National Post Sessions Interview
If there’s a king of blue-eyed soul, it has to be Boz Scaggs. And yet the 70-year-old singer’s style effortlessly crosses genres, and never more so than on his new solo effort, A Fool To Care. The 11-track album of covers moves from soul jams to blues to country to a swinging Latin style. It’s his second record with collaborator Steve Jordan, who produced 2013’s Memphis — a partnership the singer says has led to some of the most fun he’s had making music. Scaggs sat down with the Post’s Sarah Boesveld in Toronto.
Q You recorded your last album in Memphis and very much captured the sound and soul of that place. Now you’ve travelled up the I-40 to Nashville. What was your goal with this record, sound-wise?
A The idea was to expand on what we started in Memphis and explore a little broader range of material and have a few more colours on our palette. That could have taken place in New York or L.A, but we just chose Nashville because it’s a little more comfortable to me. I’d always wanted to record at this particular studio, Blackbird Studios. And of course there was the ancillary benefit of having some of our favourite musicians that we could sort of choose to come in and do cameos and special fills. It really worked just perfectly. We brought in the same rhythm section [as Memphis], so we already knew what that was and we knew we could go anywhere we wanted to with these musicians. We chose material accordingly.
Q I heard you recorded in four days. That seems like such a short amount of time.
Q You’ve said that you’re at the point in your career where you’re having a lot more fun with music. How?
A Some albums come easy, and some are a lot of trial and error and looking and searching. But these albums, with Jordan, are just fun partly because he just makes it. I really love his company and his explorations as a musician. We’re not trying to do anything but just find songs we love to play. My role is all I really want to do is be a singer. I’m not involved in the production. One good reason that it’s been fun is I only composed one song for this record and a couple of songs for the Memphis record before it. And that takes a lot of pressure off me because I often don’t have songs finished. I have chord changes and I know what I want to do, but I’m always sort of beating my head during the recording sessions because I haven’t written the lyrics. And so it’s always like final exams all the time trying to finish lyrics before I have to be in the studio.
Q That’s interesting because I think when people think of a singer, they think of the words being as much a part of things as the melody and assume it just comes as easily.
A No! They have to write the words, darling, they have to start from somewhere and that isn’t easy for me.
Q When did you realize you’re a singer and that you could connect with this soulful music?
A I think a lot of us come up the same way — listening to the radio and playing in bands and making records. In time, you develop a style and you go back to what you’re good at and you become known for that. I certainly didn’t start out saying I want to sing R&B or I want to be a blues singer or whatever. I’m just a singer and I came to have my own style and I’m always experimenting to see what I can do with my voice or where I can go with my instrument.
Q People likely appreciate that experimentation and refusal to kind of remain in a box, musically.
A I realized that at some point in my recording career it can be sort of a hindrance. I think it’s bewildered a few people who have listened to my work. I did an album of standards with a jazz quartet and we played some festivals in Australia in the summertime there. I came doing my standards and the audience just didn’t know what to do with that — they wanted to hear the hits. It just did not occur to me. I felt very naive to show up and say, “Well of course! People want to hear ‘Lido Shuffle’ and ‘Lowdown.’ ” “Lido Shuffle” is really hard to play with a four-piece jazz band. That was the one time it was very clear and dawned on me that some people don’t know exactly what to expect and it can be distracting.
Q A lot of people here know you from Steve Miller.
A That’s interesting because I haven’t heard that. It’s being up here [in Canada] that people are so into that.
Q Any favourite memories from that time?
A The best thing about that experience to me was being in studio for the first time with that band. We recorded the first album in London in a great studio and great engineer/producer named Glyn Johns. It was our first time in a studio of that caliber working on that level. That was a huge step in both of our careers. And traveling — we played all over the States and in Europe. It was like going from zero to 100 real quick.
Q For being a solo artist, collaborations still seem intrinsic to your music. What do you get from that?
A It’s all a matter of curiosity and enthusiasm. You just try to focus on one song at a time. Somebody to bounce things off of and build ideas and you just keep building momentum. If I’m working alone, I tend to scatter, whereas if I’m working with a collaborator, we get enthusiastic and finish it.
Q Speaking of collaborations, tell me about the Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams duets on the record. Also, why haven’t you done a duets album yet?
A I’d like to, I’d been thinking about that. Lucinda and I got together on a show in San Francisco a couple years ago at the Filmore. We were asked to do a duet together on one of her songs. And it was magic — her voice is a kickass country thing, and it just worked. A light bulb went on and we decided to try to find another opportunity. And then Bonnie I’ve known for some time because we both live in the San Francisco Bay Area and know each other from around but never worked together. So I wrote this song [“Hell to Pay”] and was looking for a duet partner. And Bonnie’s name came up very, very early in the game.
Q She nails the sassy vibe on it.
A Yeah, she does. It was a great chance to hang out with Bonnie. A bond happens when you’re working together. She came up to my house and the engineer and Bonnie and me spent the day working on it.
Q I’ve read musings about a possible third in this trifecta of albums with Steve Jordan. Is that happening?
A There could well be. We’ve got something started here that would bear going after, I think. And I think we’d probably go to another city, and I think we might go to New Orleans or Chicago — New Orleans is where it all begins for me and Chicago being a place where a lot of our favourite stuff got fleshed out.
Posted: Thursday 23 April 2015