Classic Boz - Boz Scaggs Australian Interview
[By Ara Jansen - Australia]
WHEN the lights of the charts fade, many musicians are forced to face reality. Was it all about marketing or is there really an artist underneath, who will continue to make music well into their third, fourth or fifth decades? People like Sting, James Taylor and Neil Diamond have kept the faith while many others have fallen by the wayside.
And as the charts continue to be dominated by midriff-bearing blondes, existing in an almost parallel musical universe are artists like Grammy-winning Boz Scaggs, who continue to make music on their own terms. They're also the people who deserve the all too rare tag of "artist", as distinct from entertainer or pop stars born of television and marketing.
These musicians have enjoyed the glare of the top but have moved into adult contemporary circles by honing their craft with solid albums and touring.
The smart ones invested their money too. Scaggs owned a restaurant with his brothers for five or six years, which turned into a well-publicised disaster. Admittedly bitten by the bug of famous people needing to own places to meet, eat and drink, Scaggs is glad he got out alive. Now he and his wife own and run a small winery in the Napa Valley area of northern California. Called 'Scaggs' Winery, it's a case of so far so good and next year they plan to bottle their first vintage.
Grapes aside, music has always been the Texan's first love, from working with the Steve Miller Band in the 60s to his first self-titled solo album, the mid-70s Slow Dancer, the famed Silk Degrees album and songs like Lido Shuffle, Harbour Lights and What Can I Say.
Scaggs' latest project is the self-produced But Beautiful, Standards Volume I. It's an album of jazz standards which includes tracks like How Long Has This Been Going On?, Easy Living, Never Let me Go and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.
"How could I not try it?" says Scaggs from his San Francisco studio. "These songs are beautiful and so seductive and I am sure I have sung most of them at one point in my life, even if it was just in the car."
Even for someone who owns tones as smooth as Scaggs, he says he's kept away from such classics for years.
"It's sacred ground for me. Jazz itself is the real music for me. I'm not a jazz musician but I like jazz. Over time I have been able to spend some time with some jazz musicians who encouraged me to try it."
Surely it wasn't a case of a veteran being scared? Apprehensive might be a better word, he suggests, given so many people have tried the standards route and made mistakes.
"A lot of people think they sound good doing them when all they do is sound trite and silly," he says. "I didn't want to deceive
"In time I just relaxed and started singing. It's the best feeling to sing them. It's extremely difficult but it's like flying. Some of the melodies are challenging and really take some skill and craft to do but when you bring the words alive it's wonderful."
There's the added challenge of bringing to life songs which were written in the 30s and 40s with a totally different cultural norm in mind. Success in the style is all in how you deliver a line of words: where you pause, when to slide neatly into the next verse or how to break up a word and have the listener hanging on for the end of it. Scaggs maintains a lot of that art was lost some 40 years ago when rock'n'roll singers began writing their own lyrics and singing themselves.
"Whether you are Dylan or Mitchell, you are writing your own words and singing them how you might say them and it suits your delivery," he says. "That makes you realise how difficult it is to do someone else's song and how really difficult it is to take songs from different eras, from another time and emotional place."