Organic Red, White and Blues
After an explosive set by Tower of Power at the 2011 Aptos Blues Festival, Grammy Award-winning Boz Scaggs took the stage. Channeling almost 50 years of musical experience into a transcendent set—Scaggs’ guitar playing was scintillating—his trademark tenor voice on such hits as “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” had aged like a fine Rhône wine. “That was a good day. That’s a great festival you got there,” says Scaggs from his home just above Napa Valley.
Skip ahead to 2013 when Scaggs’ first album in five years, Memphis, was released. On it, a cover of Mink DeVille’s “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl” resonates with the warmth of a fireplace on a rainy afternoon. Memphis seamlessly blends soul, funk and R&B into a vintage sound, and it’s obvious that from stage to studio, Scaggs is one of America’s most gifted performers.
At 69, Scaggs has found a sustainable lifestyle at his vineyard and is getting ready to take his band on the road. GT caught up with the venerable performer to learn more.
Good Times: What brought you to the Royal Recording Studio, where Al Green recorded many of his hits, in Memphis, Tenn. to record your last album?
Boz Scaggs: I had recorded down there a few years back. The producer Steve Jordan had also been working there a couple of times. Once we figured out the songs and the line-ups of players and once we heard the sound that comes out of that classic studio, I knew that was the studio we wanted to go back to. And the people at Royal are friends, family in a way, so it was great to be back there.
Did you know what songs you were recording before you went into the studio?
We had passed the phone between us in the months before we went down there. We were pretty sure on about nine of the songs. We cut all the rhythm tracks in three days. On the fourth day, we cut the Memphis Horns and Lester Snell Strings and then we barbecued and went home. The next day we cut my voice, guitar and the background vocals. Charlie Musselwhite came in and Keb' Mo' and various people. We weren’t rushing anything, it’s just that everything felt so good.
Your upcoming santa cruz show is just the beginning of your tour. How is your band on tour different than who you record with?
On the record, Memphis, I brought in people I have been recording with for a long time. Ray Parker Jr. on guitar, Willie Weeks on bass, Steve Jordan, the drummer, and I have worked together and have a great understanding in the studio. It’s a different experience recording and playing live. My current touring band is made up of people I have been playing with for varying numbers of years, but quite a while. The guys in my band are truly versatile. They can play every style from every song I have ever recorded.
Do you find more young people coming to your shows?
This generation of 20- to 30-year-olds is amazing. They get it. They love music, they love to dance, they love food and they love life. I think of my own generation having come up in the ’60s and ’70s and I think as time passed we lost the sense of that celebration. Then this generation comes along and they bring great heart and spirit to all of it. I love that young people are going back to records, LPs and great sound.
You lead a double life: rock star and a vineyard entrepreneur. why did you decide to grow and manufacture organic wine?
I wanted healthy beautiful vines. It wasn’t really much of a decision. In wine, in particular, the vine comes from old countries like France and Italy that have been organic in their nature for most of the time they have been in existence. Modern chemical farming techniques have not been the rule in most wine-growing regions. Organic means different things to different people. Some people think the word organic means extraordinary, unusual and socialist and communist, basically, not to be trusted. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the concept.
What’s on the horizon?
I’m going to go back to the studio in March, working on new songs. I have a shortlist of material that I think we are going to go with. I work on a deadline, I never finish until there’s a gun to my head. I love being on the road more now than I ever have in my entire career. A perfect day is to get to play a show at night.