Boz Scaggs Interview - Rolling Stone 80
Doing the Shuffle with Boz Scaggs
[By Ben Fong Torres - Rolling Stone 80 - April 15, 1971]
Following is a complete transcription of a 1971 interview with Boz that appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine. This may be one of the first times Boz was interviewed. The interviewer is Ben Fong-Torres, who became a good friend and interviewed Boz several more times after this.
(Grateful Thanks to Bozfriend Susan for this interview)
"SAN FRANCISCO. If you've ever had an album you've just about glued onto the turntable to play over and over again, to start each of your days, to drive your lover or roommates crazy, then you'll understand about San Francisco and Boz Scaggs.
Back in spring of 1969, Boz; just split from the Steve Miller Band; went off to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to do an album for Atlantic. The record never sold much; less than 20,000 in almost two years he says; but FM stations around San Francisco just about glued the LP, Boz Scaggs, onto their turntables and piped out those mellow, melodic country-bluesy tunes over and over again, on KSAN, KGO, and KMPX, on KSJO in San Jose, on a college station in Marin County. Its been nearly two years, now, and they still play that record like AM stations play hit-bound singles.....
And last Christmastime, a street band climbed aboard a wooden platform on Kearny Street and played for the down-town shoppers, not Winter Wonderland and such, but songs like I'll Be Long Gone, a Boz Scaggs tune.
By then, Scaggs had been working nearly a year with a band of his own, slowly, relentlessly shaping it into a unit; which means tighter than a band; of seven men behind him, three of them on horns. He didn't have to work that hard. Even with just one week of rehearsing, the band did record business at the Matrix Club for a week, beginning on January 20th, 1970. They proceeded to pack houses at the Keystone Korner in North Beach, Mandrake's in Berkeley, and other local rock quarters, bouncing from one sell-out gig to another. For most of the year, its been three small jobs during the week and a large concert; usually second or third billed; on the weekend.
Now, in March, with his new album on Columbia, Moments, having sold 60,000 already, and a single - We Were Always Sweethearts, and actual hit-bound, Boz Scaggs keeps on doing jobs like a high school in Danville or a rec center in Oakland. The idea is to work; the band is on a salary (A very good salary) and to gain word-of-mouth advertising, the kind of talk that finally spread Boz Scaggs and Moments to the East, and the kind of talk that attracted Paul Drew, Bill Drakes man at KFRC in San Francisco, to the Fillmore one recent night. Shortly after that, Sweethearts was on Drake's OK-to-play list, and now highschool girls, hunched excitedly over a back table at Sugar's Broiler, a Fillmore Street hamburger joint, are giggling at each other, trying to get someone to go up and make some kind of contact with Boz Scaggs
One of them finally tiptoes up behind his back; Boz is ordering a shake and a Seven-Up for himself; then backs off. And giggles, of course. She dances up to him again; and turns away. And Boz knows, but doesn't turn. Finally the girl moves up again, eyes popping, hands shaking beside her, asking: Do you play guitar? Boz nods, and the whole table goes crazy.
Boz turns away, looking a little peeved, and sits down. He projects an image of commonness. Just a quiet feller from Texas, aimin to please y'all with some music. At KSAN, for a live-music marathon to raise funds for the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, he runs through a half-dozen tunes, breaking in between them with an exaggerated thank you, friends and neighbors; and; Moving right along, now; And at the Columbia party at the New Committee; with all the AM radio people invited, since Moments is getting airplay on Top 40 and MOR, and, too, a contingent of Hollywood fawns; Boz is scooting around in an apron, helping feed y'all. The next two days, he's back at the theater, helping clean up.
Now, being asked to explain himself, he sits with his drinks and plays with the straw-wrapper, looking shyer than any of that gaggle two tables back.
Little by little, the story comes out; about the street singer in Stockholm who recorded blues and Dylan tunes; the rock and roll guitarist who went to high school and college with Steve Miller, then joined him for that whole San Francisco scene; And later - a day later, in fact, at KSAN, he spills the story about his hash-vest incident, the time he almost got busted while going from Bombay to Helsinki through Russia.
He'd been in Europe, then in India;taking a lot of drugs, and I ended up really crashing. It got to the point where I was in a T-shirt and pants, stumbling around Bombay for three weeks without a passport and my guitar stashed under a bush. He decided then to give up dope; still, in need of money, he carried two kilos of hash, melted down into sheets to fit a vest, aboard his train.
He was wearing the s__t when the train stopped just short of the Finnish border for an evacuation and a procedural search of the train. Just as he was leaving a short man in a white uniform, with all these epaulets and all, came up. He touched me - hit right on the stuff and smiled. I thought, It's all come true; all my paranoid dreams. He patted me again, and I was surprised he didn't bust me.
