Boz Scaggs Interview - Crawdaddy
From Muscle Shoals to Motown
[By: Ellen Wolff with Jack Breschard - March 1974]
A few mellow moments with a man whose time, this time, has come.
"Is your name really Bosley Scaggs?" Half his life ago, out of nowhere, on the first day of prep school in Dallas, William R. Scaggs was confronted. An unknown classmate stared at Scaggs' lanky, adolescent frame and demanded some response. "I thought he was kidding, right? I mean my name was Bill, ya know. Anyhow, I just figured 'Sure... I'll humour this.' So I answered 'Yeah, I'm Boz.'" Scaggs shrugs his shoulders good naturedly and smiles. "I understand the cat's in a mental hospital somewhere now, so I guess there's no punch-line. "I've just been Boz ever since."
Stop any San Francisco freak on the street and the name is bound to bring a warm grin of recognition. A popular member of the Steve Miller Band through its "Sailor" outing. Boz is one of the foggy city's favourite sons. His reputation has solidified through his four post-Miller solo albums - the soulful sound of Boz Scaggs oozing sexy, subtle, husky, sensitive, sometimes raunchily full-blown. But whatever the musical form - and Boz has explored many, and made innovations in more than a few - the music he leads is captivating.
Although his first solo album, "Boz Scaggs", was virtually lost as far as most of the country was concerned, San Francisco made it a regional classic of 1969. One of the first "rock" albums to seep from the cauldron of talent cooking in Muscle Shoals. Boz Scaggs is sauteed with the precious spice of Duane Allman's guitar/dobro virtuosity and the talents of David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums and Barry Beckett on piano (all three now of Traffic).
Succumbing to the South's 16 rpm lifestyle, and the appeal of the local musical talent, Scaggs lay back for months while his album passed from hand to excited hand throughout the Bay Area. It wasn't until 2 years later, his own band and a new label (Columbia), that Scaggs released his second solo, the mellow "Moments" album. Although time had polished his carefully crafted tunes to a new gloss and tightened his band into an organic unit, even the success of the single "We Were Always Sweethearts," with its pulsating horns, pounding rhythms and liquid vocal, couldn't lure the mass consciousness into the album's subtle sense.
Yet "Moments" made him as energetic as his first LP had left him lethargic, and within a few months the band was at work on a new album, "Boz Scaggs and Band." In hopes of recapturing the high-charged excitement that had surrounded the recording of "Children of the Future" with Steve Miller, Boz brought his band to London, placing them in the care of producer Glyn Johns.
"That idea backfired," Scaggs says shaking his head with a sheepish grin. "Everybody brought their wives and old ladies and we just had one big party. Nobody wanted to work."
But he regained his stride with "My Time", a satisfying mixture of his San Francisco band and his Muscle Shoals friends. Besides continuing Scaggs' flirtation with blues, R&B and tender ballads, it also contains some convincing rock and roll. "Full-Lock Power Slide" pumps and thumps with the nature, authority and commercial accessibility, that mark a great boogey tune. And in the year since its release a wide variety of new ideas have taken shape in the Scaggs scheme of things.
"I'm planning to leave for London again very soon, and this time it'll be more serious. I can't work at home in San Francisco, its just too distracting. There are phone calls and friends dropping by and I can't get time to myself. Which is what I really need to work." With his feet up against the wall of a quiet North Hollywood studio, Scaggs was talking comfortably while a 12-piece string section was running through takes of an Allen Toussaint tune entitled "Hercules," a part of Scaggs' latest album. "I want the London album to be fuckin' incredible. It's going to be far out and weird. I've been planning it for a while now and I know exactly how I want it to sound."
Scaggs' determination to produce the new venture, as well as write, sing and arrange the songs, raised more than a few problems. Originally planned for this summer, the album was caught in the creative moratorium that struck Columbia after the Clive Davis fracas. With the Columbia wagons pulled into circle, he had trouble making the company live up to the promises he had gotten from Davis on the London project.
"They wanted to assign me a producer, but I'd already planned the whole thing." Out of the debates emerged a compromise that Scaggs now happily admits is one of the best things that's happened for him musically in his long career. "We agreed to do this album here in Los Angeles before I leave for London. So I've been locked up in a hotel room with a tape recorder and my guitar, just fixin' up my tunes and coming here to sing 'em." Taking his feet down momentarily, he leans forward and rips a can of Budweiser from the six pack on the floor and with an incredulous smile crooks his thumb upward in a gesture of success.
Sinking back into the deep cushions of the couch, his feet again propped casually against the wall, Scaggs closes his eyes as the tape spins out another tune from the new album. "Your World" [Sail On White Moon] is a hauntingly beautiful ballad of a black man's love for his white woman, and Scaggs in the control room sings along with his own refrain. "Sail on white moon, across a dark and starry sky..." When the song's hypnotic spell fades away, Boz revives himself with a shake of his head and a satisfied smile. "I wrote those few lines in the refrain, but it's really Johnny's tune." He glances with admiration at the man coolly overseeing the production. Johnny Bristol, renowned Motown producer of such acts as Gladys Knight and the Pips, is a new staff producer for Columbia and Scaggs' new LP is one of his first projects.
Scaggs takes a long pull from his beer, "In the beginning I didn't like the idea of having a producer. But Johnny and I got together and talked and just hit it off. Then we started planning the album. Some of the tunes are his, some are mine and a couple we wrote together."
In the studio, the string section has gone out on a break and has been replaced by a five-man horn ensemble. They are working on Scaggs' soulful "You Make It So Hard (To Say No)," and as the multi-layered vocals swirl around him, Scaggs demonstrates what the chorus will be doing by adding a lively harmony. The vocal track is impressively evocative and Scaggs is genuinely pleased. "Man, I'm learning how to sing on this album - they're teaching me all over again!" He seems almost incredulous. "These musicians are just blowing my mind. All these cats Johnny knows! I mean like Smokey Robinson dropped by to lend some encouragement, and the bass player and the drummer are the guys on all the records I've always loved!" The mood that flavours the album most is the sweet Philadelphia sound that has appeared before in Scaggs' music, but none of his records have captured it in such dazzling quantity.
The engineer signals that he is ready for a take, the musicians settle down and H.B. Barnum, who is arranging the orchestration, saunters back into the control room and plops himself down. Scaggs leans over and offers him a cold beer. "No thanks, man." H.B. waves his hand. "I don't drink."
"What's that then, ace?" Scaggs prods H.B.'s rotound midsection and laughs. "Your love muscle?"
With deadpan cool that Flip Wilson would be proud of H.B. quips, "Nope. That's my chest. I just keep it there when I'm not using it."
A week later at Columbia's Hollywood A&R department, Johnny Bristol is previewing two cuts of Scaggs' still nameless album. "Pain of Love" pounds out with a crafty vocal testifying amidst a relentless rhythm section, soaring strings and a brat-ta-tat-tat of brass. Everyone in the room feels the motor city pulse surge through them. The music mixes Scaggs' down-home Texas heart with some fuel-injected urban soul. Later Scaggs tried coolly to explain, "Those were only reference vocals, but it gives you an idea of where it's at." But he can't contain himself. "Really does sound like Motown, don't it ?"