Boz Working On Three New Albums
If Boz Scaggs has discovered the fountain of youth, he’s keeping quiet about it. But the veteran musician is approaching his career with the infectious enthusiasm of a young musician delighted by all the options ahead, not someone who released his self-titled debut album in 1965 and became an international star with his multi-million-selling 1976 album, “Silk Degrees.”
The Ohio-born Scaggs has no fewer than three new albums coming up, as well as a lot of touring. And he’s thrilled to be stretching into new artistic terrain, four decades after scoring his first hit singles with “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.”
“I’m in a good place and really excited about some of the projects I’m thinking about, knock on wood,” said the Grammy Award-winning Scaggs, who performs here Friday and Saturday with the San Diego Symphony at Embarcadero Marina Park South.
“I’m very happy and finally achieving some of the things I didn’t really know were my goals — I’m getting to be a better singer and finally learning to play this guitar.”
Make that several guitars, since he alternates between vintage Gibson, Fender and Martin models.
But the fact that Scaggs feels he is making new strides as an instrumentalist and singer at the age of 73 begs at least two questions: What happened? And when?
To hear this former Steve Miller Band member tell it, he had a series of epiphanies.
The first was more than a decade ago, when former Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers’ saxophonist Cornelius Bumpus and his jazz trio did some recording at Scaggs’ studio in San Francisco.
“In the course of hanging out, I got to know the trio. And their piano player — Paul Nagel — and I, in particular, got to be friends,” Scaggs recalled.
“He said to me: ‘Have you ever done any standards? Do you have any interest?’ I replied: ‘I have a great deal of interest. I know a lot of (jazz) singers and songs, but never tried to do it, although it’s been something hidden that I wanted to try’.”
Nagel provided him with some musical pointers and, more crucially, the confidence to branch out. They played a few low-key Bay Area gigs together and then headed to the recording studio.
The result was Scaggs’ acclaimed 2003 album, “but beautiful,’ which features his admirably svelte versions of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” George Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and other classics.
Pushing beyond his comfort zone
“It was very well-received and it felt very natural and fulfilling,” said Scaggs, speaking from a tour stop in Rhode Island.
“And, in doing that, it was way out of my comfort zone and was very, very challenging. I was using corners of my voice I’d never used before. I found a baritone voice that gave me a much wider realm and I had to develop a new way of singing.
“In turn, I took that and brought it back into my more comfortable world of blues, rhythm-and-blues and the things I’d always done. And I found I had more strength and range and imagination. That experience awakened in me a new sense of wonder, new challenges and greater satisfaction.”
Scaggs subsequently made a second, even more accomplished, album of standards, 2008’s “Speak Low.”
Yet, while he has been creatively liberated, he has too much respect for the music to call himself a jazz artist.
“I’m not! That’s a realm way beyond where I am,” Scaggs stressed. “But the musicians I play with are jazz musicians, the harmonic possibilities are greater and I found a voice in that realm.
“I’ve been listening to jazz since I was in seventh or eighth grade. I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I got to see some of the greats in New York and Chicago when I was young, and in Europe after I moved there in the mid-1960s. It’s the music I listen to most. Jazz has been with me a long time, but I was not a part of it.”
He also spoke enthusiastically about his next three albums, which will cover a broad range of styles and approaches.
They include: a new set of jazz standards; the third release in his trilogy of American roots music, which thus far includes 2013’s “Memphis” and 2015’s equally fetching “A Fool to Care”; and an album that will team him with much younger musicians.
“My son, Austin, and one of his musical cohorts have been making music productions for past 10 or so years and they’ve invited me to come along,” Scaggs explained.
“Their productions involve music festivals, where they invite 25 to 30 other young artists to participate. In the course of doing eight or 10 of those shows, I’ve met young musicians coming up in a similar way to how I did. And I’ve struck up some friendships with them in genres of mutual interest I’d like to explore with them.”
What genres, specifically?
“There are early rock ’n’ roll and rockabilly styles that haven’t gone away,” Scaggs replied.
“I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, and there’s a style of music — and a way they rock down there — that has stayed with me for a long time. There’s a generation of young people doing that, still, and I may be able to catch up with them on that.”
Finding his voice, at 73
So does life begin anew at 73 for Scaggs?
“Well, certainly some of it does,” he replied with a chuckle.
“This particular album with younger musicians will be covering older ground, but it’s also a continuation and a return to my roots. In regards to my collaborations with another generation on one album and going back into the standards on another, that will be very exploratory and challenging for me.
“And those both represent new beginnings. Then again, I feel like I’m just now discovering elements of my own musical style. I’m really finding my voice now. I’ve had a voice, all along, and — after some time — I’ve developed a style that even I can call my own. But I’ve not known entirely what that was until fairly recently. And, in that way, life begin anew, again and again.”
Fans attending Scaggs’ two concerts here this weekend will be in for a rare treat. So will he, for that matter.
“I don’t really get to do songs live from my ‘but beautiful’ record live at my regular concerts, but I do get to do them with the San Diego Symphony,” he noted. “We do a couple of standards and it’s a great feeling, because I do relate to the special way jazz and strings sometimes hook up.”
“And San Diego has been a special stop for me, from the beginning of my career on the West Coast. And even having taken off as long as I did from music — for, basically, (most of) the 1980s — there’s a place for me to come back to in San Diego.
“It’s a great music town and I get back there every year. And working with the symphony and doing those kinds of shows are special to me. Having a couple of nights to play with the symphony there for that audience, and having that connection, is something I very much look forward to. I’ve maybe only played a dozen times, ever, with an orchestra.”
‘Back with a vengeance’
In a 1995 Union-Tribune interview, Scaggs explained his nearly decade-long absence from music and his subsequent artistic renewal.
“The music that had sort of been missing in me came back,” he said at the time. “The reason most of us started doing this is that we really loved music. And that had been missing, in my life and my career. During the peak of my so-called ‘success’ and for years after that. But it began to come back. And that’s where I sit today.”
Where does he sit now, another 22 years later?
“Well, it’s back with a vengeance and I firmly stand behind that statement,” Scaggs replied. “It had left me. And I think the whole experience of (achieving stardom in) the ’70s — and dealing with the music business and the things all that led me to — just took a lot of the thrill of music out of it and away from me. I have no regrets. I was reluctant to tour for a 10-year period.
“I had formed a band and made five or six albums, some of which ended up with some big hits. A lot of things happened, and a lot in my life, personally. But that time I took off — the ’80s, more or less — was invaluable. I feel really lucky I was able to get away from it and take care of things that had to with my personal life and family, and come to terms with that.
“I feel very fortunate that music came back into me and inspired me to go into what became phase two of my musical life. It picked up sort of slowly, but I was able to find my voice and footing again, with a little more maturity and a little more sense of what I could do and wanted to do — and what I could not do and didn’t want to do.”
“That said, there hasn’t been a real pattern to it,” he said. “It stops and starts, and comes and goes. But I’m comfortable with it — that’s the way the ball bounces for me.”
Posted: Monday 31 July 2017