of New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint's "What Do You Want the Girl to Do," or workouts like "Georgia" and the aforementioned "Lido Shuffle."
One of his most joyous on-the-road songs, it was a contemporary take on a good ol' second-line shuffle. "I always try to put a shuffle beat on every album I do. I originally took Fats Domino's 'The Fat Man,' played it on the piano, worked out the changes for the band, and then wrote out the words. To be honest, I don't even remember the inspiration for the lyrics.
"I write music out of necessity," Scaggs admitted. "I work better under pressure, with sort of my back against the wall."
He was able to make a steady, at times "relentless," career off the megasuccess of "Silk Degrees" for a couple of decades afterwards. But during that time, there was a divorce in 1980 and a long and bitter custody battle over his two sons, Oscar and Austin. And it would be capped off on a tragic note when Oscar died of an accidental heroin overdose on New Year Eve of '98.
"I wanted to get involved with the family demands, because I felt guilty during the times I was away due to the career demands. And I just started to drift back into the scene eight years ago. My time before then I liken to jumping out of a fast-moving vehicle and, looking back, saying to myself 'wow, that was a powerful ride.' "
Scaggs takes it all in perspective, now that music's back in his life on a more full-time basis. He and his band will start touring in June, reacquainting himself with fans on the mainland who haven't seen him on stage in years. He'll be following up his last album of five years ago, "But Beautiful - Standards, Vol. 1," with another standards album to be released in the summer called "Speak Low."
"You would figure I would be tired of doing the same songs in concert, but they've evolved over time and have worn well," he said. "I still enjoy playing this music. I have a great band. It's never the same because we always explore different facets of the songs we do. It's fun and it's what we do."