Boz Takes The Long Road To Brisbane

By Noel Mengel [ - February 12, 2010]

BOZ Scaggs had done the apprenticeship. A long and sometimes painfully slow one, it must have seemed.

At high school in Dallas, Texas, he joined his school friend Steve Miller's band The Marksmen. Steve played guitar, Boz sang.

In the early 1960s at university they played in blues bands together. Then came a stint checking out the thriving London R&B scene of the mid-'60s. And a solo album in Sweden that didn't do much.

Back in the US, he joined Miller in San Francisco in the Steve Miller Band. They made a few albums. Good reviews, not many sales.

Then came a deal with Atlantic, recorded with the Muscle Shoals studio band and a young but exceptionally gifted slide guitarist, Duane Allman, soon to be introduced to the world in the Allman Brothers Band.

Musicians liked that album, Boz Scaggs, but it couldn't gain mainstream momentum.

By 1976, when he turned 32, and with half a dozen albums under his belt, Scaggs was wondering if he had used up all his shots. Then the planets aligned. He went into the studio with a bunch of young LA session pros who would later go on to form the band Toto. The album that resulted, Silk Degrees, was a global hit, with a succession of smash singles, Lowdown, Lido Shuffle, What Can I Say, while songs such as We're All Alone and Harbour Lights became FM radio staples.

Did he have any idea what he had on his hands when the album was being made?

"I don't think any of us allowed ourselves to think it would be a big record," he says, talking from his home in the hills behind Napa Valley in northern California.

"At that point I had made a number of records and I think with each one I felt that was going to be the one to find a wider audience.

"A lot of disappointment goes with that, so you learn that you just do your best at it and let things outside of your control take their own course."

In the studio, Scaggs was matched with players such as guitarist Steve Lukather, drummer Jeff Porcaro and keys player David Paich, all barely out of their teens.

"I had pretty much been a band member up until a few records before and at that time I began to get my footing being in a studio with studio musicians.

"When I found that core group of players it was like being in a band but they were all far more advanced than any individual band members I had worked with. As Silk Degrees slowly developed as a major hit album they were able to come out on the road with me, so the fun kept going on and the surprises kept coming.

"We knew the album was special but because it was such a big hit it made the work we had put in so rewarding. I wish every musician could have that experience in their career. I was lucky that it happened to me."

Scaggs took some time out from music in the late '80s and '90s. In 1996, he and his wife moved to the hills above Napa Valley to establish their Scaggs Vineyard winery, producing their first vintage in 2000.

But there is always time to make music, including a tour of Australia this month. In the studio, Scaggs went back to his R&B roots with the Come On Home album, revisited smooth soul of Silk Degrees with the uniformly excellent Fade Into Light, and recorded last year's album of jazz standards, Speak Low.

"I'm interested in a lot of styles of music and I can't help but want to try different things as a singer. The challenge, that's as meaningful as anything to me. It's really why most of us started doing what we do as musicians, hearing a voice or a sound and trying to connect with it, to play it, sing it, take that feeling it gives us and try to re-create it ourselves in our own style."

One of the most-loved performances of his career was the 11-minute blues workout Loan Me a Dime, on the Boz Scaggs album. It was an off-the-top-of-the-head jam showing Scaggs' voice and Allman's guitar to dazzling effect.

"I remember recording it like it was yesterday. It surprised all of us when it came. We had finished the album but we had some time left and one of the musicians said to the engineer, 'Is there another song you want us to run through?'

"It turned out to be the most memorable recording of the session. But every song and every record is different. With the jazz material for Speak Low, the arrangements are much more complex, so there is more discussion about what's going to happen.

"With the blues stuff like Loan Me a Dime and jazz, that lends itself to live and spontaneous. "

Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald and the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band play Brisbane Riverstage on February 27. Book through Ticketmaster. Speak Low is out now through Universal

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