Boz Scaggs Interview

Billboard - Boz Scaggs Interview

Label Counts On Devotees To Spread Word

[By Melinda Newman - Billboard - 1994]

Preaching to the converted has not always been the surest way to win new recruits, but Virgin Records hopes that older fans will spread the news of Boz Scaggs' "Some Change" with an evangelic zeal.

The April 5 release is Scaggs' first album since 1988's "Other Roads," and only his second in 14 years. For Virgin Records, the immediate success of the project hinges on getting the word out that Scaggs, who remains best known for 1976's quadruple-platinum "Silk Degrees," has returned--without making him seem like a relic.

"We want to remind people who loved 'Silk Degrees' that Boz is back, but we want that to be an opening, not a shackle. We don't want to lock him into that," says Virgin Records CEO/ president Phil Quartararo.

The record's arrival will come as welcome news to many, predicts Sue Peterson, record sales manager for a Tower Records outlet in Scaggs' home base of San Francisco. "We still get people asking for him," she says. "I think people will come out and buy a new record, especially if radio plays it." She notes that the store keeps almost all of his catalog in stock.

Even Scaggs is a little surprised by how long he's stayed away. "After 1980, I just sort of retired," he says. "I just wanted to get away from the music side of the business. I didn't realize it would be such a long break. I liken it to jumping off a fast-moving train: You don't realize until after you stop tumbling just how fast you were going."

The success of "Silk Degrees" and two subsequent platinum-certified releases, 1977's "Down Two Then Left" and 1980's "Middle Man," left the singer/guitar player drifting further away from the things that had drawn him to play music in the first place with Steve Miller in the '60s.

"When I first got my guitar, I just spent hours every day being close to the music," he recalls. "After 'Silk Degrees,' and when I was working at such a high level, I was doing a lot of everything else other than writing music. I didn't even have a guitar in my house. Now I'm back to the heart of the matter."

Scaggs attempted to re-enter the music business fray with 1988's "Other Roads," his final album for Columbia Records, which yielded the minor hit "Heart Of Mine," but otherwise disappeared fairly quickly. Although Scaggs says he had "a very long and great relationship" with Columbia, he adds that after several changes within the top levels, it seemed in his "best interest to go somewhere else." He initially was wooed to Virgin by now-departed co-chairmen Jeff Ayeroff and Jordan Harris. Even though they're gone, Scaggs says he feels like "the spirit" that drew him to the label "seems very much intact." One reason for Scaggs' comfort with the label is its marketing approach. Despite recent high-profile comebacks by such acts as Meat Loaf and Duran Duran, Quartararo thinks low-key is the way to go. "You're not going to see a lot of hype on this project," he says. "You've seen enough of these artists who haven't had hits in a few years come back and it's like the second coming of Jesus, and then the record stiffs. We're going to tell the converted that there's a new Boz and we're hoping they'll be part of the campaign to spread the news."

Virgin is taking a two-pronged approach at radio. The shuffling, bluesy title track will go to the album alternative format March 28, where Quartararo figures a lot of Scaggs' fans have migrated. "The growth of the triple-A format affects the whole industry, and Boz is the perfect artist for that format," he says. "It's a narrowcasted format in terms of demographics, but it's very important to us." The track will later be serviced to album rock radio.

After some initial excitement among Scaggs' fans has built from the title track, Virgin plans to release "I'll Be The One" to several formats, including top 40. "That's the one we think has the potential to be a pop single," says Quartararo. Video plans are still being set. Other than the bouncy opening track, "Got My Letter," the album tends to be more subtle and certainly less slick than Scaggs' previous efforts-which is exactly how the artist wanted it.

Scaggs produced the album with Ricky Fataar; Barry Beckett also co-produced two tracks. "I think the setting had a good deal to do with how the songs came out," says Scaggs, who notes that the album was recorded at a leisurely pace on an abandoned television soundstage in San Francisco. "A lot of the way I've worked in the past, and a lot of the traditional recording structures, have you in the confines of a very expensive studio situation. And the atmosphere of Los Angeles is a little high-pressured." The lack of pressure in San Francisco shows in Scaggs' vocal delivery. Bluesy and low-slung as always, he sounds relaxed, but never slack. "The songs are very carefully constructed to make my voice and delivery as comfortable as possible," he says. "In the past, I've recorded songs in the wrong key because I hadn't even finished writing them by the time we got into the studio and I'd have to sing it. Instead of dramatically making the songs high-powered, we let more subtle things go to work here. We wanted something that was listenable, something that would last." And, Scaggs hopes, something he can play live.

He has performed only sporadically since 1980, and says he "very much would like to play again," although no tour has been set. "I've been away from the mainstream for a very long time, but this record is coming out at a pretty good time. So if there is a demand for me to perform when the sheds in America are in full swing this summer, I want to play."

BY MELINDA NEWMAN Copyright of Billboard

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