A Conversation with Boz Scaggs
Mike Ragogna: Boz, you have a new collection, an Essential collection that's coming out on Sony. What are your thoughts about the project? I guess we're not quite at five decades of music but we're in that zone.
Boz Scaggs: Seems about right. My thoughts about it? It's just a number. I'm not a very sentimental person, if that's what you're looking for. It's just a number, it's fifty years. That's what I've been doing. I feel very fortunate that I can be doing what I do. I am probably enjoying it more than I ever have and I hope I can keep doing it for a while.
MR: Around when did you decide that you needed to be making records?
BS: There was never a moment, I just put one foot in front of the other. It was probably late in my life that I actually came to the realization that I was a professional musician probably after having made a couple of albums. I've always loved music and I've tried to be around it. While I didn't study music and it wasn't my prime goal, it was what I enjoyed doing the most. One thing just lead to another and it got to be my life.
MR: What were some of your musical passions? What attracted you to it initially?
BS: Well, initially, I guess there was music on in my home. My parents played the popular music of the time and there was music around me, as with most people in my generation. My family moved around when I was a kid and at one point, I was able to take some classical cello lessons when I was about eight or nine years old. I took to it very strongly. I used to carry the cello home with me on the school bus every day and practice. I would move pretty quickly through my lessons. I'd never encountered anything like that. The only thing I can compare that feeling with is when I was a little kid and I loved to go out and play with other kids in the neighborhood. Like most kids I just wanted to play until they made me come in and have dinner. When I discovered the cello and music I had the same feeling, I just wanted to do it all the time and I was pretty good at it. Then we moved and I had to sort of forget about it. It was only later when I picked up the guitar when I was about thirteen that I was able to actually play an instrument and participate in that way. But I'm a child of rock 'n' roll and radio. I listened to the radio constantly, I listened to all sorts of music. I was exposed early on to not only popular Top Forty music but growing up in the area of the country that I did, I was introduced to a lot of black music, a lot of R&B, a lot of soul music out of Texas where I grew up, and out of New Orleans and the deep south, Memphis, Nashville, jazz out of Chicago. I was like a lot of musicians who just had the opportunity and absorbed everything.
MR: What's nice is that we got a nice peek at your passion for music of your youth with the Memphis album. It does show a lot of your devotion and admiration to some of those artists. Plus it's where the new Essential Boz Scaggs collection ends. But let's go back to the beginning when you first started making records.
BS: I made my first record in Sweden. I lived in Europe for about three years and when I was nineteen years old or twenty, I made my first solo album of folk songs and blues songs. That was my first record. Then I came back to the States and my friend Steve Miller had started a band called The Steve Miller Blues Band. I came back to California just after the Summer of 1967 and sort of helped him out with his band for about nine or ten months. During the course of that, I was with his band and we made a couple of albums. Both were produced by a very famous British producer named Glyn Johns who was a master in the studio. We worked in London on the first album with him and then a few months later, we went to LA and we worked in a very famous studio called Wally Heider's where Glyn produced and engineered. So I was gettting quite a lot of high-level studio experience and writing my first songs and that, in fact, led to my staying in San Francisco. My friend Jann [Wenner] lived across the street and we sort of shared a passion for music. It was through his connections in that first year of Rolling Stone magazine that he introduced me to record company official Jerry Wexler at Atlantic records who heard my demo tapes and encouraged Jann to take me to Muscle Shoals and produce my first album.
MR: That's a pretty auspicious launch.
BS: Yes, my first American solo studio album started very proudly with very good company and high-level musicians around me. Duane Allman sang and played on my very first record. Stuff like that. Muscle Shoals was a thrill. It was a strong beginning.
MR: Very strong. And then you went on to Columbia.
BS: Atlantic dropped me and I started a band and the band was playing a lot in the San Francisco area and we got discovered by the A&R people at Columbia and I moved over there.
MR: Eventually, you played with musicians like Jeff Porcaro, Dave Hungate and Dave Paich who ended up being part of the musical backbone on your landmark album, Silk Degrees. What are your thoughts on that album and how significant it was in the period?
