Boz Scaggs found his sound at the crossroads of pop, soul and disco
By JON FERGUSON, Staff Writer
Ask Boz Scaggs, performing Friday at the American Music Theatre, which of his albums is his favorite and he'll tell you it's "Dig," which he released 10 years ago.
The album, however, largely went unnoticed by the record-buying public and never won the attention he believes it deserved.
He understands that, though.
"In the case of that album, I consider it the best work I ever did, so it's particularly disappointing it didn't reach a bigger audience at the time it was released," Scaggs says during a telephone interview from his California home.
"That said, it was released on a Tuesday morning -- Sept. 11, 2001."
An ambitious and expensive promotional campaign for the album went down the drain the moment the first jet crashed into the World Trade Center.
Scaggs did mount an extensive tour to support the album. He was one of the few musicians to venture out on the road in the aftermath of the terrorist attack, but not many fans were in the mood for a concert.
Though events conspired against "Dig" becoming a commercial success, Scaggs still considers it an artistic triumph.
"For anybody who liked any aspect of what I've done, that was probably the best of it," he says. "It wears well, too. It still sounds good to me. I'm really proud of that work."
Ask most people which of Scaggs' albums they like the best and the resounding answer would be "Silk Degrees," the 1976 album that yielded three hit singles, including the million-selling "Lowdown."
Though "Silk Degrees," at the time, seemed to come out of nowhere, Scaggs had been laying the groundwork for it ever since leaving the Steve Miller Band after it recorded its first two psychedelicized albums, "Children of the Future" and "Sailor," both from 1968.
Scaggs, 66, made five solo albums before "Silk Degrees," all mining an urbane musical style that borrowed from soul and R&B.
"I was learning my craft and learning more about music by listening to the black side of the radio dial," he says.
The singer-guitarist says he made a breakthrough when he started recording with a group of studio musicians from Los Angeles.
The players who backed him on "Silk Degrees" would later form the band Toto.
"I landed in a rhythm section," Scaggs says, "that had been listening to the same things I'd been listening to -- the Philadelphia stuff, the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye and all of it. We just had a picnic for about six months, just drawing from stuff that really hadn't been mainstream pop music yet.
"When we hit, there was a convergence. Disco was going on. Black music and groove music and soul stuff and contemporary R&B was coming into the mainstream. And we rode in on the same horse. I'd been there all the time but I had really sharpened what I did and the whole rest of the popular music scene was coming to the same place."
Though Scaggs always made solid albums, he would never again reach the commercial peak he scaled with "Silk Degrees."
He hasn't made an album of original music since "Dig." His last two albums, "But Beautiful" (2003) and "Speak Low" (2008), have consisted of standards from the Great American Songbook.
Those albums were made with the help of pianist and arranger Paul Nagel, who recorded a jazz album at Scaggs' San Francisco studio.
"He and I got together from time to time and just played," Scaggs says. "I sang and he played piano. After some time I found some songs I thought I could handle and I made that first record. And I did the same thing three or four years after that."
In 2009, Scaggs got the chance to revisit a song from his 1969 self-titled debut album when he performed with the Allman Brothers Band, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary during its annual run at New York's Beacon Theater.
The late Duane Allman played on Scaggs' album, most notably on a song called "Loan Me a Dime." That song was the highlight of his performance with the Allman Brothers.
"Getting to play with (guitarists) Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks for the first time was kind of a highlight for me," Scaggs says. "Standing between those guys and getting to play was just a roaring treat."
Posted: Friday 1 April 2011