Boston Globe - Boz Scaggs Interview
As Boz Scaggs figures it, you can enjoy a few "wild cards" if your career lasts long enough. One allows you to make a greatest hits album. Another to make a live album. A third lets you record an entire album in a particular style of music you've always wished to pursue.
For Scaggs, that means classic R & B and blues "This was a labor of love. I wouldn't want to base my entire career on it, but it was a lifetime dream to do this," Scaggs says of "Come on Home," which came out this week on Virgin Records.
It finds Scaggs purring rapturously through songs by Bobby "Blue" Bland, Jimmy Reed, Isaac Hayes, T-Bone Walker, and other artists who shaped his youth in Dallas, where he was also a high school buddy and band mate of blues-rocker Steve Miller.
Scaggs then turned his back on the pressures, opened a nightclub called Slim's in San Francisco, and has popped up ever since with quality albums that have earned respect yet never duplicated his starry numbers.
"Come on Home" isn't likely to, either, but that's not what it's about. Instead, it's a way for Scaggs to pay tribute to his earliest root influences.
"Ultimately, I think the album is a pretty well-represented picture of where I developed my own singing style," Scaggs says from his Bay Area home. "There are many vocalists not included on this album who influenced me, but I included the ones whose songs I can sing. Some of the others, I can't."
Scaggs, however, does include a few originals, just to prove he can write in a classic vein. His "I've Got Your Love" is a supple, romantic prayer, while "After Hours" is among the sexiest tunes he's ever written. "Meet me after hours and then we'll take it nice and slow," he sings. It's a slow blues with feeling.
Scaggs sounds inspired throughout the album. He especially honors the role that the city of Memphis has played in the history of R & B, notably by covering songs associated with Bobby Bland and Willie Mitchell, and by powering through Isaac Hayes's "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)."
"R & B grew out of the blues and gospel," says Scaggs. "And Memphis was really the gateway from the Southern delta region to places north. So it's only natural I would go back to some of those elements. Bobby Bland was originally out of Memphis. We consider Willie Mitchell as a really important R & B stylist from Memphis. And 'Your Good Thing' was written in the Stax era." (Stax/Volt was an important Memphis record label that also recorded the music of Otis Redding.)
"I didn't try to remain strict to any time period. I do a Sonny Boy Williamson song ["Early in the Morning"], and in some books that would be considered straight blues. I think of it as the cornerstone of the album. I tried to add to it the 'attitude' of Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, who I originally heard do that song."
Scaggs, who performed on both days of the Newport R & B Festival last year, compiled the album's songs after weeks of research and meetings with friend Harry Duncan, who helps run Slim's.
"I could have picked 12 to 13 songs off the top of my head, but there's more research that I wanted to do," says Scaggs. "And Harry is a real aficionado of the music. We met weekly and went through lists of songs." Those lists eventually reached into thousands of songs, which Scaggs finally cut down to between 30 and 40, which he recorded demo tapes for, then pared down from there.
"I did go through a lot of material," he says. "The only real anchor I had was that I wanted to do a Bobby Bland song and a Jimmy Reed song."
The album's standout, though, is the fiery, T-Bone Walker tune, "T-Bone Shuffle," with its ardor-filled verse, "Ain't nothing wrong with you girl that a T-Bone shuffle can't cure."
"T-Bone Walker is required learning for guitarists in Texas, where I grew up," says Scaggs. "He had quite a legacy around the Dallas area. His style attracted me from the beginning. It's an easy style for a beginning guitar player to pick up. It's a root-oriented technique, but to master it would take a lifetime. His style and rhythmic approach made him distinctive."
Speaking of guitarists, Scaggs has a great one on the album - Fred Tackett, a current member of Little Feat who also toured with Bob Seger and played on Scaggs's hit album, "Silk Degrees." Other guests include all-world drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Hutch Hutchinson from Bonnie Raitt's band.
"This has been quite a learning process," says Scaggs, who now waits to see whether this "wild card" will catch on with the public.