Red Beard Interviews Boz Scaggs

XM Radio - In The Studio with Red Beard

"In The Studio" XM Radio 7/30/2001

[Transcribed by myself from the original audio cd. Not exactly word for word as per interview, some grammar changes, some "filler" lines omitted].

Redbeard: Questions Boz regarding St. Marks Prep School and Steve Miller:

Boz: He (Steve Miller) was a year older than me. At that age you sort of look up to those big guys who are a class or two ahead of you. I didn't know him at first and then we had a few activities together, it was a small school in that way. I became aware after not too long that Steve was a musician and I sort of gravitated to what he was doing. He was a very cool guy in that school. We got to be friends after a couple of years.

We used to do some Jimmy Reid songs, those were notable, we did "Got Me Running, Got Me Hiding", we did "Got My Mojo Working". We did some Bo Diddley imitations and a couple of Chuck Berry songs. Some instrumental songs, some Clover songs, "Steamboat" was one that comes to mind. I think we maybe did "Searching". Little bluesy things, R&B things. Steve and I were both enamoured with T-Bone Walker songs so there were some instrumentals that were reminiscent of that style... all that requisite material that the Texas blues guitar players had been doing, Stevie Ray, all of us. Its a certain part of the repertoire that you just have to know to play guitar in Texas.

RB: Boz had followed Steve Miller to the University of Wisconsin where they formed the Ardells, a frat party band. Scaggs then travelled extensively throughout Europe and Scandinavia where he actually recorded his first album in 1966. He even travelled to India. Then one day Boz received a post card from Steve Miller saying "come back quick" ! Miller had relocated to the virgining San Francisco music scene and was about to get a major record deal. Boz joined The Steve Miller Band, so I asked Boz how many albums they recorded together ?

Boz: Two, the first two. One was called "Sailor" and one was "Children Of The Future". I left because I was hired as a rhythm guitar player and a singer to replace someone who had left. Steve had a clear vision about what that band was about and what was supposed to be happening. We recorded the two albums together and it became more apparent than ever that Steve's views and goals became clear and he carried on with it. He carried on after that time with a trio and went on to make several of his best known records as a trio. By the same token it was clear that I had some things that I wanted to do as a writer, as a band leader and so forth, so I went off on my own.

RB: After only two albums with the Steve Miller Band it may appear a little surprising that Boz Scaggs would get his own major label solo deal. But it helps if you're talented and if your neighbour is Rolling Stone publisher/editor Jann Wenner.

Boz: In so far as how difficult it was to get a deal at that time, I don't know how it would compare to any other time. But having had those 2 records under my belt and having played in front of quite a lot of people and having somewhat of a reputation around San Francisco - being a big-small town - and having a next door neighbour who was instrumental in helping me make contacts in the record companies. I would say its 50/50 luck and some experience. Every once in a while the doors open and you get a shot and if you're ready for it when your time comes up then off you go.

RB: Boz had recorded a Fenton Robinson blues song called "Loan Me A Dime" on Boz's US debut album on 1969, with guitar solos by a then unknown Muscle Shoals musician named Duane Allman. The song "Loan Me A Dime" became a staple of the FM underground radio station KSAN in Scaggs' adopted home town of San Francisco.  Despite having a critical angel at Rolling Stone magazine, Boz Scaggs didn't become a musical force until the 1976 release of the album "Silk Degrees".

Ben Fong-Torres writes "In pursuing the style and sound of R&B, Boz Scaggs was going against the rock and roll grain. There was a thick line between rock and roll and rhythm and blues".

Rolling Stone Magazine pinpointed Boz Scaggs music "A new kind of hybrid, Southern blues sensibilities mixed with city soul." I asked Boz Scaggs how many copies Silk Degrees sold.

Boz: I don't know, 5 or 6 million. Who knows, but it was a lot of records at that time and it was a big change in my career in some respects. I think if it had been my first or second record it would have made perhaps more change than it did. It was my fourth or fifth record and it made some change, it did. Its like Bob Dylan said up on Housing Project Hill; "Its either fortune or fame, you may get one or the other, but neither are to be what they claim", and that takes on larger meaning when you're in the middle of it.

There's a lot of adjustment to make, your time ceases to become your own to a great extent. There are a lot of demands on your thoughts and on your time. Some people really respond to that and thrive on it. It was great for me because like I say it wasn't my first or second album, it was my fifth or sixth album; I had worked really hard to get myself in a position to be able to keep making albums, so I was just thankful for each one that came along.

RB: Boz Scaggs was, 25 years ago, virtually the only white rock/rhythm and blues man to transcend the battle between disco and rock and roll from 1976 through the end of the decade. Rod Stewart, for instance, was crucified by the rock community for seemingly doing what Boz Scaggs did successfully on the album "Silk Degrees". Yet Rod Stewart was charged with desertion by the rockers while "Silk Degrees" was widely viewed simply as a natural extension of Boz Scaggs roots. Whereas Rod Stewart paid dearly to this day for the song "Do You Think I'm sexy". Boz Scaggs merely got paid...

