Boz Scaggs... I wanted to interview him for his name alone. I knew there had to be something amazingly cool attached to the label. And I was right. He is, without question, a man with chariz.
His music states in very clear terms and sounds: Here's a guy who doesn't write a check with his name that his act can't cash. And his personality - gentle, serene, gracious, amusing and understated - would make any woman proud to be his armpiece for a night. He lights ladies cigarettes like a conditioned reflex (even for chainsmokers!), and he'll hold doors, coats and your attention for hours. If he's bored, only he knows it.
Boz and his music are two of the greatest things that ever happened to the music industry. He wins GRAMMY's like most people get phone bills and he sells records by the trillion. Face it, the king of blue-eyed soul can do no wrong. Even though his phenomenal success in 1976 with SILK DEGREES was followed by what was considered disenchantment in the form of DOWN TWO THEN LEFT, the album, in retrospect, is still cranking up sales and airplay. Boz, however, still considers "Down Two Then Left" a letdown for all concerned.
"That album confused a lot of people. And to tell you the truth, it was confusing for me to make it."
Whatever the consequences of his weak follow-up, Scaggs has now more than compensated for the possible disappointment suffered by his fans and followers with his new smasharooney, MIDDLE MAN. Like Silk Degrees it's already shooting up the charts and as of this writing, has sprung two off-shoot hit singles.
Apart from his music, Boz Scaggs has become an intriguing enigma out of his own mysterious style. It's rare that a class act will emerge from a hard rock background, let alone be interesting. Part of the ingredients comprising the man's smooth appeal are his meticulous professionalism, his sophisticated but real life-style, and his personal friends which are refreshingly not restricted (as in the case of most rock stars we've known and loathed) to musicians. A highly trustworthy inside source (his wife) cited the perfect example when she told me the only guest present at the Scaggs' wedding was HUNTER THOMPSON. Need I say more ? Mr. Boz Scaggs. So cool, he's hot.
The bulk of our conversation took place at one of those Upper East Side restaurants specializing in attitude a la carte.
It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Scaggs. I feel like a very lucky woman.
"Really? And how should I address you?"
My real name is Veronica, if you prefer.
"Maybe I'll call you Ronnie as in the Ronnettes."
I would have given my left anything to be a Ronnette. But not a brunette. I've heard, incidentally, an interesting rumor about your name.
I heard you named yourself after heroin.
"That's a good one."
I used to spend a lot of time just thinking about your name. I thought, "If he's into alcohol he could call himself Booze Scaggs."
"You have some wonderful ideas about me. But you do know where rumors like that come from, now, don't you?"
Yeah, from junkies.
"Well, a black cat came up to me once and said: "That's such a hip name, man." He was thinking, of course, of boss scag. And the song Lowdown had a lot of people thinking I was a black singer. It was very popular with street people."
I also thought from hearing that song that you were black, but I'm not too disappointed that you aren't.
"Why thank you" (He says it with a slight, laid back Southern drawl.)
Did your parents call you "Boz" ?
"They do now. But they named me Bosley. And somewhere along the line when I was in school Bosley got shortened to Boz."
A very likely story.
"Well, its not too corny to not be true. But no one is really sure about my name because the guy from school who started it is now deceased."
I see. Very conveniently deceased, so we'll never know for sure if he was a heroin dealer.
"Where do I start? Listen, I'll just keep bouncing around with you. All right?"
Sure, Boz. We'll find our space.
"Oh. So you've been to California."
Yes, and obviously so have you.
"I'm gonna get something because my nerves are a little... lets order some drinks."
I seconded that emotion and we ordered the first of several hard-hitting vodkas. The party was just about to begin, and I didn't even know it. Boz Scaggs, it turned out, is a man full of surprises.
In addition to your name, your lyrics are pretty hip, too. Do you have any interesting lies to tell me about them?
"Should I be specific, or would you prefer one sweeping fib?"
I like specific lies. Tell me how you stole, I mean composed, the "jones for this, jones for that" lyrics for Lowdown.
"I can't believe you've actually listened to my music."
Just once when I was too lazy to get up and change the station.
"I'm very flattered. But, again, the unfortunate truth is, with that song, the lyrics are just street. I write music first when I write a song, and I hear the rhythm first. Then I get chord patterns, and in setting the chord patterns, I set a mood or an emotional pattern. And then I write the words. With that particular song the rhythm came first, and the nature of the way that track was laid out required that it have a kind of dialog spoken to a certain meter."
Boz and I are constantly interrupted by a French waiter who, despite Boz's celebrity status and my good looks, seems to want our table and our absence. We were peasants no matter how you looked at it. So Mr Scaggs very tactfully suggested we relinquish our table and as much negative attitude as possible and settle near the bar which might make us feel more at home.
Seated at a table near the bar we settled into two more double vodkas and tried to remember what we were talking about. Where were we, and when is the firing squad coming to collect us? (Boz waited a few beats, pensively trying to tie his threads of thought together.)
"Oh yes, I was trying to explain how the street jargon for Lowdown came about. The rhythm and the whole musical build-up was black idiom, so it had to talk black. And when you talk black, you walk a narrow line if you're a white boy. So you've got to know what you're talking."
