St Petersburg Times - Boz Scaggs Interview
Copyright Times Publishing Co. Aug 8, 1997
The gritty, earthy tones of his latest album, Come on Home, may come as a surprise to many fans whose acquaintance with Scaggs came primarily with the stylish 1975 effort, Silk Degrees. Yet, the singer will tell you that his homage to such heroes as Jimmy Reed and Bobby Blue Bland is a vital link to the commercial pop that made him a radio favorite two decades ago.
"I've always looked to rhythm and blues as my teacher," Scaggs told the San Francisco Chronicle recently. "That's how I learned to write the songs I write."
Scaggs' style shift is one that he says feels right for this point in his career.
"Every once in a while you get to play a wild card if you have a career that's long enough," he said. "If you have enough radio hits, you get to put out a greatest hits album. If you're any good at live concerts, you get to put out a live album. Or you can do the `Sinatra Sings Gershwin' or `Ella Sings Cole Porter' thing. This is `Boz Gets to Do His R&B Album.' "
For Come on Home, the 52-year-old Scaggs retraced the enthusiasm for the hard-hitting R&B of Reed, Bland and T-Bone Walker - all regular fare on the Dallas radio stations he listened to growing up - and set about re-creating the sound and feel of such primal classics as Reed's Found Love and Walker's gem T-Bone Shuffle.
"These songs are basically simple - of course, the simplest things are often the most difficult to do," Scaggs told an interviewer. "The emotion is what gives these songs universal appeal and makes them ring true. It's the ability to handle those emotions, which are so genuine, so immediate and volatile, that takes care."
Scaggs' love for R&B propelled him into learning the guitar from his high school friend Steve Miller, who invited him to join his band, the Ardells. A year later, Scaggs took off for Europe, where he received some acclaim as a folk/blues artist.
In 1967 at the height of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury scene, Scaggs moved to San Francisco to join Miller's psychedelic blues outfit, with which he recorded two albums.
His Muscle Shoals-recorded solo debut, Boz Scaggs, was released in 1969 to critical raves (much of it directed toward the stunning guitar work of the then relatively unknown Duane Allman) but little commercial success.
Four successive blues-based efforts drew relatively little fanfare, and it looked as though Scaggs would forever remain just a cult hero. Then came Silk Degrees, and Scaggs' sophisticated blend of soul and jazzy pop found immediate radio gratification through the singles Lowdown and Lido Shuffle.
"It was a fun record to make," Scaggs recalled. "It changed everything for me."
But Scaggs never again duplicated the success of Silk Degrees and by the late 1980s had settled down to the comfort of running his San Francisco nightclub, Slim's. His 1994 album, Some Change, his first for Virgin Records, was his first in six years and held the impetus for his forthcoming roots effort.
"I'm fortunate that at 52, I've still got a career like when I was 25," Scaggs said. "I had different values and goals and aspirations then than I have now. But I'm able to keep doing it."