Boz Scaggs Goes Back to the Blues
Music legend Boz Scaggs goes back to the blues
‘There was nothing in my life that had prepared me for the hit that I got that night,” Boz Scaggs says of attending his first-ever gig in 1958.
The Lowdown and Lido Shuffle singer was 14, and he and a friend with a driver’s licence had managed to get tickets to see Ray Charles, then riding high on radio hit What’d I Say.
So they drove from the small farming town of Plano, Texas to the State Fair of Texas in Dallas to see the soul legend perform to about 3000 fans.
“There were probably six white people in the audience,” Scaggs laughs from home in San Francisco.
“I’ve relived this concert in my vague memory a thousand times since then.
“The excitement and the thrill — the capital T thrill — that went through the entire audience and through me is something that I’ve been trying to replicate ever since that day.”
Scaggs, 74, has enjoyed plenty of “capital T thrills” in the 60 years since.
The year after he had his mind blown by Charles, the son of a travelling salesman joined the band of high school chum, Steve Miller.
After appearing on two Steve Miller Band albums in 1968 — each release featured two originals from the then backing singer and second guitarist — Scaggs launched his own career.
While he broke through in 1974 with Slow Dancer, he exploded two years later with Silk Degrees, home to hits Lowdown, Lido Shuffle and What Can I Say, all co-writes with Toto keyboardist David Paich.
The album steadily crawled up the charts in the US, but was a massive hit in Australia, where it was the bestselling album of 1977, spending an incredible 18 weeks at No. 1.
Scaggs had no idea how big he was Down Under until his first tour here in 1978, which included a concert at the Perth Entertainment Centre.
“I was like ‘Oh my god, I feel like a star’,” he says. “I was given such a reception ... enormous crowds and such a great reception.”
The thrill of making music remains strong for Scaggs, who will spend most of this year on the road in North America promoting latest album Out of the Blues.
“I’m touring more than I ever have in my career,” he says.
The nine-track blues release is the last in a trilogy celebrating his roots, following 2013’s Memphis and 2015’s A Fool to Care.
While the previous instalments were produced by drummer Steve Jordan, Scaggs decided to self-produce Out of the Blues, which he describes as the most personal of the three.
The album features covers of vintage blues songs from Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jimmy Reed and Magic Sam, plus a moody cover of Neil Young’s minor blues song On the Beach and four new songs from Scaggs’ friend, ‘Cisco bluesman “Apple” Jack Walroth.
Out of the Blues sees Scaggs joined by a studio supergroup starring gun Texan guitarists Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton (recently in Australia with Bob Dylan).
He says that making Memphis and then A Fool to Care made him realise that “what I was doing was exploring where I came from, and what it was that turned me on (to music) in the first place”.
Growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, Scaggs was raised on the Texas shuffle championed by Bland and Reed, and carried on by ZZ Top, Doug Sahm and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In particular, the album is a tribute to Bland, who died in 2013, with covers of his I’ve Just Got to Forget You and The Feeling is Gone.
After meeting the Sinatra of the blues in the 1970s, the singer became a regular performer at Scaggs’ long-running San Francisco blues club Slim’s.
“We were able to continue the friendship,” Scaggs says. “I saw more of him the year he died. I was making the record in Memphis and he came down to the studio and spent a day.
“He was rather weak and didn’t get out too much, but he and his wife came down and listened to a few tracks.
“Everybody kind of cleared out and just he and I sat down at the recording console and I played him a song. And he went through the song note for note. It was before I had done the lead vocal and he sang the song for me. It was just magic.”
“I’ll tell you something that I’ve never said before,” Scaggs continues. “I went to see Bobby a short time before he passed away.
“I didn’t have much time with him and there wasn’t much to say. He said to me that he would like me to help the world remember him. I told him I would.
“I’ll be singing his songs for the rest of my life ... and I won’t forget him.
“I’ll try not to let the world forget him.”
Posted: Saturday 22 September 2018