Barnes and Noble - Boz Scaggs Interview
To cursory listeners of classic rock radio, Boz Scaggs is the very model of the mid-'70s smoothie, prone to white-soul digressions and California cool-downs in roughly equal parts. But the long and winding musical road taken by William Royce Scaggs has been far rougher than the top-down highway run of "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle." Long before his first hit, Scaggs was a prototypical critics' darling - rough, brooding, and commercially unsuccessful - but by the mid-'70s, the self-described musicologist divined a formula that was palatable both to him and to a mass audience. A methodical worker and a man prone to eschewing trends, Scaggs wasn't exactly able to strike while the iron was hot, leaving him a bit out of place in the post-new wave era. Still, he soldiered on, releasing a series of low-key soul-rock gems, all the while touring in front of a consistently appreciative audience of faithful fans. Now, with Dig, his first album of original material in seven years, Boz wants listeners to, well, do just what that title implies, in any sense you want to interpret it. Barnes and Noble.com's David Sprague sat Boz down to unearth the story behind his long-awaited new release.
Barnes and Noble.com: It's been a while since you released a new album. What has been occupying you these past few years?
Boz Scaggs: I feel as if I haven't taken a break at all, even though it may look like I'm not the busiest person around. I tour a little every summer and I did do an album of covers [1997's Come on Home] a couple of years ago, but I didn't feel the time was right to really get an album of new material together. Time just has a way of passing, and this was a time that felt right.
B&N.com: Dig, to some extent, is a departure from your usual style: There seem to be more musical left turns, more interest in pushing the envelope than on your recent releases.
Boz: I've been making a similar album each time for all these years. On [1976's] Silk Degrees, I featured some rock, some jazz, some rhythm and blues, some reggae, and from there on, I did the same thing over and over. I usually deal with session musicians, so it was a matter of "This is a jazz song, let's call in the jazz guys." This was different, since the producer and I played about 90 percent of the instruments, and that opened things up a little more.
B&N.com: When you work with what you call session musicians, they're not the obscure names most people think of when they hear the term. For instance, here you work with trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Do you give strict directions or let things evolve organically?
Boz: I like to feature players, and to me, featuring their ideas is a big part of that. I like to give musicians a lot of freedom, and I want their input. I would never try to tell Roy Hargrove what to play, mostly because I'm genuinely interested in hearing what he has to say.
B&N.com: You've had a few songs -- "Lido Shuffle," for instance -- enter the lexicon as a song that you hear all the time. Can you tell when you've got one of those?
Boz: I know very little about contemporary radio, so I really can't say if anything on this album is going to get played all that much. But in the big picture, sure, there are songs you know are radio friendly, even if they don't have the intellectual resonance as some of the other things you've written. Some songs strike a few very deeply, some sound good coming out of a little radio speaker. I've written both in my time.
B&N.com: Early on in your life, you spent some time playing and singing on the street in Europe. Do you think that's had an impact on how you've dealt with audiences since?
Boz: I think anyone who makes the decision to be a professional musician cares about what the audience thinks. We'd all just sit around and play and sing in our bedrooms if we didn't. As far as my own experiences, I think what helped me the most was being able to travel around, not just to Europe, but to places like Afghanistan and Nepal, and see what touches people in different cultures.
B&N.com: You've just made your acting debut, so to speak, on Ally McBeal. How much of a culture shock was that?
Boz: It certainly wasn't something I'd ever have thought of doing on my own. I'm basically a pretty shy and private person, and acting has never been one of the things I was driven to do. All they really asked of me was to be myself, and that was easy enough to pull off. The people [on the show] were all easy to deal with, though, so it ended up being a positive experience, although I'm not sure I'd make a habit of it.