Boz Scaggs Re-Energised and Never Happier with R&B Flare
By ROBERT DiGIACOMO
At The Shore
Boz Scaggs wanted to tap a classic R&B sound for his latest record, so he went directly to the source: Royal Studios in Memphis, Tenn., the facility that has hosted everyone from Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner and Buddy Guy to Keith Richards, My Morning Jacket and John Mayer.
In this case, location proved everything for “Memphis” the album. The Royal Studios’ “retro” sound laid the foundation for a smooth recording process that took just three days to complete and a finished product that Scaggs says has recharged his career.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier on stage,” says Scaggs, who performs 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Golden Nugget Atlantic City. “I’m feeling very energized with what’s happening right now.”
For “Memphis” (429 Records), Scaggs has put together a collection of original songs and covers, the latter including “Rainy Night in Georgia,” “Corinna Corinna” and “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl.” Working with producer Steve Jordan, they recruited like-minded musicians who could conjure an old-school vibe.
“All the songs were really not essentially rhythm and blues songs, but we wanted to put them in a rhythm and blues vein,” Scaggs explains. “We wanted this common denominator of place and personnel that would bring us to our idea. I supposed we could have recorded this in other places, in technically more advanced places. It could have taken days, or we would never have achieved the sound we wanted. So we went straight to the source.”
Having released more than 20 albums, Scaggs was happy to focus on his singing and leave the oversight to Jordan, whose credits include producing John Mayer, Robert Cray and Herbie Hancock. “One of my desires in working on this record was just to be a singer and play a little guitar, and have a collaboration with my producer and arranger, but I just wanted to concentrate on being a vocalist,” he says.
The new tracks dovetail nicely with Scaggs’ catalog of soul-inspired pop. Scaggs grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, but really cut his teeth on R&B across the pond in London, site of a major blues scene in the mid-’60s. He later moved to San Francisco, where he joined the Steve Miller Band and played on several records with the group.
From there, Scaggs launched a solo career on Atlantic Records, with his first album produced by Jann Wenner, better known as the founder and publisher of Rolling Stone.
But it wasn’t until the mid-’70s when Scaggs hit his stride with “Silk Degrees,” his most popular album to date.
The latter record features several of his best-known hits, including “It’s Over,” “Lowdown,” “What Can I Say” and “Lido Shuffle.”
Scaggs, for personal reasons, sat out much of the ’80s as a performer, although he did own a nightclub in San Francisco. At the end of the decade, he resumed his career via The New York Rock and Soul Revue, a project that featured Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and the late Phoebe Snow, among others.
Since then, he has mainly performed as a solo artist, with the exception of last year, when he toured again with Fagen and McDonald as The Dukes of September. This year’s stint on the road has proven especially rewarding for Scaggs, with the addition of the “Memphis” tracks.
“I just love it — the songs are so immediate and accessible that it’s been really easy to fold into the other material from my radio hits to some rhythm and blues favorites,” he says. “I’ve had a new sense of versatility. It’s been a great year for me onstage live.
“It fits like a suit of old, comfortable clothes. Everything is of a piece.”
The excitement surrounding this new music has inspired Scaggs, who has recorded just a handful of albums over the past decade, to start writing again. He hopes to begin recording a new album in early 2014.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in the studio sooner rather than later,” he says.
Scaggs: ‘Silk Degrees’ players were stars in the making
When Boz Scaggs recorded his 1976 album “Silk Degrees,” left, he knew the backing musicians would move on to bigger things. The album itself proved to be a huge success for Scaggs — hitting No. 2 — and yielding hit singles in “It’s Over,” “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.”
Several years later, the backup musicians — David Paich, Jeff Porcardo, Steve Porcardo and David Hungate — would find their own success as Toto, best known for its early ’80s hits “Africa” and “Rosanna.”
“You work with a lot of great players, and every once in a while, you come across some unique talent,” Scaggs says. “They had a vision from the time they had been in high school together. They were quite young when I worked with them. They were already important session players on the L.A. scene. Everyone saw a lot of growth and a lot of potential in these guys.”
“I think working on ‘Silk Degrees’ with me, and being on tour with me for some time gave them a vision of what they wanted to do on their own.”
Posted: Thursday 10 October 2013