Boz Scaggs Salutes Memphis and Vintage R&B
R&B and soul have been at the heart of the music Boz Scaggs has made over his 45-year recording career, including some of his biggest hits — "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle" and "Dinah Flo."
So for Boz to make an album called "Memphis" — the city most closely identified with soul and R&B and the home to such legendary soul labels as Stax and Hi Records — would seem like something he was destined to make.
Except "Memphis," in some ways, isn't at all the album that one might expect from Boz.
You won't see covers of songs from Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave or any of the legendary artists that recorded for Stax, although he does cover "So Good To Be Here," a tune from Al Green, the biggest name on the Hi Records roster.
Some songs on "Memphis" come from artists not at all identified with Memphis or its soul history. There's an early Steely Dan song called "Pearl of the Quarter," a tune by new wave pop rocker Moon Martin called "Cadillac Walk" and the blues standard "Corrina Corrina."
There are other reasons Boz called his new album "Memphis." It was recorded in Memphis — at Royal Studio, the place where many Hi Records acts did their most famous work. Some of the players on "Memphis," including Willie Weeks, Charles Hodges and Ray Parker Jr., are among the city's best and most storied musicians.
Yes, the CD is strongly rooted in soul and R&B, and is perhaps as flavored by those styles as any album Boz has made in a career that dates back to 1965 and includes a run of four albums 1974 to 1980 that went gold or platinum, including his 1976 quintuple-platinum blockbuster, "Silk Degrees."
"Memphis" also was one of the most effortless albums Scaggs has made. Working with producer Steve Jordan, it took three days to cut.
"I really love this record," Boz says in a phone interview. "It really came from a very natural place. I love working with Steve Jordan and these musicians. It just seemed that any song was going to work. Anything that we wanted to do was going to work. There was just that kind of magic in the place and the players. It was very fun to do."
"Memphis" features a strong selection of cover tunes, including Willy DeVille's "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl," which gets an easy-going R&B treatment with a bit of a roll and tumble in its rhythm; "Love on a Two-Way Street," a terrific sleek soul song that was a big hit for Sylvia and Joe in 1970; "Pearl of the Quarter," which gets more of a soulful slant than the original Steely Dan version; and "Cadillac Walk," which Scaggs turns into a snaky bit of grooving R&B. Topping things off are two excellent originals — "Gone Baby Gone," a smooth R&B tune that could have fit on "Silk Degrees," and the soulful piano ballad, "Sunny Gone."
Boz went into "Memphis" without any theme in mind; he approached it much like he does any of his albums.
"As a matter of routine for myself, I do demos of not only my original stuff, but also of songs that I've kind of been thinking about for the last few years to do an album," he says. "So when Steve Jordan and I decided to work together, I sent him a collection of things that I thought might have some chemistry between us. I've known Steve for quite some time, and I like to work with him in a certain genre of music. So he heard that, and the idea began to take form between the two of us as to what we might do.
"Then it was just a matter of deciding where to do this and what musicians to call. I think actually it was uncanny, we were so much on the same page about what to do. We had a five-minute conversation in which it was about let's go to Memphis. We both know that particular studio in Memphis and love it. That studio just seemed like the right place to do it, and the musicians we were talking about using were just the ones that we both have experience with over the years and are our favorites to do this kind of material. So it really just kind of defined itself."
The choice of songs wasn't driven by the city. Scaggs says he just wanted to do songs he likes singing that he thought his fans might like to hear.
He has always found himself drawn, for the most part, to R&B and soul.
"I've been liking a lot of these R&B songs for various reasons," he says. "First of all, it's my first love. This is the kind of music that I've always listened to. This is where I draw all of my influences. This is where I live as a musician. Secondly, perhaps it has something to do with working with the Dukes of September."
The Dukes is a touring group fronted by Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz. The trio did tours in 2010 and 2012, and while there were some wild cards in their set lists (a Grateful Dead medley, for one), the shows had a distinct soul/R&B flavor.
"Among Mike McDonald and Donald Fagen and myself, we've looked at a lot of songs, like hundreds of songs, over the last two years as we looked for repertoire for the Dukes to do," Boz says, "So I just had a lot of material around that I've been thinking about and really considering, giving a lot of consideration to."
Fans can expect to hear a few songs from "Memphis" in Boz's shows this spring, but he says the shows will vary from night to night, depending on the venue and audience.
"There are a number of performing arts centers in the mix," Boz says. "So in a situation like that, I like to take the first part of the program and do some, well I call them acoustic numbers, but sort of light stuff, upright bass and maybe a little jazzier and progressive stuff. And I can work in a couple of new songs from my record that are kind of slower and more acoustic, more atmospheric.
"Then there will be other places where it's more, they want more of a kind of a mainline rock show. Sometimes I can do more blues and more uptempo material. Some places seem like they want a few more hits from my back days, so I can do that. But I've got a [versatile] band and enough material that I can do a wide variety of material, so we'll tailor it to the night."
Posted: Saturday 11 May 2013