By Mark Bego, March 18th, 2013
Boz Scaggs has never been one to chase trends; instead he’s been setting them ever since he launched his career in the 1960s. For his latest release, blues-oriented Memphis (429 Records), Scaggs journeyed South to make one of his most brilliant albums yet.
Recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, where Willie Mitchell once created the biggest hits of Al Green’s career, Boz discovered magic in the air and found himself possessed and inspired by it.
William Royce “Boz” Scaggs broke into the music in the 1960s as guitarist and lead singer with the Steve Miller Band. A guitar player since the age of 12, he launched his solo career in the 1970s.
Most widely known for his multi-platinum 1976 album Silk Degrees, Boz went on to branch into synthesizer rock on Other Roads (1988), rhythm & blues on Come on Home (1997) and classic jazz standards on But Beautiful (2003) and Speak Low (2008).
While all of these forays have been artistically successful, he’s hit a new high water mark with Memphis, his highest-charting album in 33 years, which he recorded with producer/drummer Steve Jordan.
In addition to making great music, over the last decade he has been making great wine as well at Scaggs Vineyard. You can buy it at his websites bozscaggs.com and scaggsvineyard.com. He specializes in great red wine.
There’s “magic” in the grapevines, he says. This makes one wonder if Boz naturally attracts magic, or if he is simply a natural creator of it. In a recent interview, Scaggs pondered the subjects of great blues and wonderful reds.
TheImproper: What drew you to make your first album in five years a Memphis flavored one?
Scaggs: “I recorded an album back in the ’90s called Come on Home that featured some of my favorite R&B Songs, and I had been thinking about it. I have had it on my mind for three or four years, really. My wanting to go in and do another classic sounding R&B record, and working with Steve Jordan fit together perfectly. It was magic in that we both individually had the idea to go to Memphis to record. It just came together very organically.”
IM: Is there a certain vibe or spirit at Royal Studio in Memphis that helped inspire this album—sort of like being at the old Motown Hitsville Studios in Detroit?
Scaggs: “There is that kind of feeling, and there is that kind of ‘magic’ in the walls of some of these places. We thought about going into a room that had some history, some vibe. The studio was ‘blocked out,’ you know: the drums go there, the guitars go there, and the recording console is the same one that has been there for 30 or 40 years.
The electronics are all in place, and there are even marks on the knobs in the control room as to where the best setting is for a particular amplifier, or a particular compressor. It’s got a sound; you walk into the room and its got a sound to it… its just there. Every song, every track was just the way we wanted it to sound and way we wanted it to feel.”
IM: I love those two Willie “Mink” DeVille songs that you did on this album. What made you choose to give those two songs a rebirth on Memphis?
Scaggs: “I have been a fan of Willie’s for a long time. Those songs have been in my head for years. I have performed ‘Cadillac Walk’ for years, with several different ensembles in several different venues. There were about half a dozen song candidates for songs from Willie DeVille for this album. That and ‘Mixed Up Shook Up Girl’ just worked.”
IM: What were your inspirations for writing “Gone Baby Gone” and “Sunny Gone” as the first two songs you’ve written and recorded in 10 years?
Scaggs: “I’ve never been one to sort of accumulate material, that is, just to write constantly. I’ve always written under the pressure of a project. I have sketches and ideas for various songs, and I played those for Steve Jordan, and there were two that really caught his attention; that he wanted me to finish. I wanted some time-tested great songs that I could use my voice in. I wanted to do songs that were completely comfortable to me, that I really enjoyed singing.”
IM: You have your own winery, Scaggs Vineyard. How did that come about?
Scaggs: “Quite by accident! My wife and I have been in San Francisco, and were looking at a place outside of town to get away and get a break. We built a small house up in the hills of the Napa County region—between Napa and Sonoma—which are great growing regions. We really had no intention of becoming farmers. A friend was putting in some orchard trees and some olive trees, and he said, ‘Here, I have some grapevines left over from a job this morning. You got any place I could just stick them in the ground?’ So he just planted them.
I didn’t think of them until they became full-on vines, and I was just captured by the ‘magic’ of the vines. It is a very progressive and step-by-step process that leads fools like me into this process. We’ve been at for 14 years. It’s not a winery, it’s a vineyard, but we grow vines for the kind of wine we like to drink.”