Boz Scaggs Interview - San Francisco Chronicle

Doing the Black & White / Boz Scaggs adds some blues to the B&W Ball


Boz Scaggs strolls into a basement dressing room at Slim's. It is not a posh place. The Rolling Stones have clearly never played this club. There is an orange couch that looks to have ridden some hard miles in the back of a pickup.

But it is good enough for Boz. Stripped of his showman, record- promotion finery, he is still a bluesman from the Texas flats. He slouches easily into the cushions, indicating he has traveled some hard miles of his own and probably lived on a couch like this.

Perhaps it was 20 years ago, when he was banging around the world on the strength of a voice as soulful as a coyote howl, singing lonesome songs with lonesome titles such as "I'll Be Long Gone" and "Waiting for a Train," covering Jimmie Rodgers better than Rodgers could cover himself.

"I think about that sometimes," says Scaggs, 46, sinking down more into the couch and nostalgia. "Hanging out and two or three honest sets a night. I miss that."

Tonight, he will be good for one honest hourlong set, when his house band, the Solid Senders, barnstorms the blues venue in the Civic Center tent at the Black and White Ball. It is his first announced appearance in the Bay Area since New Year's Eve 1989. The nearest he normally comes these days to a concert is when his blues persona, "Presidio Slim," performs an occasional, impromptu show at Slim's, which he just happens to own.

He is willing to lend his name (though not his real real name: William Royce Scaggs) to help the San Francisco Symphony, even though he never sees it. "I just don't have a knowledge of that music," he says. A publicist explains he has raised millions for the symphony, whether he knows the music or not. "Then I've got to get out and see one, one of these days," he responds with a broad album-cover smile.

"I'm glad to be a part of it and participate in any way I can," says Scaggs, who became the Boz after some private-school classmates in Dallas kept confusing him with a kid named Bosley.

The self-deprecating manner puts a humble twist on the show, for Boz Scaggs or Billy Scaggs or Presidio Slim or whatever name he chooses will certainly be the blues show tonight. There are other deeply soulful acts with deeply soulful names like Johnny Nocturne, Joe Louis Walker and Roy Rogers. Presidio Slim is pretty soft stuff by comparison, particularly in reference to the ele gant and decidedly nonbluesy Presidio Wall neighborhood where Slim lives.

But when he twangs up that Texas tenor and bends those haunting guitar notes, perhaps no white man alive can capture the mood like Boz Scaggs.

"My first love is rhythm and blues music," he says. "That's what I love to do on guitar. That's what I love to sing. I feel a real temptation to go back and just do that."

Notwithstanding, Scaggs has undergone many musical metamorphoses since he recorded "Loan Me a Dime," his seminal 1969 blues signature with the immortal Duane Allman backing.

One year he was draining his heart into it in a scruffy band at Marine World, wearing scraggly hair and one of those lip beards. ("I don't know what that was called," he says, like a kid tortured by his high school photo. "I haven't thought about it for a while.") When next seen he was blow-dried, clean-shaven and waltzing out in an all-white outfit down to the patent leathers at Berkeley's Greek Theatre, performing slick pop from his "Slow Dancer" and "Silk Degrees" albums.


When talking the blues, it all comes back to "Loan Me a Dime," the way Johnny Cash, no matter how many religious conversions, returns to "I Walk the Line." There are other requests that follow him around. "As many people want to hear `Lido Shuffle' as `Loan Me a Dime,' " he says, but it's not likely in a blues tent.

The shouted pleas will come, but he doubts he will play it. "We haven't planned on it," he says, leaving the door ever so slightly open. "It takes all night."

He'd rather get off the stage and around to the other venues. "Richard Olson is on, I'll have to say hello to him," he says, while perusing a program. "Merl Saunders and Dick Bright are playing. Asleep at the Wheel. There's a lot for me to wander around and see."


Scaggs is a successful restaurateur and nightclub owner, keeping both his younger brothers fully employed. He has two sons in private school, and he could conceivably fill his days driving and picking them up from their separate schools on his Harley. Instead, he is in the painful process of writing songs, in preparation to record another album.

"I don't know anything else to do," he says.

There is image risk involved in creating new music when the old stuff is so strong. Of his past two albums, "Middle Man" was a bomb, relative to "Silk Degrees," and "Other Roads" was a bomb any way you look at it. It wouldn't even support a nationwide tour, with loyal fans obliging the new stuff for a chance at the old.

"I was very frustrated when I released the last record," he says. "I wanted to tour, but in some places I was not able to sell enough tickets, so I had to cancel."

Yet when Boz pulls out one of his own songs to listen to, it isn't "We Were Always Sweethearts" or "Dinah Flo" or "Slow Dancer," or "Georgia." He reaches for cuts from "Middle Man" and even "Other Roads," making him quite possibly the only person in America doing so at this particular time.

"They're all experiments," he says. "Some have stuck. Hopefully there's been some musical growth too. There's no plan. One changes as one grows. That's all you're doing. It's a job like anything else and there's necessarily a lot of growth and evolving."

Which brings him full circle to this windowless, dingy dressing room and the notion of "three honest sets a night."

If he ever returns to that, it won't be at his own club. He has a farfetched dread of taking the stage while people groan, "Not him again." That would never happen. Not in this town. Not so long as there is a glimmer of hope to hear "Loan Me a Dime."

Copyright 1991 San Francisco Chronicle

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