Orange County Register - Boz Scaggs Interview

[Author: Mark Brown - September 6, 1996]

Despite ups and downs, he's still his own Boz

After lying low for a few years, Boz Scaggs finds he and the record industry have the same interest again - the music.

If you're going to take most of a decade off from music - well, that decade might just as well be the '80s.

In retrospect, Boz Scaggs sees it as maybe the smartest move he ever made. After helping define the sound of the '70s with his classic smooth R&B album "Silk Degrees," he had the luxury of letting music go for a while.

"I retired in 1980 to bring up my kids and do other things," he said. "It wasn't an active decision at that time. Sometimes your instincts turn elsewhere. I took six months off, and it turned into a longer time."

Indeed - most of the '80s. After a 1980 "Hits!" package, it was eight years before the next release, "Other Roads."

But as it turns out, if you were going to leave the music business for a while, the '80s was the time to do it. In an era of forced hit singles and synth-driven music, record companies were rejecting and refusing to put out perfectly good albums by Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and other big artists.

Including Scaggs. He was surprised to hear that the others suffered the same fate he did during the '80s.

"I was happy not to be around in the '80s," Scaggs said.

"I had a horrible experience with my record company at the time," he said.

Same story: He turned in an album, and the label said: "We don't hear any hits. Could you do five or six more songs?"

"I make records. I don't try to make hits," Scaggs said.

"There were a lot of American blues and R&B and urban black music getting into the mainstream in the '70s," he said. "A lot of elements were explored. Then everyone got on the bandwagon in the '80s. The emergence of the synthesizer just exploded. Marketing took on a new level. It got real, real ugly. There was so much money around in the '80s.

"It got as far away from real creative musical areas as it could possibly be," he said. "It spawned the importance of alternative music and the re-emergence of songs. People got saturated with so much (junk). The trends now are a lot closer to classic music traditions - they begin with songs."

And the '90s?

"I've been working in the studio in San Francisco," Scaggs said.

Indeed. After spending years between albums, Scaggs will suddenly have two discs out in six months - though you have to buy a Japanese import to get one of them. It's a film soundtrack called "The President's Christmas Tree," due out in November, which includes "a backlog of material that I won't be using on my new Virgin album."

That album, an as-yet untitled R&B workout, is due out in February. You might hear bits of it Sunday when Scaggs performs at the Greek Theatre.

You'll also hear harder rock, smooth R&B and maybe a few other surprises.

"A lot of people don't know of my career pre-"Silk Degrees," he said. "There were four or five albums before that, a lot of road work and a lot of high-powered musicians."

Indeed, the public and his record company didn't know what to make of his work after "Silk Degrees," either. "Down Two, Then Left" and "Middleman" took a harder-rock road; fans who went to see him live expecting the smooth, sophisticated groove of "Lowdown" were surprised to see him playing guitar and fronting the band on harder rockers such as "Breakdown Dead Ahead."

"We could round up the same cast of characters and go do it again, or do what came next. I did what came next," he said.

While he doesn't like to be pigeonholed, at the same time, he says: "I'm very proud when people talk about my style. That's a big thing in an artist's career."

"I'm always amused when I hear people talking about making a Boz Scaggs record. I myself don't know what that is. I like all kinds of music. People tend to keep you in a certain bag that they liked you in."

Since getting back in the game with 1995's "Some Change," Scaggs is getting used to the record industry all over again. One thing he is having to adapt to is radio promo tours, in which artists visit stations, chat on the air and play a song or two acoustically. At first, he was opposed to it.

"That's just not me," he said.

But once he tried it, a stripped, raw version of "Lowdown" resulted, giving Scaggs ideas for the next time he's on the road.

"I'd like to do a tour like that, and I intend to," he said. "Some of the songs lend themselves to it well. I'd love to do a tour of small auditoriums with it. It's fun to rediscover (the songs). That's perhaps a touchstone of the '90s. It's happening in alternative music. I think it's a direct opposite tack to that which was taken in the '80s."

Sunday's show at the Greek, though, will be full-band and a full spectrum of Scaggs' career, from the "Silk Degrees" hits to his newer material.

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