It's The End Of All That Jazz

[by Andrew Murfett - February 11 2010]

FROM the moment he walked on stage, Boz Scaggs knew he had made a mistake.

Having enjoyed a lucrative relationship with Australian audiences for more than three decades, the unofficial king of yacht rock's last tour represented an error in judgment.

It was 2003 and Scaggs was playing a set of dates for the Day on the Green winery series. His fans, expecting a performance touching on yacht rock staples Lido Shuffle and Lowdown, were bemused. Instead of rolling out the hits, he opted for a four-piece jazz ensemble.

"I didn't realise, until I came the last time, people really wanted to hear the hits," he says. "I was at a loss, because I had this band to do standards and play jazz clubs. I felt like I disappointed people. I like to play things people want to hear from me."

To make amends, Scaggs will join forces with the Doobie Brothers' golden tonsils Michael McDonald for an unabashed celebration of radio-friendly gold.

"It's the stuff people hear from me on the radio," he says. "It's a high-energy show with some very fine musicians."

The two journeymen of soft-rock epitomise middle-of-the-road cool. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Lido Shuffle and Lowdown dominated pop radio. And as a measure of Scaggs' influence, Toto, the cheesy 1980s pop outfit responsible for Africa and Hold the Line, were formed by members of his band.

Now 65, Scaggs grew up in Texas but moved to New York at 19 with the aim of seeing his heroes such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane play, soaking up the creative atmosphere and forging a career in music. Soon after, he moved to San Francisco, where he has spent the past 40 years.

With his classic work still selling, his studio albums these days allow for some minor indulgences. His last one, Speak Low, was a jazz record.

Scaggs says the most pleasing aspect of the project was a six-week tour with the crack jazz band with whom he recorded the album.

"But I have left it behind now," he says. "This kind of music has a limited appeal. It was fairly progressive and experimental in its arrangements. It was very musical and very challenging."

As for Silk Degrees, Scaggs' career-making album from 1976, which spent an incredible 20 weeks at No. 1 in Australia? Not so much. But that's OK, because the album endures as an easy-listening classic. Particularly in Australia, where classic-hits stations still faithfully spin its key tracks daily.

"Australia is a very cosmopolitan place," Scaggs says. "I did a couple of tours that were very big over there in the 1970s. I'd never had that experience before. In America, it was a slow build for me. When I went to Australia, it was huge all at once."

Aside from music, Scaggs has interest in a rock club called Slims in San Francisco. Then there is his winemaking. What began as a quiet hobby for the Scaggs family has become an entrepreneurial venture.

"It's very seasonal," he says. "My wife runs the sales and marketing part of it. It's been growing. We introduced our wine to the public 18 months ago. We had a great reception. We're in a lot of the better restaurants in America."

Music runs through the family. His eldest son Austin is a writer for Rolling Stone. The magazine's founder, Jann Wenner, was also instrumental in helping Scaggs snr break through to the mainstream.

As for his own writing, you get the feeling he is happy, simply, that we still care.

"It doesn't have sentimental value for me," he says. "I'm just glad some of the songs hold up for me."


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