Venice Magazine - Boz Scaggs Interview

Can You Dig It

[By B. Jude Landry - October 2001]

For the casual music fan who tunes in to the classic rock or adult contemporary radio station, singer Boz Scaggs may best be known for his 1976 smash hit single "Lido Shuffle."  But there's a lot more to Boz than the up-tempo, good-time song may suggest.  During his 35 year, 17-album career, Boz (named William Royce Scaggs at birth) has constantly challenged himself to maintain and improve upon the quality of his recordings.  Marking his first new collection of material in over seven years, Scaggs' latest record, "Dig" (Virgin), is arguably his best work since his 1976 breakthrough hit, "Silk Degrees".

Born June 8, 1944 in Ohio but raised in Oklahoma and Texas, Boz took off for England in the early 60's to pursue his music career.  Paying his dues singing in street corners in Europe, Scaggs recorded his first solo album, "Boz", in Sweden in 1965.  Returning to the States and relocating to San Francisco, Scaggs made a name for himself when he joined The Steve Miller Band in 1967. (Boz has known guitarist Steve Miller while both were attending prep school in Dallas.)  A year later Scaggs left the band and went solo, making several critically acclaimed records during the 70's.

For most of the 80's Boz remained in San Francisco, opening his famed nightclub, Slims, in 1988, the same year he resumed his recording career with "Other Roads".

The 90's brought Scaggs' return to touring (with Donald Fagen's Rock and Soul Revue, 1991) and saw the release of "Some Change" (1994) and "Come On Home" (1997).

Hot off the press, "Dig" (co-produced with Danny Kortchmar and David Paich), manages to use state-of-the-art technology, contemporary sounds and cutting-edge production, while maintaining the vintage, soulful Scaggs sound.  The result is a record that takes its influences from such diverse genres as techno, rock, R&B, hip-hop and jazz.  Boz took a break recently to discuss the release of "Dig", his musical influences, and the importance of maintaining sonic quality in this digital age.

Venice:  Tell us about the creative process for your new album "Dig".

Boz Scaggs:  We started with sketches, really. Ideas that are sketches of the songs. This started the ball rolling.  It all begins in Dave's (Paich) studio in Los Angeles.  This is where the musical side began to take shape. As it started, it seemed we were reaching, but we weren't getting it. I'd been hearing Danny (Kortchmar) a lot recently, and his sound had been on my mind. Of course, Danny and Dave had worked together on several projects, including "Silk Degrees", so I knew they had that kind of relationship.  That was fourteen months ago, when we sat down, looked at our calendars, and cleared dates for what would become "Dig" - that was August 2000.  We each had varying degrees of collaboration, where material was composed on a completely individual level and together as well.  And then my part, the lyrics, came last.

Venice: Is it important to you that the lyrics come last ?

Boz:  Lyrics come together after everything has been nearly completed because I need as much of the music as I can get, to give me that feel of where we're going.  There's something in the music, in the tone, that I need.  Because I'm primarily a vocalist, you see.  Its like a novelist who goes page to page, writing and discovering characters.  The more the novel develops, [the more] the characters do, and they begin to come alive. 

Venice: What inspired the title "Dig" ?

Boz: It was really an attitude amongst the three of us - Kooch and Paich and I - in the studio working together. We were all on pretty common ground in the making of this record. And we're all grounded in music from New Orleans, as far as the spirit of what we hear and create.  What I call the American roots music.  And it was this king of attitude, this common ground, that shaped the music. 

Venice: You draw heavily from the R&B and the soulful sounds of the South for "Dig".

Boz: Well, we draw from a lot of things. I mean, just as traditional forms are in the air, they are there for the taking. You hear these things and they influence your tastes. With Kooch, it was the loops - the hip-hop sounds, I guess - all of the loops and beats are [his]. Whereas Paich's inspiration is shown in the arrangement - the vocal textures of percussion additions or background styles - these are the elements that Paich is really talented with. He can find those certain sounds.

Venice: There's that 70's R&B rhythm influence in the sound. Almost like James Brown.

Boz: We are all influences, I guess, by bands from the 60's and 70's, sure.  The Isley Brothers; The Meters; Earth, Wind & Fire; James Brown, whom you mentioned - these were and are heavy influences for that soulful sound you hear, especially the beats and loops that are part of "Dig". I mean, its these sounds that resonate throughout contemporary music. We have only begun to touch the iceberg in understanding the way that James Brown has affected the way we make music.  If you can imagine, that was real cutting edge stuff back in those days.

Venice: Yet your music has a broad range. There are several kinds of musical elements coming together.

Boz: Sure, well look at "Silk Degrees".  You hear "Lido Shuffle" and its more of that rock, up-shuffle guitar sound. "Lowdown" is an R&B influenced track, definitely, and there's disco.  I really run the gamut, in some ways, of sound and tone and influence.  I like all music.

Venice: Do you like experimenting with many forms and variations ?

Boz: I try to do it all.  That's important to me.  I certainly don't want to leave anything out.  I want my palette to be broad and colourful, with many things to pull from. 

Venice: Talk about the musicians you've worked with in the studio and their influence on your recording process.

Boz: It's really a situation or a process where I'm using the music. The music becomes a catapult for how I write. So in working with the studio musicians that I was lucky enough to collaborate with in the 70's, I began to see how the music can flesh out, with all of these pieces working together, creating tone and rhythm and harmonic sounds that are always adding to and shaping the songs. You become a musical stylist.  Working with session players gives the music more flexibility. 

Venice: How did new digital technology affect the way you recorded "Dig" ?

Boz: In the recording process, we were looking at getting that cutting-edge kind of production. As far as the digital process, in other hands, it may have come out differently. We primarily used these technological advances for speed - these tools that allow you to speed up the process - for something that would normally take many engineers and several studios, we had a traditional way of doing it, but the tecnology allowed us to do it much faster. We didn't allow the digital aspects to influence the sound.

Venice: But there is a difference between digital and analog sounds.

Boz: Analog is more resonant. And this discussion can get pretty esoteric, but our ears became accustomed to certain sounds - a guitar, piano, voice, cello - these are very complex and visceral tones that are very hard to achieve in digital because of the difference in what we are hearing. Therefore, when we're recording something critical, like a Steinway piano, an acoustic guitar, or a voice, we record in analog and transfer to digital. 

Venice: What contemporary musicians do you like ?

Boz: Well, I don't really listen to the radio. I certainly like the recent Bob Dylan record ("Time Out Of Mind"), and Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature". Sade's latest album ("Lovers Rock") is beautiful - her voice and her lyrics, I really can't say enough about - and another artist named Brad Mehidau. 

Venice: I've seen Brad perform and he's once of my favourite musicians.

Boz: It's that light touch of Brad Mehidau - to reach that universality as a jazz pianist, to find and deliver that complexity of emotion - really the ability of an artist to connect with his audience, that hasn't changed. And Brad has that.

Venice: In listening to "Dig" the two songs that really stuck with me were "Miss Riddle" and "Thanks To You". Any personal favourites for you ?

Boz: That's very interesting, the two songs that you mention. "Miss Riddle" I am very proud of because the idea is complete, as far as the song's composition from beginning to end. And "Thanks To You" because it is autobiographical. It means a lot to me and I am very happy with the way it turned out.

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