Interview with Boz about the new album "A Fool To Care"
Two years ago, Boz Scaggs and producer-drummer Steve Jordan paid tribute to the sounds and soul Memphis on an album named after that celebrated musical city. Now the two have collaborated again and continue their audio travelogue, this time drawing inspiration from Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas on Scagg's upcoming album, A Fool To Care.
It's a luminous, beautifully crafted, perfectly played set of originals and astutely curated covers, on which Scaggs calls upon the services of a band that features Ray Parker Jr. (guitar), Willie Weeks (bass) Jim Cox (keyboards) and producer Jordan on drums. On the Scaggs original Hell To Pay, guitar great Bonnie Raitt duets and lays down her signature slide, and on a knockout cover of The Band's Whispering Pines, Lucinda Williams goes toe to toe vocally with Scaggs.
Scaggs sat down with MusicRadar recently to talk about working with Jordan, his songwriting process, and why he's holding firm on making albums in the age of the digital single.
You’ve always used some of the great session musicians. Do you worry that players of that caliber are becoming a thing of the past?
“I don’t worry about it too much. A lot of the great players are still out there, on the other end of the phone. They can still come play. But you’re right – the business has changed so much; the recording process has changed. On the other hand, so much of the things you hear do have the great studio players behind the scenes.
“I'm a musician, and I consider that group of players to be very important to what I’ve done. Their contributions to the music of my generation are pretty incalculable. It’s a struggle for them to keep their hand in it, but there’s film production and commercial production, background music, special events stuff. In New York, Nashville, London, and LA, there’s pockets for musicians to work and they’re shifting over to those other areas. I do see that it’s a bit of a dying art, but there’s still a lot going on.”
Speaking of Nashville, you recorded this album at Blackbird. Did you use the Massenburg Studio C room?
“We worked in the room right next to the Massenburg room to record; we mixed in another room. The Massenburg room has a digital console, which is used by a lot of the Nashville acts. We don’t use digital consoles, so there wasn’t a reason for us to go there. I did hope to do some playback there, but we never got around to it.”
You only wrote only one song, Hell To Pay, on the new album. Is songwriting a bit of a struggle for you, or are you just a really tough critic of your own work?
“It’s tough sometimes. Writing is a process that I get into and I get on a roll. I do a group of songs when I’m in that mode, and I promise myself that I’m going to continue. Sometimes it just gets away from me, though – it happens. I’ve been accumulating some songs that I hope to use on the next project, so it’ll feature more of my writing.
“This time, it wound up being more of a continuation of the work that Steve Jordan and I did on Memphis. In that vein, we cover some old music that I’ve always loved, and I discovered some great new writing. It’s just a different focus.”
Bonnie Raitt plays slide guitar and sings on that tune. Did you always hear a woman on it – Bonnie, in particular?
“I did hear Bonnie on that. What happened was, I had written it, and as I kept adding things to it, it started to become a process of figuring out what it was and what it needed. I sang a version of it by myself, but to be honest, I always thought of it as a duet. I knew that Bonnie would be perfect, but it ended up being a last-minute thing. For some reason, I didn’t call Bonnie – it was a busy time – but I had mentioned to Steve Jordan that it was a secret desire of mine to have Bonnie do it.
“Steve took it upon himself to call Bonnie, and then we sent her a demo of the song. She liked it a lot and wanted to do it. One thing led to another, and we wound up spending a day together, doing the duet and having her do the slide guitar overdub. It turned out to be a little act of fate, and now it’s one of the high points of my career, having Bonnie on one of my records.”
You list yourself as playing “guitar fills” on Full Of Fire. What’s with the modesty?
[Laughs] “I don’t know if it’s modesty; it’s just accuracy. When you’re making out the lists of who played what on the song, you start to look at it and you want to get things right. The list of who played rhythm guitar is pretty important. Ray Parker Jr. and Reggie Young played guitar on that. I just did the overdubs, the little fills. I wanted to distinguish who played what – I try to do that on every track.”
Last Tango On 16th Street – maybe it’s the instrumentation, but it reminds me of something Willy DeVille might have written.
“Wow, that’s interesting. I’m gonna think about that some more. Yeah… I can hear that, sure. It has that little street-like thing to it. There’s a bit of a Spanish reference to it, too. You’re right – it’s in that mode.”
You worked with Steve Jordan on Memphis. While he's producing the rest of the record, do you get to produce his drum tracks?
[Laughs] “Oh, no way. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that. I’ll let Steve make some suggestions about my voice, but I don’t have anything to say about how he plays the drums. He’s one of the handful of greats of our generation.”
You and he seem to have a great thing going. What’s the secret to your relationship?
“Well, Steve and I came up on a similar track. We both have great respect for American roots music, from basic blues to New Orleans and where it turned into R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly and jazz, gospel and so on. We have similar musical minds in that way. Steve’s not only a brilliant drummer, but he’s also a scholar.
"He searches our various genres and veins of the musical experience, from the ‘60s and up to now. He’s very deep and knowledgeable, and as a producer he has a steady hand. Plus, we both have a lot of experience working with studio players. We get along really well. We like to work fast, we like to work with great players, and we have a shorthand that suits us – we can get right to it. He’s a real musical brother.”
Posted: Saturday 28 March 2015