Portland Oregonian - Boz Scaggs Interview
He's tan, he's fit and he's ready for Friday's Washington Park show of hot R&B
Boz Scaggs' career arc seemed to go just right. He gained national notice in the late 1960s playing rhythm guitar and singing with Steve Miller, an old friend from Scaggs' days in high school in Texas and college in Wisconsin. He quickly went solo, slowly built a small following for his own bluesy rock, then raced into stardom in 1976 with the multi-million-selling album "Silk Degrees" and its hits "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle."
But after riding that wild wave of success for a few more years, he decided to take a break.
"I had two young sons and I decided to take a hiatus," he recalled in a recent phone interview from the office of his San Francisco nightclub, Slim's. "At the time I was thinking six months - which seemed like an eternity to stay away from the activities of keeping up that career. But six months turned into a year, a year turned into two, and when I got away I didn't miss it at all."
That doesn't mean that his fans didn't miss him. Scaggs didn't make another album until 1988 (the lackluster "Other Roads") and is only now mounting a real comeback. "Some Change," released a year ago, is a beautiful return to form, and his Friday night show at the Washington Park Zoo Amphitheatre - sporting a band including former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine - is close to a sell-out.
"I did feel kind of guilty for not attending to things I'd been a part of and been running after,'' Scaggs says, the tinge of Texas drawl even softer in his speaking than in his singing. "For a lot of people in the arts, when you're young and starting out it really is a struggle. So we all get conditioned to just driving, striving, taking advantage of every little break we get to try to sustain ourselves. And I felt guilty for a long time for letting the ship drift. But then again, there were other things in my life that I had to take care of, and other interests than that routine.
"By the end of the '70s I was really not thinking so much about music as I was about the music business, and my band and my career - the sort of accouterments of keeping that career on the road as opposed to the music, which is really what this is all about. So it took me some time really away from it all for those songs to start coming back into my head."
Those songs often have been marvels of R&B craft, drawing on rock, blues and soul for a sound that at its best is at once polished and earthy. Scaggs' falsetto croon has given him a reputation for the romantic, yet his songs are just as likely to deal with more shadowy subjects.
For example, there's the elegant thug in "Jojo" ("Say, what do you think of gentlemen wearing mink?/Gentle and soft, but who'd just as soon off you for looking the wrong way around''). Or for maximum intrigue, "Follow That Man'' offers this character sketch: "You take one part Buddha and two parts cat/Run them through your computer and that's where he's at."
"There is an undercurrent of mystery'' in his songs, he acknowledges. "I don't know where it comes from. My wife and I talked about that. I think we're always sort of looking for ourselves through the dark corners and the back alleys."
Scaggs also has looked for himself through a variety of approaches to his work. His early albums were cut with a regular band in such places as Muscle Shoals, Alabama; his best-known work was done with Los Angeles session aces; "Some Change" was mostly a two-man job, with Scaggs and drummer/co-producer Ricky Fataar converting an old sound stage into a studio for months of unhurried recording.
His greatest album, though, is his most experimental, 1977's "Down Two, Then Left," a collection of sleek, midtempo grooves and shimmering ballads, marked most strongly by the brilliant drumming of the late Jeff Porcaro (to whom "Some Change" is dedicated).
"It really came together by the seat of our pants," Scaggs recalls. "After 'Silk Degrees' hit, it was like strapping yourself onto a tornado. There was a lot of activity. Then all of a sudden it was time to make another record. Probably more than any album I've ever made, that one was made spontaneously, with the musicians in the room and the songs actually created on the spot and finished right then and there."
Arranger Michael Omartian applied layers of pristine overdubs, but it is Scaggs' songwriting and his ability to draw inspired performances from jaded studio pros that keep the album rewarding after a thousand listens.
A big part of Scaggs' resurgence is his decision to take a firmer hand with his own creative process, an approach reflected in the easygoing feel and natural stylistic diversity of "Some Change."
"I was relying more on these collaborations and falling back on the strengths of these arrangers and great musicians and technical people,'' he says of his L.A. period. "But it was only by getting away from all that that I started to gain more confidence in producing my own stuff and writing it all myself. I'm not an advanced musical technician or theorist, and the music I love is generally pretty complex - bebop from the '50s, the progressive styles of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, advanced harmonic qualities, and so forth. So when I do my basic rhythm and blues, I feel that I'm not getting into a lot of the areas I want to be in.
"However, when it comes down to it, that's what I really do, and that's what I really sort of make my touchstone now."
Copyright (c) 1995 Oregonian Publishing Co.