Showing his wide range, Scaggs is on the road again

By Joseph P. Kahn - Globe Staff / June 13, 2008

Boz Scaggs says that on his current tour, which hits the South Shore Music Circus tonight, his menu of 35 to 40 songs focuses mostly on hits including "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown."

Boz Scaggs has been making joyously soulful music for four decades and counting. Rock, blues, R&B, folk, jazz: The 63-year old Scaggs has mined nearly every genre imaginable while working alongside legends like high school chum Steve Miller and guitar god Duane Allman.

The Texas-born Scaggs, who moved to San Francisco in 1967, achieved his greatest commercial success in the 1970s and '80s with albums like "Slow Dancer," "Silk Degrees," and "Middle Man." Though he's toured only sporadically since then, Scaggs continues to showcase his musical range with critically acclaimed recordings like 2003's "But Beautiful," a collection of American Songbook classics that soared to the top of the jazz charts.

A partner in two San Francisco music clubs, Slim's and the Great American Music Hall, Scaggs has taken up winemaking as well. With four New England stops scheduled on his summer concert tour - including tonight's show at the South Shore Music Circus and stops at the Newport Yachting Center (tomorrow), Cape Cod Melody Tent (July 5), and North Shore Music Theatre (Sept. 9) - he recently checked in by phone from the Bay Area.

Q: After touring on and off for 40 years, what lured you back to the road?

A: I did take most of the 1980s off, but for the past four years I've been touring quite a bit. When "But Beautiful" came out, I worked more than any year in my entire life - partly because that album opened a lot of new doors for me, like jazz festivals.

Q: You're touring more this year than any since 2003. Why?

A: For one reason, I've got a great band, and by the time we'd really lock in, really stretch ourselves, the tour would be over. For another, I've got a new booking agency that's frankly made a huge difference.

Q: What songs will you be highlighting? Old hits? Songbook classics?

A: I used to play more songs from "But Beautiful," but audiences would sometimes wonder where the hits were. Where's "Lido Shuffle"? "Lowdown"? We now have a menu of 35 to 40 songs to draw from, but it's mostly focused on the hits.

Q: Who turns out to see you these days?

A: It varies. Sometimes it's younger people who like live music. My son's generation - he's 29 - grew up on MTV videos, not concerts. This next generation seems different. They'll come out to hear everything.

Q: Contemporaries of yours like the Rolling Stones and Eagles are still filling arenas. Are you bemused by this? Envious? Both?

A: I have a DVD of the Stones's world tour, and there are some nights [on it] that blow my mind. You have the Van Morrisons and Bob Dylans who are out there killing. It's a generation that's produced so many remarkably stalwart talents, I'm in awe of what they did. And still do.Continued...

Q: You've admitted to being burned out on the music scene back in the '80s. How did you recapture the spark?

A: By hearing an inner voice, literally. My one regret is not keeping up with touring then. As far as writing music and making records go, I'm glad I took that time off.

Q: You've recorded a follow-up to "But Beautiful." Same types of arrangements?

A: No. I did the new album - it's called "Speak Low" - with arranger Gil Goldstein, and we did it more in the spirit of Gil Evans. It's harmonically challenging stuff, experimental in some ways, esoteric. We're still figuring out when and how it will be released. I'm not sure right now where it will live in this world, if at all.

Q: Speaking of new releases, we hear Scaggs Vineyards has a new wine coming out.

A: Yeah, we brought out a rosé last fall that some San Francisco restaurants are carrying. This fall we'll release our first red. The wines will primarily be sold online [bozscaggs.com].

Q: Who knew you were an oenophile?

A: I am. My wife and I bought property in Napa 14 years ago and planted a vineyard about nine years ago. We've been making wine for the past six years. It's fun, but we're real small-time.

Q: Do you listen to many of today's contemporary pop/rock/R&B artists?

A: I have a studio/office near Slim's, where I get to see young bands floating in. Two came through recently, Kings of Leon and the Black Keys, that really excited me. I'm no aficionado, though. I don't listen to the radio much. I tend to say: seen that, done that.

Q: Do you talk with other musicians about how radically the business has changed?

A: It's not a big topic of conversation for me personally. Still, no one could have predicted this five years ago, although every generation finds its own way. Even though the business is in great flux - chaos, even - more people are listening to more diverse types of music than ever before. They're exchanging ideas, developing their own sources - all of which I find really exciting. It's exactly what I was doing when I was 10 years old.

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

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