Boz was frantic as he split from the train and headed for the depot restroom, looking for a place to hide his vest. No luck, so he doubled back to the train and put the bundle behind a boiler just as an official spotted him and waved him out of the car. Heading back toward his own seat, he ran into the man in the white uniform. He started patting me on my chest and ribs again, and smiling. So I'm grinning, like to say;I got rid of the s__t; and he's smiling big, like; Its all right; and so I was happy, and he was hugging me, giving me the OK sign. He got me back in his compartment, and then he started kissing me around the neck. And it finally flashed on me that this man was a tea man, a tea-server, on the train and not an official at all!; Boz made it into Finland, his $2,000 vest and everything else intact.
That was nearly $2,000 more than he had the summer before, when he first went to Europe, after college in Wisconsin and rather limited stardom in campus combos with Steve Miller.
He sang in the streets - usually just he and his guitar - of Paris, Cannes, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Brussels, "literally hat in hand. It was really a hard way to do it." Unable, he said, to just walk into a club and get a spot, he roamed streets for six months, singing mostly crowd-pleasing R&B tunes like; You've Lost That Lovin Feeling, Mockingbird, and Hey, Baby.
When he got to Stockholm, he settled for a bit, working at three or four different clubs. There, he made his first record, for Polydor. This band wanted to record a Coasters tune and needed someone who knew the words, so I went to the studio with them, and I ended up singing lead. A producer discovered him; even the liner notes say that and he cut an album. He looked a bit like Neil Young and sang a bit like Dylan, doing "Girl From The North Country and Baby Let Me Follow You Down, along with T-Bone Walker's Stormy Monday Blues, Louis Jordan's Let The Good Times Roll, the Coasters Steamboat, and a tune called Gangster of Love, later to show up on a Steve Miller LP.
At this point - September, 1965 - Boz was thrashing his guitar and declaring; the shuffle beat my bag and Steve Miller. My best friend and teacher. Steve was with the Barry Goldberg Reunion about then, and about to put together a band of his own. He summoned Boz by letter, saying he had it all figured out; How he'd make it; methodically. He even had songs ready and he enclosed $100 to help Boz get back to Dallas, Texas. Things didn't quite work, and Boz went back to Europe, then India. In Stockholm for another summer, he got another letter and offer from Miller, now in San Francisco. I'd been hearing about the San Francisco thing, and thinking about putting together another band of my own, so it was perfect; He returned and joined Miller, staying long enough for the first two albums and contributing such songs as Overdrive; (with Dylan phrasing still evident), Dime A Dance Romance, and Baby's Calling Me Home. But, as both he and Miller developed production skills, they grew apart.
In the studios it got to be either Boz's day or Steve's day, depending on the song. And the other person wouldn't even show up. No bad feelings; Steve knew I had definite ideas for a sound or an LP.
Miller, shortly after Scaggs departure, said Boz would go back to a solo, Dylan approach to music.
Boz had other plans. Signed to Atlantic, he and his friend Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner went to Muscle Shoals to cut a record. It was Wenner, said Scaggs, who gathered the musicians together, including "Skydog" Allman for dobro and slide guitar work; two different teams of female backup vocalists, and two different horn sections.
Whatever songs Scaggs wrote turned into country, with the ladies doing things like Betty Everett "Shoop Shoop" boops on "I'm Easy," and delicious, soulful swirls on "I'll Be Long Gone."
"I was totally influenced by my surroundings," said Boz. "I like to let musicians have a free hand with my tunes, and that's what happened." On "Moments", he said, "I wrote the exact same kind of tunes." But "Moments" was cut in San Francisco and mixed by Glyn Johns in London. This time around, there are strings and the Rita Coolidge Ladies' Vocal Ensemble along with rhythm and horn sections. On the softer tunes, which dominate, the sound ranges from bossa nova to stomping blues, with a lot of crooning and a bit of country in between.
We tried a rock and roll thing with Chepito (Areas) from Santana, said Scaggs. But we found out we were going back to concentrating on the ballads, and in the end, it came down to the ballads when we had to choose. Once a lover of shuffle, Scaggs now has an affinity for;Curtis Mayfield; the really big band arrangements, and Motown, where they just use everything. Actually; from the very beginning, my two favorite artists were Ray Charles; for that big R&B band he had and Jimmy Reed; God knows where he was at.
And if Moments sounds less cohesive than the Atlantic LP, it's because it was pieced together. Most of the tunes had no lyrics yet when we'd finished. We had the music, added the backup voices, put on the strings, and listened to the finished product. Then I added words. But the music obviously says something by itself. Besides; Generally I don't like my recorded voice. I was disappointed with my vocals on the Atlantic record, so I wanted to take a special care this time. So I am a little more cautious, singing it and phrasing properly instead of being expressive.
Scaggs follows that line, too, with the band. Arrangements are exact and the band is disciplined, he says; because there's only one element that will hold us together; that's if our arrangements are tight. They work, whatever the sound system may do, and they sound good, because we've worked a year at it.
Within our hour and a half at Sugars Broiler, the new single has come on twice. Boz Scaggs goes off on a national tour next; after a bit of fishing in Mexico. The school kids dash by, blurting out, Thank you, Boz, and he grins after them like a tolerant father. They'll be the life of him.
By: Ben Fong Torres.