Boz Scaggs Dig Interview

San Francisco Chronicle - Boz Scaggs Dig Interview

Worth Waiting For

[By Joel Selvin, Chronicle Pop Music Editor, September 9, 2001]

Boz Scaggs took his time - more than seven years between new albums.

New albums don't come easy for Boz Scaggs. It didn't even occur to him that it had been more than seven years since he last released an album of original music until he was reviewing biographical material in preparation for the release of "Dig," which comes out this week.

"I'm easily distracted, it seems, and there are other things to do," Scaggs said in his South of Market studio. "I keep promising myself after this musical project I will get right into the next one."

Although not entirely disingenuous, Scaggs' explanation also begs the question: Why does it take so long to make a record? The truth is somewhat more complicated than mere distraction. His recordings have always been such intense creative events for Scaggs, he couldn't possibly work that way on a day-to-day basis. "Dig" is only his fourth new album in 21 years. For someone who could have taken the easy way at any time, Scaggs, 57, has consistently challenged himself during his 32-year, 11-album recording career.

His new album is no exception -- a saucy, fresh dish, familiar strains of Scaggs romanticism given a strong contemporary polish under a three-way musical partnership among Scaggs and co-producers Danny Kortchmar and David Paich. Using up-to-the-minute technology, they madly cribbed loops and beats from hip-hop and techno to make what somehow also manages to sound like vintage Scaggs.

"It was the easiest record I ever made," he said.

Of course, what that means is that he spent only five months last year recording -- "with two- or three-week breaks," he said. He spent the previous two years trying to assemble the cast of characters and put the game in play. But even that must seem like nothing much to someone who slaved over his 1994 comeback album, "Some Change," night and day, week in and week out, for an entire year in abandoned San Francisco TV studios with a remote recording van.

Not having any songs wasn't an issue. Scaggs needs deadlines to work. As always, he didn't write lyrics until the night before he was due to record them.

"It came quickly," he said. "A lot of it was written on the spot. I felt the pressure, but I liked it. I got into a rhythm. I wasn't sweating bullets, as it has been other times. The way I work is about gaining some momentum, trusting your ideas, trusting your instincts, saying yes."

And then there are those famous perfectionist inclinations. "I'm just finding that out about myself," he mused, almost as if he were talking about someone else. "But, yes, I'm fastidious about the details."

"Dig" reunites Scaggs with keyboardist Paich, who last worked with Scaggs 25 years ago when he did the arrangements for the definitive Scaggs work, "Silk Degrees." Son of Hollywood arranger Marty Paich (Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme), David Paich played on "Silk Degrees" and, with other musicians from the sessions, went on to form Toto, the svelte Grammy-winning '80s rock band whose career continues unabated everywhere in the world except the United States. Paich has also pursued a lucrative career in studio work, arranging and scoring.

"He knows all the early R&B styles and the '70s soul," Scaggs said, "but most of his work is in TV and film, arranger-composer-producer, or in Toto, so he doesn't get to use that much."

Co-producer Kortchmar, once best known as backup guitarist for James Taylor and Carole King, co-wrote and co-produced Don Henley solo hits such as "Dirty Laundry" and "Building the Perfect Beast." Scaggs sought him out after hearing his 1996 solo album, "Slo Leak," a brilliant, demented blues album.

"It had the biggest, widest, fattest grooves you ever heard," Scaggs said. "It was this lowdown, authentic groove in this postmodern music. Nobody's doing anything like this."

Scaggs and Kortchmar held experimental sessions last spring and found their chemistry agreeable. Sessions were held in Kortchmar's Connecticut studios, Paich's Los Angeles home studio and Scaggs' South of Market warren, which he has been building up steadily since purchasing gear to record "Some Change" eight years ago. They worked in both digital and analog and at times were even passing demos back and forth as MP3 files over the Internet.

"As always, we borrowed from everything that's out there to use," Scaggs said. "We were working in a medium that lets us try anything - Pro Tools (a digital recording software). You couldn't do it in analog. You would need three or four studios and a bevy of engineers to keep up with everything you can do with Pro Tools."

Jazzman Roy Hargrove Jr. provided the album's horn parts, playing solos or stacking up overdubs for section work. Other studio musicians were brought in for decorations: guitarists Ray Parker Jr. and Steve Lukather, keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, drummer-percussionist Robin DiMaggio and an up-and-coming East Bay R&B vocalist named Monet.

"Ninety percent of it was Danny, David and myself," Scaggs said.

Scaggs loves the album, but doesn't even ponder its prospects in the unpredictable contemporary market that can be so cruel to yesterday's top sellers. "I have no idea," he said. "It'll be fascinating to watch."

He is game, though, planning his first major cross-country tour in years in October and November (including local dates at the Warfield Theater), appearing on all the requisite television shows and mustering up all the high- profile publicity he can on behalf of the release.

"We did this for all the right reasons, for ourselves, because we love the music," he said. "We're saying to ourselves we can't wait for our musician friends to hear it. They'll get it. We've got some big grooves, some good playing. I'm really proud of it."

He is also trying to keep that promise to himself this time. He is back in the studio already, working on two prospective future projects.

Of course, with Scaggs, there's no telling how long that can take.

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