2009 - Times Union

Boz Scaggs brings hits & standards to The Egg

By MICHAEL ECK, Special to the Times Union
First published: Thursday, June 18, 2009

When Boz Scaggs comes to The Egg on Monday, he'll be singing from across his varied career.

The long, tall Texan began his musical life as a bluesman of sorts, pairing up with his childhood pal Steve Miller at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the early '60s. Yes, that Steve Miller. The West called, and both ended up in San Francisco, where the latter formed a blues band that morphed into the psychedelic roots combo that minted its sound with "Children of the Future" and "Sailor."

But Scaggs sought his own voice, and he went solo with 1969's eponymous Atlantic album, which featured guitar great Duane Allman backing up Boz on an epic take of Fenton Robinson's "Loan Me a Dime."

Unfortunately, the critical success of "Boz Scaggs" and its follow-ups, which included "My Time" and "Slow Dancer," far outweighed the commercial success. He needed a hit.

He found it in 1976. And how.

"Silk Degrees" (backed by the musicians who would form Toto) was chock-full of chart-toppers and also marked by a silky funkiness and jazzbo precision that echoed Steely Dan, but anchored it with Scaggs' earthy R&B slant.

Tunes like "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle" and "What Can I Say?" made Scaggs a household name, while "Harbor Lights" and "We're All Alone" became soft-rock classics. Scaggs followed up with 1977 "Down Two, Then Left" and 1980's "Middle Man," which furthered his streak with songs like "Jojo" and "Breakdown Dead Ahead."

By then Scaggs was both wealthy and weary, so he hid out for much of the '80s.

In the '90s, Scaggs was once again making records and touring, but without the kind of attention he once garnered. He also busied himself with interests in Slim's nightclub in San Francisco, a recording studio and Scaggs Wine.

Recently, Scaggs has reinvented himself again, modeling a late career renaissance on a pattern that has worked for Linda Ronstadt, Sinead O'Connor and Rod Stewart -- singing standards.

He followed up 2003's "But Beautiful" with "Speak Low," and he spoke about his life as a jazz crooner.

Q: Why standards?

A: As a singer, they're some of the most wonderful songs to sing. They're challenging and they have beautiful melodies and I just really find it musically very satisfying to work on this material. It's allowed me to work with some wonderful musicians in a vein outside of my normal repertoire.

Q: Did you already have a relationship with this material?

A: Most of these songs have been running around my head for awhile, some for years, some for decades. We're all exposed to most of these songs through one way or another -- through elevator music or in versions by some of our favorite singers or whatever. When we were looking through the books for material, some of these songs just sort of jumped out at me.

Q: Did you have to change your vocal style to sing numbers like "What's New" or "Skylark?"

A: Yes, I have had to make some changes. I do have my own style, but this was an expansion for me. I'm comfortable with songs that are out of a rhythm & blues or bluesy vein, and I've written songs of my own which are pop and rock and sort of soft jazz, but these songs - particularly doing them in the context of this traditional quartet of bass, piano, saxophone and drums - are very suggestive of a certain style. So I had to work my way into that genre. I'm not a jazz singer but these are jazz musicians and I had to get down to work and find my own way through that.

Q: Many singers of late have taken the standards route. Any concern with your efforts being seen as riding a trend?

A: It certainly is a trend. But most of the singers and musicians that have done this, I think, have done this as a testament to the greatness of the songs. It's also a testament, I think, to those of us who've been serious singers for a long time, and our wanting to explore this beautiful form of music. There is a beginning, really, to all of the traditions that we sing in and a lot of roads lead back to this material.

Q: You're out singing the hits and singing standards sometimes, too - are you in a happy place musically?

A: I am. I'm also in the process of putting together a blues/rhythm & blues album that I hope to have finished by the end of the year. And I'm very happy with it, thank you.

Michael Eck is a freelance writer from Albany and a frequent contributor to the Times Union.


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