Boz Scaggs' way always leads down ‘Other Roads'

The Oklahoman

By Gene Triplett - Entertainment Editor

Boz Scaggs didn't go to San Francisco to wear flowers in his hair or bask in the warmth of the Summer of Love in 1967. He just didn't dig the hippie scene.

But he did dig the music that was coming out of the Bay Area counterculture, and when Steve Miller invited him to come out and play, Scaggs just couldn't turn down his old Dallas high school buddy.

"I was sent a round-trip ticket, and I came to San Francisco and, uh, something didn't quite fit with me,” Scaggs said last week from a Vancouver tour stop.

"But I liked the music. I liked Steve's band. They were playing very authentic, pure, high-level blues music and rhythm 'n' blues kind of stuff, and I like that a lot. I'd missed that. I'd been a musician for the whole time I'd been away (in Europe for two years) in other various forms, but I missed being in a band. I missed the electric blues. So that made me stay.”

But Scaggs didn't move into the big communal house the rest of the Steve Miller Band was living in near the Haight-Ashbury district. Instead, he found a small apartment of his own in Japantown and kept his distance from the psychedelic revolution.

"In Europe there was the same sort of reawakening going on among youth as there was in America,” he said. "That is, we were reading the same Beat Generation writers, we were listening to the same music. But Europe had a little different take on it all.

"There was just a huge migration into San Francisco, and there were free concerts in the park and all the things that went around that era. And frankly, it looked pretty silly to me. It was a real American kind of expression. People dressed up like cowboys and Indians and wore beads. The European scene was different. Let's just say it was a little more progressive and a little more intellectual than the American thing.”

Scaggs was with the Miller band a scant 10 months, long enough to perform on its first two albums, "Children of the Future” and "Sailor” — the latter containing the hit "Livin' in the U.S.A.” — before going his own way.

His young neighbor, Jann Wenner, who had just founded Rolling Stone magazine, helped him land a solo contract with Atlantic Records, and the rest is well-known history. Although his rise was less than meteoric, with his first few albums pleasing critics but faltering in the charts, Scaggs' style of slickly-produced blue-eyed soul and distinctive tenor-baritone delivery finally attracted mainstream attention with 1976's "Silk Degrees,” which yielded the smash hits "Lowdown” and "Lido Shuffle.”

Scaggs followed up with the albums "Down Two Then Left” (1977) and "Middle Man” (1980) and radio favorites such as "Breakdown Dead Ahead” and "Jo Jo.”

Then, at the top of his game, Scaggs abruptly turned away from music and opened a San Francisco nightclub called Slim's, limiting his live appearances to New Year's Eve gigs at the establishment for the next eight years.

"I really had just decided to take six months off, just to rest and get a break and take care of some family business,” he said. "I had two young children at the time that I wanted to spend more time with, and the time just sort of took its own course. I had personal matters to deal with ... and I didn't have any music in me, and I didn't want to force it. I'd had such success that I was able to stay away from it.”

Scaggs finally ended his semi-retirement in 1988 with "Other Roads,” a tentative-sounding comeback attempt that was met with critical indifference. It also ended his longtime contract with Columbia Records.

But after another lengthy silence, the sharp-dressed soul man hit his stride again on Virgin Records in 1994 with "Some Change,” followed in rapid succession by the excellent "Come On Home” (1997), "Fade into Light” (1999) and "Dig” (2001).

"It was slow climbing back into it, and it took a while to find my footing again as a professional,” he said.

In 2003, Scaggs took a turn many of his contemporaries have taken in recent years, covering "American standards” penned by the likes of the Gershwins, Ellington and Rodgers and Hart. A similar collection called "Speak Low” is due out in October.

But don't compare Scaggs' new musical path to the one taken by Rod Stewart in his "Great American Songbook” series.

"It's a credit to the power of these songs that we all have a different way of doing it,” he said. "I was inspired by a jazz pianist (Paul Nagel) who was working in my studio and encouraged me to start this up. We scored some songs together and made an album that was released five years ago, and I did this same thing with him again, exploring more progressive arrangements.”

As he did in the '60s, Scaggs still goes his own way.

But he'll be singing from his own songbook at Riverwind Casino on Saturday.

"This is all hits and some blues, some rhythm 'n' blues, and it'll feature the great musicians I have in my band,” he said.

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