The Lost 45's - Boz Scaggs Interview
Barry Scott: You met Steve Miller at the St Marks School at Texas in Dallas. You joined his band the Marksmen. After school you went to Europe and you were in bands like The Wigs and Mother Earth and even recorded a solo LP "Boz" in Sweden in 1965; Then you were in a group called "The Other Side" before returning to San Francisco in '67 where you met up with Steve Miller again and joined his band for their first two albums 'Children of the Future' and 'Sailor'.
Barry Scott: I wanted to find out why you left the "Steve Miller Band" and signed with Atlantic as a solo artist in '68.
Boz: I'd been with Steve's organisation for about 9 or 10 months and it was just becoming apparent that there was a split, Steve was going one way and I was going another and it made the picture clearer for both of us as to where we were going and what we were doing. His vision became clear, he went on to become a power guitar trio after that. I stayed on in San Francisco and pursued my song writing. That led to eventually a contract with Atlantic as you mention.
Barry Scott: Who and what were your influences musically leading up to "Silk Degrees" ?
Boz: I always listened to soul stations at that time. I grew up in an environment of a lot of radio, a lot of music. I grew up in a small town near Dallas and the radio waves and just the general influence around there, rhythm and blues and blues music, was pretty strong. I was able to tune in to New Orleans influenced music. Its just where I gravitated. Its the music that I first learned to play on guitar and our first High School band was a rhythm and blues band. That's the music I followed. As that music became more complex and evolved into more of an urban kind of music, that's the way I went, that's where I learned more complex guitar chords and more complex harmonic information and patterned myself after vocalists that I heard on that side of the radio dial. That's the way I evolved through the 70's.
I made the "Slow Dancer" album with a Motown producer and Motown musicians who had migrated to Los Angeles at that time. And that opened the doors to the Los Angeles studio scene and session players. The musicians that I ended up working with on "Silk Degrees" were influenced very much by the same side of the radio dial, if you will, we just did what we thought was happening and what we liked to do and it reflected in a pretty timely album. I just think it was the right gumbo at the time.
BarryScott: David Paich, probably one of your biggest fans from what I hear from him.
Boz: That's mutual, David and I have had a lot of success together as songwriters and as friends. Our lives have run not exactly parallel courses, but we have been in touch and involved and working together for a long time. I consider it a very important and sort of magic relationship that we have. No one brings out the music in me more than David Paich.
Barry Scott: From here I want to talk about "Silk Degrees" for a little bit. I know it was recorded with the back-up musicians that became Toto. Did you have a definite concept in mind with that album ?
Boz: No. There was no pre-planning. I had sketches and beginnings of songs. I had some music. I played it for David and David took my 'starts' as we call them, filled them out, and formed them into complete songs with real parts and beginnings and ends and pitched them at the band that he had been playing with for a while. Well at least the trio, the core of the group was Jeff Porcaro and David Hungate. It just materialised from there, there was no real concept about it. We had certain musicality in common from listening to the radio and just our background and our interests, so it evolved from there.
Barry Scott: The first one "We Were Always Sweethearts" ?
Boz: Um, Van Morrison. I was trying to imitate Van I think at the time. He was big influence. He was living in the Bay Area at that time and I was working with some of his players. Although it may not sound like - oh you know - lets say Archie Bell and the Drells - I think that's a little closer to home on that one. There was a guitar riff that I picked up off the radio from them.
Barry Scott: I've spoken to Archie Bell and he would be very happy to hear that.
Boz: He'd probably recognise that right off.
Barry Scott: The first single from "Silk Degrees" has always been one of my favourites and I always wondered whether afterwards the record label questioned releasing it first. I never have gotten sick of the song "It's Over".
Boz: That one has had resonance for quite a while. I think it holds up as well as any song on the record, maybe better, better than "Lido Shuffle" or "Lowdown" which were big hits and still get a lot of airplay. I think "It's Over" is more complete in some ways, not necessarily as a song but in terms of performance.
Barry Scott: I think its one of those songs that definitely captures blue-eyed-soul.
Boz: Uhum, interesting.
Barry Scott: "Lowdown" became a top 5 million selling record according to Billboard and top 5 R&B, that must have made you proud.
