Full circle to jazz brings Boz Scaggs back

Andrew Murfett - January 27, 2009 [theage.com.au]

WHEN Boz Scaggs stopped writing, recording and performing music in the 1980s, it seemed unlikely he would ever come back to it.

However, today, at age 64, the king of yacht rock says music is as vital and inspiring to him as it was in his formative years. And for that, he can thank jazz.

Scaggs epitomises 1970s adult contemporary rock; the middle-of-the-road genre may as well have been invented for him. Think The Lido Shuffle and Lowdown. And as a measure of his influence, Toto, the cheesy 1980s pop outfit responsible for Africa and Hold the Line, were formed by members of his band.

Last week, Scaggs released a new album in Australia, Speak Low, a collection of jazz standards along the lines of his 2003 album, But Beautiful.

His interest in jazz was born when he moved to New York from his native Texas, aged 19.

"I got to see John Coltrane and Miles Davis play often," he says from his home in San Francisco, where he has lived for the past 40 years. "It's been with me since."

Still, it was a trip to New York last year that enabled Speak Low to come together. While in the Big Apple he heard the music of Gill Goldstein wafting from a jazz club. He investigated further and, after meeting Goldstein, realised the pair were a natural fit.

He's far from done with MOR pop, though. Last summer he completed a 57-date US tour with his "hits" band. His next album, he says, will be an R&B record.

Of the period through the 1980s and '90s during which he shunned performing and recording music, Scaggs says "personal matters" within his family dried up his creativity.

His youngest son, Oscar, died of a heroin overdose in 1998, at the age of 21.

"I took some time away to deal with that," he says. "I didn't have any new music with me. It was hard. Time began to pass and I felt guilty for not tending to my career, but I got over that, too."

His eldest son, Austin, now 30, is a music journalist who writes the Smoking Section column for Rolling Stone magazine, whose founder, Jann Wenner, was instrumental in helping Boz break through to the mainstream in the 1970s.

Scaggs is renowned for his disdain for nostalgia, yet he acknowledges that his landmark 1976 album Silk Degrees, which spent an incredible 20 weeks at No. 1 in Australia, will remain his career highlight. Two years ago he released a remastered version.

"Many of us who had our first success (during the 1960s and '70s) did some of our best work then. Bob Dylan, a lot of what he performs now in concert is from the 1960s and 1970s. It's not nostalgia, it's just that his work was distinctly brilliant at the time."

Scaggs has a lot on outside of music, too. He runs a rock club, Slims, in San Francisco, which recently marked 20 years in business. Then there's his foray into winemaking. What began as a quiet hobby for the Scaggs family has become a full-scale entrepreneurial venture.

It arose because he and his wife were looking for a "weekender" within driving distance of San Francisco. They settled on the Napa Valley, California's celebrated wine-growing region.

A friend in the area asked if they would take some surplus vines. Their interest was piqued as the vines matured. "We started wondering about having our own wine," he says.

Australia has an odd touring affinity with Scaggs. He was a live hit in the 1970s, and opened Melbourne's now-defunct Hard Rock Cafe 14 years ago.

However, his last tour, five years ago, was less successful. He arrived with a four-piece jazz ensemble, and some newspaper reviews reported walkouts from startled fans.

"They were looking for more songs they were familiar with," he admits. "I owe Australia another trip. I'd rather come with a line-up that could do both jazz and the music people expected of me.

"I think people would enjoy hearing Silk Degrees again."

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2009/01/26/1232818335254.html

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