Boz Returns

Billboard - Boz Scaggs Interview

[11 August, 2001 - Vol 113, Issue 32]


Boz Scaggs admits that he can't always explain himself. The artist who earned a place in the pop pantheon with 1976's landmark Silk Degrees is ensconced in a London hotel room, sipping tea and pondering a crowded calendar of appointments and personal appearances. Scaggs is back in business thanks to Dig (due Sept. 11 from Virgin), his first collection of original material in seven years. And he's surprised by how much he is enjoying the flurry of activity.

"To be honest, I'm not the kind of man who gets up and goes to work every day," Scaggs says, pausing to weigh the luxurious tone of such a remark. "Once the momentum of a project kicks in, I'm happy. I delight in waking up each day and diving into the fray. Actually, I wondered to myself this morning, 'I love this so much--why wait so long between projects?' I didn't have an answer." But when pressed for the real reason for the gap between recordings, Scaggs pauses again, slowly exhaling as he reaches a conclusion. "I've never been the kind of artist to force my music into shape before it feels right. Rather, I accumulate bits and pieces over a period of time. I let my songs form naturally."

That fluid, relaxed approach led Scaggs on a two-year creative odyssey that resulted in Dig, which succeeds in the tricky, dual task of providing the artist with his most commercially viable release in more than 10 years while also proving that he is still among pop music's more adventurous spirits. Although the album is firmly rooted in his abiding affection for classic R&B, Dig also deftly integrates elements of jazz, rock, and hip-hop. "Payday" sets the tone for the project, wrapping a sly funk-guitar riff around a muscular, old-school soul bassline and lean percussion. Scaggs swaggers through the song with a degree of confidence that can only come from years of experience. "I've become quite comfortable with getting older--and the fact that it's had a positive effect on my music," Scaggs says. "It adds nice colors and nuances. It adds depth."

DIG THIS Scaggs effectively mines his maturity throughout Dig. It is further highlighted by "I Just Go," with its touching lyrical exploration of loss and loneliness; the ornery, guitar-charged "Get On the Natch"; and the expansive, blues-laced ballad "Thanks to You." (Scaggs' songs are published by Loeb & Loeb, ASCAP.) By and large, Dig unfolds like an antidote to the trendy fodder that dominates the marketplace.

"Quite frankly," Scaggs notes with a grin, "I don't even consider things like trends. It's not particularly appropriate for me to get wrapped up in such things." Yet Dig is etched with contemporary musical lines. The sleek jazz horns of "Miss Riddle" are countered by a subtle hip-hop groove, while the rock-flavored "You're Not" is distinguished by its futuristic backing-vocal distortions and layers of trippy, ambient synths. The artist notes the influence of the musicians and producers he invited to participate in the recording process. "I had some preconceptions about what I wanted to do, going into the album," Scaggs says. "But with the people that had come together and the musical ideas we were working with, the most important thing was to step back and let it happen." In order to accomplish that, Scaggs had to trust his team.

He started by enlisting old friend David Paich (best known for his tenure as a member of Toto) to listen to early sketches of songs. After the two started fleshing tracks out, Scaggs lured veteran producer/guitarist Danny Kortchmar (Don Henley, Jackson Browne, James Taylor) onto the project's production team. "It was the perfect combination of sensibilities," Scaggs says. "Both [Paich and Kortchmar] are extraordinary players who have become even better producers. Dave has a wonderful sense of melody, while Danny has a great edge." From there, a tight instrumental collective was assembled. Studio veterans Roy Hardgrove Jr., Ray Parker Jr., Steve Lukather, and Greg Phillinganes provided a seasoned presence, while percussionist Robin DiMaggio and singer Monet added a touch of youthful spice. It's a lineup that propelled Scaggs into the fast lane of recording Dig. "Music is best when it comes from a band--a group of people who are unified and committed to building a strong recording," Scaggs says. "Once we were together, the energy was infectious--and very focusing."

ON THE ROAD Scaggs (who is managed by Craig Fruin for HK Management in Los Angeles) is optimistic that the majority of the album's lineup will join him when he begins a U.S. concert tour in the fall. The trek, which will likely play in theaters and midsize venues, is being booked by Steve Smith at the Howard Rose Agency in L.A.

Of his live show, Scaggs says, "I'm looking forward to experiencing these new songs along with the older material. I think they'll complement each other fairly well." Virgin president Ray Cooper thinks the tour will be the first--and perhaps primary--element to bringing Dig to a wide audience. "Boz is an iconic figure in pop music," he says. "We're treating this album like the big event that it deserves to be. The fact that he's willing to get out on the road is a tremendous bonus. We're betting that his fans are anxious to see him." Virgin is starting with loyalists in building a commercial presence for the album. "People who grew up with Boz are going to come to the table," Cooper says, adding that Dig has the potential to evolve much in the same manner as Steely Dan's critically praised, Grammy-lauded 1999 effort, Two Against Nature. "It's an intelligent, rich record that will evolve gradually. Ultimately, this is a record that true music fans are going to embrace." Some, if not all, retailers agree. "This record may not be competitive with those by 'N Sync, but it will bring in people who are tired of the same old thing," notes James Lonten, manager of a Borders Books & Music store in New York. "It serves a mature part of the record-buying population that is too often ignored right now. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be one of the sleeper hits of the season. If the label can pull off a hit single, then it's going to explode."

ON THE AIR Virgin will make an effort to generate radio interest by servicing a CD sampler of tunes from Dig to triple-A and AC formats Aug. 20. The disc includes "Payday" and "Miss Riddle," as well as the lively, Latin-inflected "Call That Love" and the pop/R&B ballads "Sarah" and "Desire." The label will eventually focus on "Payday" as the official single. That track will garner attention when it is aired during the season premiere of Fox-TV's Ally McBeal in mid-October. The tune will be prominent in the episode, which will also feature Scaggs performing an additional tune. While pursuing other TV opportunities, Virgin is also executing a far-reaching new-media campaign that includes timed-out downloads of songs from the album on Virgin's site and a number of other retail-oriented sites.

Also planned are a series of global Internet listening parties, as well as a live Web performance by Scaggs shortly before the album's street date. Cooper says such exposure will greatly aid the label in "growing this project into a multiformat entity. Boz has made a record that works commercially, and yet it retains the power and beauty of his classic recordings. We intend to be tireless in bringing it to as wide an audience as possible."

Although Scaggs asserts that he did not record Dig with sales numbers in mind, he admits that he wouldn't be adverse to "striking a chord with the public once again. I don't sit around and think that I'm going to have No. 1 records. But wouldn't that be a nice surprise?" Equally pleasant is the notion that the artist may not wait another seven years before bringing forth a new recording. Apparently, the energy and activity surrounding this project has inspired the artist to consider re-entering his San Francisco studio sooner rather than later. "I can't promise another album within the next 12 months," Scaggs says. "But I'm enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that I'm having right now. It's a rush unlike any other. It would be nice to have it more often in my life."

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