Boz: Well it was a song that was considered the least likely at the time we made it. It seemed a little bit daring. We were using some elements that were sort of untried. Someone commented at some stage of the making of that song "wouldn't it be amazing if this song ever found its way to radio" because it was probably our collective favourite song. But it really didn't seem like anything that would have any attraction on top 40 radio at the time. And in fact it didn't find its attraction on top 40 radio at all, it became a minor and then a major hit on R&B radio then crossed over to top 40 radio. Well, the rest is history, but we were very gratified to get a Grammy for Best R&B Song of the Year and to have been recognised by that radio community as having done something that was important.
Barry Scott: There were a lot of tracks released from Silk Degrees, "What Can I Say" just missed the Top 40 according to Billboard in '76, but I do research everywhere Boz, and it was a Top 10 hit over in the UK and I wondered what came to mind about that song.
Boz: It was a song that David gave to me as I recall, he had a sketch of that and it just seemed timely. I think it was taken after our mutual interest in some of the Philly sounding things. You know, the Gamble and Huff and Tommy Bell produced records of the day, and that was our attempt to style a song after that kind of music.
Barry Scott: When I looked over in England I was surprised it was a Top 10 hit there.
Boz: I didn't know that, that's news to me, its very interesting.
Barry Scott: So when you go there next it has to be on the setlist you know.
Boz: OK, that's a good idea.
Barry Scott: Lets talk "We're All Alone". I wanted to find out if you knew how Rita Coolidge found it, if she just listened to the album, and if you liked her version ?
Boz: Yeah, it was very gratifying to hear her version. I had always admired Rita. I guess I first became aware of her through the 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' band in which she toured. They had a couple of beautiful singles she was featured on. She was a top session vocalist at that time. We hadn't met, we had a few mutual friends, but I was very gratified to hear her having done that song and her version of it. She took it from the album as far as I know. There was no pre-release and we had no idea she was recording it. I didn't know until I heard it on the radio. And of course to have the success she had with it was probably more gratifying than hearing our own music on the radio. I think there's something very special about hearing artists that you respect doing one of your songs.
Barry Scott: Lets talk "Lido Shuffle", what is it all about ?
Boz: Oh I don't know, you know, its sort of a little throw-down, that's an impressionistic little thing about a character who is flying by the seat of his pants. That's probably as well as I can describe it.
Barry Scott: I read in I think it was a Rolling Stone book that listed the top 10 songs to pass the censors and "Lido Shuffle" is on there.
Boz: Hmmm, I can't comment. I don't know what lines they might have in mind or how they might arrive at that.
Barry Scott: I'm thinking its more like a 'Louie Louie' Kingsmen thing where they are just guessing at a lyric that might not be there.
Boz: I don't know, I cannot comment.
Barry Scott: The next album was "Down Two Then Left" and the singles "Hard Times" and "Hollywood" came from it, but I imagine it was hard to follow up such a huge album as "Silk Degrees".
Boz: I think that you said that it must be hard to follow up, and there were certain wilful decisions made about how to follow that album, and of course all eyes were on us with that follow-up. We thought long and hard about what that follow-up would be up to a point, then it became common sense and it was pointless to try to follow it up. There was no way that could really have. We changed a few personnel and I just followed my instincts and my interests at that time. There was really no way to methodically or mechanically try to reproduce something, so we just did what there was to do. There a number of factors that were quite different, it was a different time and a different direction and that was what it was.
Barry Scott: It was 1980, a lot of the artists from the 70's didn't make it into the 80's, but certainly you did and there are a couple of songs on Middle Man that I loved. I know "Breakdown Dead Ahead" was a top 15 hit and Ray Parker Jnr was on guitar. Anything about the song, I think its a cool rocker?
Boz: It followed a pattern that I had had from a number of previous albums. I always wanted to include one shuffle beat song on each album. It sort of comes out of my basic blues background. There are a lot of different ways to do it that can become cliched in some styles of music, but I always like to include at least one. "Lido Shuffle" was the one off "Silk Degrees". Each album had a shuffle and that was the shuffle that we gave the Middle Man album and to have Steve Lukather and Ray Parker blowin on that song was pretty special.
