2008 - Santa Barbara Daily Sound

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Boz Scaggs to play at Chumash

By Steven Libowitz
Daily Sound Arts Editor

Boz Scaggs recorded a full half-dozen albums before he made the one that made him famous.

“Silk Degrees,” which was recorded with LA session musicians who later formed the hugely successful band Toto and came out in 1976, found the Texas-born, San Francisco-based blue-eyed soul singer at peak form, his smooth gracing the sophisticated arrangements of his pop/R&B songs that included “Lido Shuffle,” “Lowdown,” “What Can I Say” and “We’re All Alone.”

In a telephone interview yesterday, Scaggs, who returns to the Chumash Casino Resort tonight, said he had no idea that “Silk Degrees” would catapult his career to a much higher level while they were recording the album.

“I’d had enough records behind me to know it was foolish to expect anything out of this very fickle industry,” he said. “I felt before that I’d done work that was just as good and should have had wider recognition when I was younger, but never got that breakthrough. It’s a lot about getting lucky and having good timing.”

In fact, while history shows that “Silk Degrees” was one of the best selling albums of its time, the album’s hit status wasn’t at all clear right away when it was released.

“It was a slow starting record,” Scaggs recalled. “It wasn’t a hit at all right out of the box. It took a lot of work to get it going because it was a little different from what was in mainstream at that time.”

Later, of course, “Silk Degrees” became the mainstream – you can still hear several tracks from the record in regular rotation on classic rock radio stations. Scaggs toured the world – including a headlining show at the Santa Barbara Bowl – and released two follow-up albums that, while not capturing the commercial magic of “Silk Degrees,” still spawned such hits as “Jojo” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead.”

Then he left it all behind.

Scaggs returned home to San Francisco and stopped performing altogether for the better part of the ‘80s.

“I had family to tend to, and I wanted to get away for a while anyway, so I sort of retired, just took off for about 10 years, which is a long time away from touring and recording,” Scaggs said, by way of explanation for why Boz is no longer the household name it once was. “Although I felt guilty and sometimes regret not keeping up with what had become a dogged schedule, it was what I needed to do. If I hadn’t, I’m sure I would have lost interest completely. I just had to follow where my heart was. And the longer I was away, the more interest I had in doing other things.”

One of those outside endeavors was pursuing a lark of spending time behind the scenes as the owner and operator of Slim’s, a music club in San Francisco. What began as “a hobby” quickly turned into a bigger commitment.

“We had idea of sporadically opening it up when we wanted to, only when there were bands we wanted to book,” he said. “Just take the lock off the door and let people know. Then of course it became much more complex and turned into a business. Now I have nothing to do with the everyday hands-on operation. But I still really enjoy the association. Fortunately it’s sustained itself for a long time without my having to get too involved.”

Returning to performing and recording, Scaggs also found himself drawn to new avenues in music. Those explorations have taken him back and forth from the world of sophisticated pop down roads of more traditional blues and, more recently, forays into standards from the Great American Songbook.

As with much of Scaggs’ career, the move came about almost by accident.

“There was an acoustic jazz trio using my private studio at the same time I got asked to do a few songs for a benefit concert. They suggested some classics we could try out together. I always loved that music as a listener, and I figured I’d get it out of my head and really try to do it. The benefit went so well that I was encouraged to take another step.”

The result was “But Beautiful,” which did more for Scaggs’ career than any of his recent original albums. His new disc, due this summer, is another take on that songbook, too.

“It’s really good for me as a singer and musician to throw myself against this stuff,” he said. “It helps me to improve as an artist. You get a great feeling from singing these songs that have stood up through the decades, and I think it’s partially why I’m singing better than ever.”

Tonight’s show won’t feature any of the standards, however, Scaggs said, as he discovered most audiences don’t appreciate the mixture. Instead, he’ll perform new and old compositions from his four-decade career, as well as, of course, his catalogue of hits.

“I still love music and I love to play,” he said. “I love ‘Lido,’ ‘Lowdown,’ ‘Georgia.’ I wouldn’t want to do one of those long runs in Vegas and have to go through the motions every night the same way. But it’s like the old Buddhists: you never cross the same stream twice. It’s never truly the same. From the first note, the musicians and I are present. We’re living those songs every night.”

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