Boz: When "Silk Degrees" started to take off it wasn't a meteoric rise, it was a slow slow build and it was not unlike my career. So a little fire would catch hold here or there and pretty soon there was a story developing on that album. I had a band together, I was experienced on stage. I had, for the first time in my career, a manager who was very-very high powered and efficient and able to run with a record. So we started working and we kept working and the fires kept on building and the record ended up being on the charts for I don't know how long. But we worked a lot and it just went on and on. Hit after hit kept coming off that record. We just kept going. I think that had we not had the stamina or the road work behind us we may not have been able to continue or pick it up so quickly. One thing sustained another. It was great, I can't say that there was any down side that held a candle to the up side of that kind of success.

RB: Scaggs, a superb live performer, landed opening slots on the biggest tours including the Eagles, Elton John and the Beach Boys before graduating to arena headliner status himself. The song Lowdown won a Grammy for 1976 R&B Song Of The Year, while Scaggs released the album "Down Two Then Left" then recorded a separate song for the John Travolta follow-up to "Saturday Night Fever", the "Urban Cowboy" soundtrack.

Boz: At the peak of my success and so-called high powered career which really ended up in about '80 to be a little more accurate. I had an album called "Middle Man"; we had "Jojo" and "Breakdown Dead Ahead". I did a thing called "Lover"?? for a movie sound track. After that, as I said also, there are a lot of demands on your time, your time is not really your own in many ways. Once you have finished recording its time to go on the road, or time to do these interviews or that tour. You're a public figure, and as such there are a lot of demands on what you have got to do. You have to sustain all the support people who support you, its like you can't quit. Only I was able to quit.

I didn't intend to stop it for so long but I did. You find that there is a whole lot else going on in life when you step outside of all these things that you think are routine and have to be done. Time becomes different. We all have real lives and real endeavours that we don't even know about unless we step outside. Its not uncommon in most professions that people take a sabbatical. Anyway, I really didn't have a whole lot of music in me when I quit. I didn't have time to play guitar or play piano or think about music, I had time to take care of the demands of my career. I sort of let the music slip out of my head and get away, it wasn't a part of me and it took a while for it to come back. I think in some ways maybe you betray your muse sometimes by not heeding it and not taking care of it. I think that happened to me to some extent. I didn't call it writers block, I was empty in some ways, I was doing other things. So going back on my own was like letting the soil go untilled for a while. If you can restore yourself, and not to get too rippy dippy about it. You know, things come back to you if you just rest and let those instincts return to you.

RB: Boz Scaggs once worked washing dishes and chopping food in London restaurants just to survive. In the 1980's with several partners he owned a San Francisco restaurant, the Texas cuisine eatery called the "Blue Light Cafe", plus the rock roots club "Slims". But after 1980 Boz Scaggs made only one album in 14 years.

Boz: Well, I had intended to take - as many people do - 6 months or one year away from the mainline gig. Time just passed and the more I thought about getting back on that fast moving train again the more I just didn't want to do it again.  Fortunately I was able to choose whether I wanted to do it at the time or not. Other things were taking place in my life and taking the place of that.. make a record - go on the road - make a record - go on the road syndrome that a lot of us get into.

I just followed my musical instincts and did what came naturally. I did what I had to do and what I wanted to do at that time. I have never stopped playing music. It has always meant to me the ability to pick up an instrument and play a few chords and sing the songs I want to sing. I had been doing music throughout that time its just that I didn't choose to do it in public. I wrote, I raised a family and took care of a lot of things I wanted to do. I travelled, I had some unique musical experiences along the way, then it was time to throw my hat in the ring again and here I am.

RB: After only a single album in 14 years I wondered if Boz ever second guessed himself, whether he would be able to jump-start the music again.

Boz: No, it was never an issue. I think that the record company knew, there is always the feeling that if he did it once he can do it again. You see careers where an artist who has had a long string or records maybe goes away for a while and comes back with something that doesn't quite take hold and maybe does that a couple of times. In too many cases the artist is able to write songs or come up with material that puts them back in the main stream. I never really thought about that too much but I never felt that there was not an occasion I couldn't come back with my record company and do it again. I changed record companies once during this hiatus of mine and I think that was a good thing. It was a new energy, a new set of goals and values in a way.

Re: Some Change:

Boz: A lot of what we did on this album was just to make the voice very comfortable, the songs were very natural for me to sing. We chose the songs that really made way for the voice. That was one of the goals for making this album. I played the guitar when I made the demos on this album and my co-producer encouraged me to keep playing. I think the album would have been quite a lot different if we had brought in a lot of different players to fill out these tracks, there's something that we feel is close to the heart of each of these songs. My partner and I, Ricky Fataar, did most of the playing on what you hear on this album. It just felt comfortable.

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