Boz Scaggs brings his road show to Borgata

Boz Scaggs brings his road show to Borgata

Boz Scaggs is on a tour for his new album, A Fool to Care. He comes to Atlantic City's Borgata on July 31.

He has a taste for travel. "I always wanted to be somewhere else than where I was," Scaggs says in that familiar voice. "Restless, I guess you'd call it."

During his teens, Scaggs busked throughout Europe, playing the blues and country songs of his Texas youth, tunes such as his new album's title track, penned by Ted Daffan in 1940; or Dorothy LaBostrie and McKinley Millet's "Rich Woman," also on A Fool to Care.

"Growing up, when I wasn't listening to the radio," Scaggs says, "my dad was a traveling salesman, but he had a nice console stereo and a great record collection at home."

Scaggs returned from Europe in 1968, when high-school pal Steve Miller asked him to join his band to record the influential albums Children of the Future and Sailor, both released that year.

Scaggs is himself a "hotel guy" who loves food and wine (he owns a winery with his wife and ran a San Francisco eatery in the 1980s), and he likes being in new places and feeling new vibes. He has relied on the feel of certain cities for some of his finest work.

His namesake solo debut of 1969 benefited from the Muscle Shoals, Ala., studio in which it was recorded. And Moments of 1971 and My Time of 1972 feel like the town he was falling in love with, and made his home: San Francisco.

Then there are his two biggest hit albums - 1976's megaplatinum Silk Degrees and its follow-up, Down Two Then Left. Though neither was recorded in Philadelphia, each is bathed in lustrous string and brass arrangements resonating to the Sound of Philadelphia.

"At that time, I was inspired by R&B growing up and becoming more cosmopolitan as each studio town had its own sound," says Scaggs, the blue-eyed soul man personified. "Philly, in particular, as you guys had such sophisticated players and arrangers steeped in jazz and classic soul. Gamble, Huff, and Thom Bell's music was head-and-shoulders atop a mountain of other musicmakers at that time. Harmonically, it was complex, and its songs were genuinely beautiful. That was a real eye-opener for me."

Nearly 40 years after Silk Degrees and its Philly-brand arrangements, you had 2013's killer-blues collection Memphis. And now the new album - another tribute to Tennessee. With the help of producer/drummer Steve Jordan, guitarist Ray Parker Jr., and bassist Willie Weeks, Scaggs worked in Nashville's famed Blackbird Studio for A Fool to Cry. There he made the most country-and-western songs in his catalog since he covered Jimmie Rodgers' "Waiting for a Train" in 1969.

But Fool to Care is full of jazz-soul passages, with falsetto-sung R&B covers of Curtis Mayfield and Al Green classics, as well as Scaggs tracks such as "Hell to Pay" with guests such as Bonnie Raitt.

"We don't look too hard at it, or it runs away," Scaggs says. "Something like that just falls out of a tree, and you just write down. I merely refined it with Bonnie in mind when she said she would do it with me, and the whole thing is just a kiss we managed to capture on tape."

The classic "Whispering Pines," written by Richard Manuel of the Band, is featured on Fool with alt-country goddess Lucinda Williams. "I always promised her that we'd do this song together," Scaggs says, "so I played my Lucinda card and got it done."

No matter where Scaggs or his albums travel, all have one lovely thing in common: that singular voice, that knack for emotional, just-right phrasing.

"I've become quite intimately informed with every aspect and nuance of my singing over the years - my internal voice and my external voice," he says. "I'm very involved with the vocal process, and I think my voice is better than it's ever been, better range and quality. I'm even better at getting to exactly where I want it to go when I want it to go there."

Posted: Sunday 26 July 2015

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