Barry Scott: Jojo actually made the top 20, Pop and R&B. Was looking at the charts something that was important to you ?
Boz: Not really, you can't aim at it. We certainly had our ear on the radio more at that time, it was just part of our vernacular, it was part of what we did at an age, I think we were certainly influenced by what was on the radio, the soul side of the radio that influenced us. The song came out of that genre.
Barry Scott: How did you get involved with Urban Cowboy. "Look What You've Done To Me" was a hit from it ?
Boz: We were making the "Middleman Man" album literally right next door to Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. David Foster and I were writing songs because of David's success as an arranger and producer. We were called over to Paramount Studios into the office of a legendary producer there named Roberts Evans. He and the director who were in the process of making "Urban Cowboy" asked us if we could write music for a particular scene which they read to us from the script. They really needed the song by the next morning. We met at some ungodly hour, put the song together, and went to the studio at 10 o'clock that morning and cut the song, in order to have a rough mix of it ready for a 12 o'clock flight to Houston. So it came rather quickly, but I think we answered the call and I think probably the deadline had something to do with the chemistry of that song. I think under pressure we reached into the hat and picked something that might have been over thought had we been given more time, but as it was it seemed to work pretty well.
Barry Scott: Glen Frey, Don Henley and Timothy B Schmidt were on back-up vocals.
Boz: Yeah. After we had submitted the song, they used it in the film, then we had a chance for me to finish writing lyrics and re-sing the song. As a part of the finished product the Eagles guys came in and gave us a beautiful background part.
Barry Scott: I wanted to find out what pops into your head from the "Greatest Hits" album which came out in 1980, the song Miss Sun, and how you found Lisa Dalbello?
Boz: That was really through my association with David Paich and Jeff Porcaro who had been working with Lisa. I think David was producing Lisa and I think it was Jeff that told me about her. The song 'Miss Sun' was very personal to David Paich and he was very reluctant to let anyone else record the song. But I think because of our close friendship, and our association with the producer Bill Schnee, he let us do the song. The Toto band had already recorded it completely but we went into the studio one night and recut it completely and Lisa came in and did the vocal parts with me. I think she's probably one of the most remarkable singers I have ever heard in my life. 'Miss Sun' came out and had a reasonable run.
Barry Scott: When she comes on in that record it does make you sit up and pay attention.
Boz: She has that quality alright !
Barry Scott: You took time off from 1980 through 1988, and in '88 you came back with the "Other Roads" album, and a song that I thought was so overlooked, one of the better songs from the 80's, but it was such a strange period in the mid 80's, 'Heart of Mine'.
Boz: We were looking for a hit song. We listened to some outside material, we just hadn't found anything on the material that we had already recorded. It was producer Bill Schnee who had had some association with Bobby Caldwell, one of the writers of that song. It was an infectious melody and went on to be a hit for Bobby and myself in other places in the world and remains one of my most requested songs outside of the U.S.
Barry Scott: Another listener question; I can see you rolling your eyes at this one. They wanted to know how William Royce became Boz ?
Boz: It was a nickname given to me when I started going to a new school when I was about 14 years old. I don't know the origins of it, but the kids in the class called me Bosley. I don't know why, there's no punch line to this story. But being that I was in a new town and among new friends... First I went along with it then the more I protested of course the more firmly it became Bosley which got shortened to Boz. I didn't choose it, I didn't think of it, it just became what I was called.
Barry Scott: I guess you could thank them now because it sure does work.
Boz: I don't know whether to thank who or what, its the handle that I got attached with.
Barry Scott: I suppose they could have sued you later for copyright.
Boz: (laughing) I suppose they could have in this day and time.
Barry Scott: Any message that you'd like to leave with fans who have followed you throughout your career?
Boz: Just that I'm really glad that I can keep doing what I'm doing. I find myself feeling like I did when I first started in music. I'm more happy with my involvement in music than I have ever been in my life. I feel very grateful that I can continue doing what I love to do.
Barry Scott: Boz, hopefully it wasn't too horrible to reminisce.
Boz: Not at all Barry, I enjoyed talking with you.