Like "don't write a check with your mouth that your ass can't cash"? "Precisely".
Did you ever think of doing anything with samba or incorporating any Latin rhythms into your music ?
"Not that much. But I'm going to start listening to it more. I heard something recently that I liked, and I wonder if it's what you're thinking about."
Actually I was thinking in terms of you developing your own form of samba and calling it Boz-a-nova.
"I like it, I like it. How'd you like to be my A & R person?"
Oh, Boz. If only you weren't kidding. (I suddenly felt like one of those women in a Roy Lichtenstein comic-strip blow-up with an enormous comic-strip tear rolling down my cheek and the words in the bubble over my head reading: "If only he weren't kidding.") Swallowing my foolish womanly pride we resume our talk:
Uh, and how do you feel about reggae?
"People have been trying to do reggae and ska for a long time. And a lot of jazz people have picked up on that wave. Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, John Coltrane - and then it just subsides. It comes and goes. And there's a Latin thing that just keeps coming into American music. Herb Alpert caught the wave of it. It's real interesting that Jimmy Cliff picked up on Herb Alpert because so many musicians have been trying to capture Rasta for years. But when you try to pin point it or define it in our terms you get lost very quickly, unless you get very much into the purity of it. A lot of new wave and a lot of Punk Rock came right out of that Rastafarian influence. And those people are very single-minded and extremely violent about what they believe in and what they think. And that's where a lot of Punk and New Wave is coming from - a very basic, singular political violence like, "we want out". The system sucks and everything is evil except our new awareness."
Boz punctuates his spiel by making a gagging sound out of the intensity of all this intenseness. Laughing at his own straight rap he asks:
"You know whut aye mean?" in a Cockney accent.
He ordered more vodkas to celebrate the fact that we could still talk. Boz would be the last to admit it, but right now he reigns as the Music Man of the Moment. It started really happening for him after the release of his super-cool, Grammy winning Silk Degrees album. Some people were buying the record just for the Moshe Brakha cover which also won a Grammy. If one picture can tell a thousand words, this one's a novel. Anything can be read into the album's photos from autoeroticism to zoopsia. Boz's image seemed to go through a drastic change during this period; he'd gone from hard-rock funk to Dapper Dan smooth. He gets kind of hedgy when you bring up the subject of his new style. Apparently, his public is more aware of it than he is. Unless, of course, he's holding out on us.
When I saw your famous Black-Out concert (New York's black-out of 1977 occurred during Boz's show at Lincoln Center), I heard a few people commenting that you looked like Halston.
"I know, I've seen some pictures of him, and I know what they mean."
You don't sound like him though.
"What do I sound like?"
The way you address your audience adds to your image of Mr. Sensual; aloof and cool.
"I'm not aware of that image. And if I thought that was happening, I'd probably try to go the other way real fast."
But don't you think that's what becomes legend most?
"I never thought of my career in terms of cultivating an image at all. I haven't done that many interviews, and in the last few years there's been this recurring theme, particularly on the West Coast about my so-called new image. People ask me: 'Why have you changed? Why the silk suits?' And I'll be thinking: 'What are they talking about? What silk suits?' The insinuation is that it's the result of a conscious image-shaping effort on my part."
Maybe they can't comprehend your evolvement. It seems to me that most rock stars keep themselves limited to one sphere.
"Some of them think it's image first and what it's all about is a design of how to be a rock star."
You could write a How-To-Be-A-Rock-Star book.
"I probably could, though I could think more of all the reasons not to be one, and perhaps How Not To Be A Rock Star would be a more appropriate title."
Scaggs' ego is packed in a very inconspicuous place. But anyone who's taken a look at any of his last four album covers is gonna think the man is definitely trying to get some verrry hot and cool message across. I probed him (in the shins with my Frederick's of Hollywood backless leopard spikes) to fess-up and at least acknowledge an attempt at a cool-hot sexy projection.
"When we talk about the Silk Degrees cover, we talk in terms of it going hand-in-hand with the music. I think it should be thought of in sexy terms or an even better word is "provocative". And the music should be representative of the cover. It could also be amusing or standoffish because my back is turned on a girl. I think it's provocativein that respect. I'm very aware of styles and images, but primarily musical styles. The style of the Silk Degrees cover worked well with the music. But the music, of course, came first."
What do you say to the review of your latest album Middle-Man in Billboard magazine that stated, and I'll quote, "The one disturbing note is the cover, which seems to turn the album's title into a dirty, sexist joke?"
"I loved that review. I think she gave the album a marvellously intelligent review. And she seemed to know what she was talking about, music wise. But it's never occurred to me that any of those album covers are sexist."
That's a very clever answer, Boz. But you don't expect me to believe it for a minute, do you? (I whipped into a furious feminist and did a flawless imitation of Charles Laughton screaming at Marlene Dietrich during the courtroom scene in Witness For The Prosecution. "Why don't you just admit that you're a chronic LIAR!")
(Boz, ever so cooly.) "Maybe I should just think about it objectively to give you and steamed-up ladies like you the truth as real as I can possibly see it."
Perhaps you should.
"Perhaps I should also order you another drink. You seem a little excited."