Melody Maker - Boz Scaggs Interview
Lounging in his suite at the Pierre Hotel, an opulent home for the wealthy, once owned by Paul Getty, Boz Scaggs completes a picture of ease and elegance more suited to a Bryan Ferry or David Bowie than a rocker weaned on the blues of Steve Miller and the funk of the black districts of San Francisco.
Boz likes his material comforts. Not for him a down-town motel where the road crew can party all night to the horror of the night porter, but rather a lifestyle of chandeliers and a chilled wine before an evening at the theatre. With his neatly brushed short hair and modern casual clothes, Scaggs resembles more a visiting businessman than a rock musician.
The pointers indicate an upward trend in Scaggs' fortunes during the coming year. While he has always maintained a respect, if rather understated, position in rock, a few recent changes in his life have sparked off a new enthusiasm. After five years as a sound supporting attraction and occasional bill-topper in smaller halls, Scaggs is shedding his outer coat and stepping out with a revitalised will to succeed.
Part of the reason is that he has a new management company. While for the past five years he has managed himself, he decided recently that the situation left him with too little time to concentrate on the music. Thus an alliance was formed with Irving Azoff, whose company - Front Line Management - also handles the affairs of the Eagles, Dan Fogelberg and a few others.
Another reason is his latest band, although whether they will stay together after his current tour is still in doubt. Scaggs has never kept a band together longer than necessary, preferring to pick session players for an album and a tour and then paying them off at the end of the term. His last outfit spawned a solo artist in his own right, guitarist Les Dudek whose first album Boz produced himself.
Producing Dudek was Scaggs' first outside job as a producer, although he'd co-produced some of his own albums before.
For "Silk Degrees," his last album, Scaggs spent a long time searching for the right musicians. Though its sales showed an upwards move, he wasn't too happy with "Slow Dancer," his previous record, partly because he hadn't the control he would have liked. This time around conditions had to be perfect.
"For about each instrument in the band I had about five guys to choose from," he told me. "I had a bit of help from the producer Joe Wissert and the Columbia people in LA who knew who were the lively young players around, but I was determined to get the right blend of people this time.
"I auditioned a few when I was looking for players to play on Les's (Dudek's) album, and many of them were the right ones for me too. I think its important to have the same guys doing the whole album with me, rather than substituting people on different tracks... that way you can get a sense of continuity going and it becomes cohesive."
The band eventually comprised David Paich in keyboards, who also arranged the album, drummer Jeff Porcaro, bassist David Hungate, guitarist Dan Ferguson, Jeff's younger brother Steve on a variety of synthesisers and Steve Leeds on reeds.
"They all became very excited in the project, coming down to the studio when they weren't needed to see how things were going. Some of them had been on the road once before, backing up Sonny and Cher when they were much younger, but for the last three years they'd just been in the studio. They just liked the album and thought it would be fun to go on the road again with me.
"It's expensive to get those kind of people out on the road but we worked out the costs and decided to do it. All my last band had gone their separate ways because I don't retain musicians after a tour... I just like to pick them up here and there and try out whoever is available whenever I need a band. I wouldn't be able to afford to pay musicians when I was off the road.
"But this was the easiest tour to get into because all the musicians were familiar with the material from the studio and we'd already established the direction and feel of the music. If all goes well, I'd like to keep them for a couple of years and develop the band for a couple more albums and some more tours, but each one has his own career to think about so it's in the air right now."
If the future of Boz's band is vague, then his managerial position is stable, and his decision to link up with the established Azoff bodes well.
Opportunities will now arise for Scaggs to perform before massive crowds should he choose to be on the same bill as the Eagles.
"I'm thinking about whether that is the right direction for me," said Scaggs, "or whether I ought to stick to playing the small 3,000-seater halls.
"I don't know whether what I do will project in front of the size of audience that the Eagles play to. If I can devise a show for such a place then I will do it, and I'll enjoy it."
At the other extreme, though, Scaggs has developed the image of elegance and played concerts in San Francisco in black-tie before a black-tie audience. It has now become a tradition in San Francisco that such a concert takes place on New Year's Eve.
"At first it wasn't meant to take the proportions that it did take. The first one we did was simply the first date I played after the release of the "Slow Dancer" album, and it was in San Francisco which is my home town, where I always try to put on something special. In fact, we managed to get a date at the Oakland Symphony Theatre, a very beautiful hall that no rock acts play in and in keeping with the style of the hall we thought that black-tie would be a good idea.
"We repeated it each New Year's Eve in San Francisco so it has become a kind of tradition. These days when anything happens twice it becomes a tradition, but it'll only really become one if we're still doing it in ten years time. I've done it from time to time in other places, just wearing black-tie on stage, because it's fun and the band dig it."
There is a chance that Scaggs will be playing in Europe towards the end of the summer as part of a package that will be headlined by the Eagles, but the details have yet to be confirmed. His last show in England was at the Roundhouse in London, four years ago, but he regularly visits the country as a tourist. Last year he spent a month travelling around Scotland.
"I always have fond memories of playing in England, but I want to get another album done this summer too. I'm confident that we could get another album together with these guys I'm working with now, and then we could tour here again in November and October to keep up the pace. I'm just very enthusiastic and excited about what is happening now and the prospects of keeping this group together.
"After the 'Slow Dancer' tour I was left with very mixed feelings. I wasn't happy with the tour and I felt that I hadn't made any progress satisfying myself musically. I had some reservations about the album because I'd put myself in an awkward position by not taking a stronger part in the actual control of the music. Johnny Bristol was producing it and there were times when I went along to watch the rhythm tracks being done and I was just a spectator which was odd.
"I was a bit down after that tour and had to stop. I'd been working fairly hard for three years and I was frustrated about my management situation as well. I knew I needed some kind of guidance and help as I was disappointed in record sales and just generally how my career was going. I needed to back off and figure out exactly what I was going to do.
"I'm much happier now and much more satisfied with the results. It took the lay-off to do that."