BS: I think if it had been my first or second album, it would have blown my mind, but it was my seventh or eighth album and I was sort of ready for that record. I feel, of course, very lucky to have hit with that one, and it took off, but it didn't take off immediately. We just considered it another record and went out and worked shows. It took six or seven or eight months as I recall for it get a radio hit on R&B radio and then it started really moving. That was just sort of great because we got to keep playing shows and the audiences got larger and we got to buy some new amps and guitars and travel more comfortably. Things were really on the jump and of course that record really put me in front of a much larger audience, which is the goal in any trade. So then we were really on the map, and I was really on the map, and I was able to continue. "Lido Shuffle," of course, knocked me up into the new level. When you have those kinds of hits, that's what happens. I ran with that for a few years and it's really carried me through my whole career. People still want to hear those songs, I still enjoy playing them and I feel really lucky that I had that hit.
MR: Yeah and look at the songs that were on Silk Degrees--"It's Over," "Lowdown," "What Can I Say?" "Lido Shuffle," "We're All Alone," "Harbor Lights." That's a lot of music to have contributed to popular culture on one album. That's pretty impressive for anyone.
BS: Those musicians were very young. They were all around twenty years old and they were already top studio players. So they had a lot of backlog and stuff that they wanted to do and they used a lot of their expertise on those songs. It was really a lucky convergence for me.
MR: Then they became Toto after that, so now you've got Boz Scaggs and Toto music out there at the same time. Then you move down the line and you've got your next album which is another chart favorite, Down Two Then Left, followed by Middle Man with "Breakdown Dead Ahead," "Simone," and "Jojo," and the songwriting keeps amping up. Did you feel like some of the success from Silk Degrees helped really elevate your creativity?
BS: It sort of gave me access to other high-level players and arrangers and writers; I was offered to record a film theme. You know, you just gain a certain amount of confidence in your work, you realize that you've been there and you get the confidence to try some other things. I think it lends to you being able to continue with some momentum in what you do. I don't know if I became any more creative or more proficient in those next couple of records, but I had an audience and I had access to really good facilities.
MR: You mentioned the film. Your song and recording of "Look What You've Done To Me" was another hit, and it was featured in the movie Urban Cowboy, which a lot of people have so associated with the movie, they're forever merged. It's now considered a classic.
BS: I was very proud of my work with David Foster. It really opened doors, to work on that film. I would like to have continued that. It sort of opened my eyes to the possibility of just becoming a writer and staying and working out of LA but it wasn't to be. I ended up doing other things.
MR: You've been on a couple of other labels such as Virgin and the latest album was released on 429, and Boz Scaggs' musical adventures continue. So what is in the future? Do you have any goals for the future?
BS: I don't really have goals in music. At this point, I just sort of follow my instincts. I really enjoy my association with other players, and there are other people that I might want to collaborate with. I don't have any particular goals or know what exactly I'm going to do next, there are songs that I think about and want to complete, and I'll start collaborating with my producer and figure something out.
MR: I'm going there because Memphis was a themed album, so I was wondering if you had other similarly focused projects in mind.
BS: Not really. The idea is to find songs that I really enjoy singing and work with some musicians that I enjoy being with.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
BS: I say play live. Play in front of people as much as possible. I think that's where you really get some sense of what you enjoy doing. But performing it, not just recording it into Pro Tools or showing it to other people, but to play it. That's where it's at with me and I think that's where you really know what feels good and what might be touching people.
MR: Yeah, I think that's partly where the culture has moved. It's less about the recording and more about the experience of the artist himself or herself.
BS: I think you're right.
MR: When you look at the recordings you've made over the years, are there any that pop out that you feel are really some of your favorites?
BS: "Lowdown" comes to mind. I made an album in 2000, which didn't really see the light of day, it was actually released on 9/11/2001. It's called Dig and I think some of the best material I've ever recorded is on that record. Perhaps in time, that'll find its way around. Other than that, I'm really pleased with this current record. I enjoyed working with Steve Jordan, producer and drummer. I enjoy playing, I feel like I've come to a point where I think I'm singing better than ever. I feel good about it. My guitar playing is beginning to show up a little bit, too. I'm kind of happy with where I am now.
MR: Beautiful. Are there any plans to get together again with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald?
BS: There are some plans. Nothing concrete that I can tell you about right now but of course, that's a great collaboration.
MR: Boz, thanks, great to talk with you again, I really appreciate your time.
BS: Thank you, I appreciate your time, too. Have a good one.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Posted: Thursday 31 October 2013