Billboard - Boz Scaggs Interview


[BY MELINDA NEWMAN:  Copyright of Billboard, 3/8/97]

The fame that Boz Scaggs experienced in the '70s with such releases as the quadruple-platinum "Silk Degrees" and platinum-plus "Down Two Then Left" was in some ways as inhibiting as it was enriching. In the whirlwind of success, Scaggs says he forgot his original reason for getting into the music business: his love of music. In fact, it got so bad that Scaggs didn't even keep a guitar in his house.

However, with his new album, "Come On Home," he's returned to his beginnings. The April 8 Virgin Records release is a collection of classic R&B and blues songs of all stripes, many of which influenced Scaggs as a youth. "I remember hearing [T-Bone Walker's] 'T-Bone Shuffle' as I was driving away from my school on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. I was listening to a radio station that played this kind of stuff and it came on. Something inside of me stirred. There was something that I heard that was a clue about what I would be doing later on."

Always a student of the blues, Scaggs had a wealth of material to consider when he started the project. To aid him, he brought in Harry Duncan, whom Scaggs describes as "an encyclopedia on rhythm and blues" and the provider of an unlimited amount of material. The pair "met regularly two times a week or one time a week, and we sat down across the table and formulated the things we chose." Ultimately, the selection came down to songs that Scaggs liked to sing, and, he confesses, tunes that he could sing. "In choosing this material, we considered thousands of titles. We ultimately put down a list of hundreds, and I actually made demos of 40 to 50 songs," he says. "I couldn't sing some of these songs, so it became a matter of the ones I could sing as well as the ones I like." For Virgin, the record is perfect for an artist like Scaggs.

"He's had this idea for a long time," says Phil Quartararo, Virgin Records (U.S.) chairman/CEO. "We were delighted from the first day. He's got one of the great blue-eyed soul voices of our generation, and he's applying it to classic songs." Given the nature of the album, there was even talk of switching it to Virgin-distributed blues label, Pointblank. "Pointblank was architected for that kind of music," says Quartararo. "The question was could they possibly do something better or different that the Virgin mother ship [couldn't] do, but the fact is that Boz is a pop artist." For Scaggs, picking the songs was the easy part.

The album also contains four songs penned by him, included at Virgin's request. "It was very difficult for me," he says. "It should have been easy as pie, but I found myself tortured over what I could do to lend myself to that genre. It was really difficult to come up with pieces that I could hold up to Jimmy Reed or Bobby 'Blue' Bland; much harder than writing a typical solo album."

Scaggs also encountered difficulty recording the album, which he produced. "One of the challenges was to bring these songs into the '90s sonically," he says. "So much of the ambience or the atmosphere of these songs had to do with the primitive recording technique people used, and you have to bring it into the modern age, but not lose that atmosphere." For Virgin, the challenge is how to work a record that falls outside the mainstream. "There are two schools of thought on how to work this record," says Quartararo. "My promotion guys are telling me the triple-A format is where they can have a hit record [with probable first single "It All Went Down The Drain"], but my instincts tell me that I don't really want to rely on radio for this. I want to count on radio as the gravy. The meat has to come from places like VH1, who have already expressed real passion for the project." The key, says Quartararo, is to reach the record's demographic - many of whom will hear about the album through means other than radio. "We need to focus on the more mature buyer," he says. "That's someone who doesn't worry about going into the record store and seeing it on sale. It's going to be reaching people through outlets like VH1 and promotional tie-ins with credit cards and merchandising tie-ins. If any radio wants to come to the party, we'd be thrilled." In fact, Virgin is also looking at how blues stations fit into the mix.

Scaggs will play a handful of shows in major cities to promote the album, but beyond that, details are sketchy. Scaggs says he wants to tour, and Quartararo adds that the discussions have focused on playing primarily the material from the new album and not his classic hits. "That's great, but I'm not sure what that means to his fans or what size rooms he plays," says Quartararo. "That's a bridge he has yet to cross. If he's just going to play this record, we just need to rethink the campaign. That's not a negative, it's just something we have to figure out."

Scaggs is also slated to make a selected number of television appearances, although Quartararo says they have to be appropriate for the artist. "He'll go out and work and do whatever it takes. He's a real trooper, but he's really shy. He doesn't just want to get in front of an interviewer and just babble about nonsense. And you know what? I'd rather have that kind of thoughtful artist all day long."

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