Boz Scaggs goes back to Basics

Boz Scaggs goes back to Basics

There was a time when Boz Scaggs would really sweat over the details of making an album — when he would agonize over every last note, melody or cowbell clang. Not anymore. The longtime Bay Area resident has finally learned the fine art of letting go.

In 2013, he released “Memphis,” which came after five years of touring — an album he recorded in less than a week with a group of world-class studio musicians in Tennessee. He repeats the trick with his latest, “A Fool to Care,” for which he relocated to Nashville’s Bluebird Studio with the same band — guitarist Ray Parker Jr., bassist Willie Weeks, keyboardist Jim Cox and producer-drummer Steve Jordan — and the same do-or-die attitude. He laid down the basic tracks in just four days.

“It sounds easy, but we’ve got a lot of miles and experience between us,” Scaggs, 70, says in his signature baritone.

He has certainly come a long way since he got his start in the 1960s as a member of the Steve Miller Band, before striking out on his own with a string of meticulously produced solo hits such as “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle” and “We’re All Alone,” songs that helped define the sleek, stylish sound of mainstream radio in the 1970s.

On “A Fool to Care,” Scaggs goes back to his roots, with covers of deep cuts by Al Green, the Spinners and Curtis Mayfield. He says the mood of the record echoes the diverse sounds he heard growing up in Texas, just outside of Dallas, listening to rhythm and blues, country and jazz late into the night. Beyond that, there was no attempt to tie it all up in a neat package.

“This album is all over the place,” Scaggs says. “It started with a conversation about exploring my introduction to music. Where did the love come from? For me, it was pretty much radio. After we figured that out, the doors just flew open.

“The last thing I do when I’m making a record is name it,” he adds. “When it came to giving this one a title, I couldn’t encapsulate what it was all about.”

His son Austin Scaggs, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, suggested a few cuts, including “There’s a Storm a Comin’” by the moody British singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, and the Band’s “Whispering Pines,” which appears as a duet with Lucinda Williams. San Francisco musician Jack Walroth offered up the tracks “Last Tango on 16th Street” and “I Want to See You,” which give the album an elevated, worldly feel.

“It’s random, yes,” Scaggs says. “But a lot went into it. We considered these songs experiments, and we wanted to take them somewhere interesting.”

Bonnie Raitt, meanwhile, lent her vocal and slide-guitar talents to “Hell to Pay,” the only original song on the album, salvaged from a rough cut from the late ’80s.

“We sent her a demo, and she came up to my house and we spent a day together knocking it out,” Scaggs says. “It was almost as if it was meant to be. It was really magic.”

After a career marked by his leisurely, occasionally painstaking work pace, this new approach seems to suit him just fine.

“The players didn’t know any of the material going into the studio, and they don’t need to,” he says. “We just knocked it out.”

Posted: Tuesday 28 April 2015

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