Boz Scaggs Reflects on his Rock Star Moments

From The Sun News, Cleveland

After a 40-year career that has frequently taken forays into blues, jazz and rhythm and blues, this time around Boz Scaggs is focusing on the hits — sort of.

Scaggs , currently on tour with another big hit maker, Michael McDonald, was asked what it is like to have that “rock star” moment when he unleashes on audiences those hits — “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” “We’re All Alone,” “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” and others — and the crowd goes wild.

“It’s very satisfying, I must say,” replied the low-key Scaggs, calling recently from North Carolina.

But, ever the diversified performer, he quickly added, “There are songs I do during the set that are not hits that a great majority of the audience may not know. But I use the hits to make sure audiences are hearing what they want to hear.”

The shows with McDonald will feature a set of each man performing his own repertoire, then a third set in which they will share the stage and sing R&B favorites first recorded by the likes of Sam & Dave and Joe Simon, as well as perhaps a Leonard Cohen tune.

“We haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet,” Scaggs said. “It can be that we decide at the last moment what we’ll do.”

William Royce Scaggs began life in Canton, moved from the Pro Football Hall of Fame City at age 2, then lived in a couple of other locales, as his father worked as a traveling salesman. When the family landed in Texas, in Scaggs’ teen years, it proved to be fortuitous move. That’s because Texas, like Scaggs, is known for its musical variety.

“I grew up at a time when we could tune in to radio stations that were playing early rock’n’roll,” said Scaggs, 67. “But we also had radio stations that played solely R&B or blues.”

With that musical melange in his background, Scaggs grew into a recording artist who mixed all of these elements, along with a sprinkling of jazz, into his sound. The result has been a multicultural fan base that most artists don’t enjoy.

“It’s not an easy niche to fit into,” he said, “but I’ve been fortunate.”

Another experience helped shape Scaggs’ sound, as well.

“I was a junior in high school and he was already going to the school when I met him,” Scaggs said, speaking of his bandmate at the time, guitar slinger Steve Miller. After attending college in Wisconsin with Miller, Scaggs went on to join the first incarnation of The Steve Miller Band, playing on its first two albums.

Songwriter/guitarist/singer Scaggs ventured to Sweden to record in 1965, but said it was only after he recorded his first album for Atlantic Records in 1969 (titled “Boz Scaggs,” it featured a version of the blues “Loan Me a Dime” that still gets airplay on classic rock stations), that he decided to make music his career.

After a series of albums that rendered the occasional minor hit, the big time came calling in 1976 when Columbia Records released “Silk Degrees.” When asked if he thought at the time that the album might be his breakthrough, Scaggs said, “I had a feeling, but I’d had that feeling before and was wrong. But I knew it was a special record.”

Things didn’t start off too promising when the album’s first two singles “What Can I Say?” and “It’s Over,” didn’t take off.

“It was only after the third single came out, that was ‘Lowdown,’ that things started happening,” he said. “R&B stations started playing it on their own, because it wasn’t, initially, released as a single. We didn’t release it as a single until after the R&B stations started playing it.”

Scaggs hit in 1980 with songs like “JoJo,” “Miss Sun,” “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” and from the soundtrack of the blockbuster film “Urban Cowboy,” “Look What You’ve Done To Me.”

In 1981, he took a seven-year break from the business and worked in establishing a San Francisco restaurant with his brothers.

“I was just burned out,” he said.

He returned in 1988 with the album “Other Roads,” and has issued albums regularly since, including 2003’s “But Beautiful” (a collection of standards), and 2008’s jazz-flavored “Speak Low.”

He’s also been spending the last 12 years with wife, Dominique, at the couple’s Napa Valley vineyard, which he calls “not really a big business, but a big part of my life.”

Music, however, is a constant to Scaggs.

“I’m touring now more than I ever have” said Scaggs. “This is like my second career. There’s more music in me.”

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