Boz Scaggs Interview - The Modesto Bee


[By: Roger W. Hoskins, Bee Staff Writer - August 13, 1999]

It's no secret. Boz is back in a big way.

Boz Scaggs is in his latest incarnation as an artist after disappearing and reappearing from the music scene after his popularity peaked 20 years ago.

Over the years, he has managed to come to terms with his pop success and his roots in rhythm and blues. Scaggs is in the middle of his busiest touring schedule since the the smash success of his soul-pop fused album "Silk Degrees," released in 1976. He plays Aug. 19 at California State University, Stanislaus.

The reasons for his return are easier to understand than his absences. Scaggs lost his son earlier this year. Oscar Scaggs died of a heroin overdose in San Francisco. While the subject of his son is off limits to interviewers, Scaggs' healing process is not. To heal, he says, he turns to music. "I play until I feel better. (When I'm alone) sometimes I play the same song hundreds of times. I only play new songs, not ones I've recorded."

Talking by phone from a Seattle tour stop, Scaggs says he's still looking for the perfect song. "I haven't found it yet. I'll keep playing and recording until I do." As he plays a tune inside out, Scaggs says he tries to "sense emotions or attitudes. Each variation has a different thing."

One thing he senses about himself is that his current tour is doing him some good. "I enjoy working again and hope to play many more dates. The more I play the better my guitar becomes. It really makes me a better musician." Critics have noticed, too.

Scaggs is playing more of his early hits on this tour than he has of late, blending his blues roots with his pop success of the 1970s. It is proving to be a winning recipe. The Boston Globe was effusive in a review earlier this summer: "Boz Scaggs sang his gentlemanly blues with class (he remains the quintessential Bay Area smoothie). He scored with his simmering funk hits 'Lido' and 'Lowdown,' but really excelled on the aching 'Loan Me A Dime,' a Chicago blues tune by Fenton Robinson." Scene Online went one better: "If there is such a thing as a perfect set, then it was what Scaggs offered. Such a great voice... He plays a Gibson guitar like nobody's business, and he has a band that not only matches his talent but seems to amplify it."

Scaggs has an ethereal goal and approach to his live performances. "There's a spiritual quality to music - music literally is these vibrations that connect people to each other," he says. "It's entirely an emotional and spiritual experience. "I try to connect with the audience by connecting to myself. I'm the medium and I try to share that with the audience, and they make their own choices. I give them what they don't expect as well as what they do."

Listening to other musicians and connecting with them is something Scaggs has done all his life. "I listen to musicians. I'll listen to American jazz from the 1950s, Steely Dan, Brazilian or Mexican music." Despite his singular style, Scaggs admits he is indebted to others. "A lot of my heroes are from the rhythm and blues category, and without a doubt African-American music has been the most important in my life. I want to bring the same spirit - like Marvin Gaye or Ray Charles - to the jazz and blues that I play." Scaggs no longer minds a description used about his forays into African-American music: "blue-eyed soul." Now 55, Scaggs told Blues review in a 1998 interview that he was well past angst over that patronizing term. "I always sort of admired people who got put in that category, Hall and Oates, Bobby Caldwell, Van Morrison ... I always considered them good company."

Scaggs is working on a new album that he says will bring him full circle in his career. While Scaggs acknowledges that his last release, 1997's "Come On Home," reached to his deepest musical roots in the blues, he says his new work has more in common with "Silk Degrees." "I've heard it said that you really only make one record and then you make it over and over again, going from pop to ballad to blues. This work is definitely more pop-related than the last two."

In a 1997 interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Scaggs gave his own review of his early work and success. "I listen to some of what I was doing in the '70s - I call it my Los Angeles years - and they were very slick productions. Some of it sounds very dated. Some stands up and some is cringe city." His earliest work was with his Dallas high school classmate Steve Miller, but Scaggs left to pursue a career as a solo artist in 1968. A Web site biography explains those days. "It was the Steve Miller Blues Band. I was a sideman. I contributed a couple of songs, but they had their own direction. It was a divided camp, either Steve's day in the studio or mine. We were both finding our focus and growing by leaps and bounds." In order to find himself he had to take ownership of his music, a point he made in a 1998 interview with Blues Review: "You have to make a song your own in order to come across. Otherwise it sounds silly." For 30 years, Scaggs' music has been his own - something he's shared with a few million fans who have enjoyed the connection.

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