Boz Scaggs to play at Westhampton Beach Arts Center

The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Tom Clavin - July 1, 2008

It’s quite possible that no one in Westhampton Beach or the rest of the U.S. would have heard of Boz Scaggs if he had remained in Sweden.

“I was happy there, and had no plans to leave,” said Mr. Scaggs of the 1965-67 period when he called Europe home. “If I could make a living, I suppose I would have stayed there playing jazz and blues and enjoying friends visiting from America.”

Fortunately for music lovers back in America - and specifically the audience at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, who will see him on Sunday - the singer’s sojourn in Sweden and other parts of Europe was short-lived. After three years he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse by an old friend back in the States.

The friend was the musician Steve Miller. They had become friends at school in Texas. Mr. Scaggs’s father was a traveling salesman who had ceased traveling - temporarily, as it turned out - in Ohio, where William Royce Scaggs was born in June 1944. The family moved to Oklahoma and then to Plano, Texas, a farming community north of Dallas. He attended the St. Mark’s school there, where classmates nicknamed him Bosley, which eventually became Boz.

One of those classmates was Mr. Miller. Mr. Scaggs had learned the cello at age 9 and the guitar at 12, and now was trying to sing. He listened to blues from up north and country from the South that were carried long distances over the flat land by late-night radio. The artist who truly excited him was Ray Charles.

“I went to a concert by him when I was about 15, and he really opened my eyes about the possibilities of music,” Mr. Scaggs recalled. “I had never seen anyone play an instrument and sing like that. If I wasn’t hooked on music already, Ray Charles took care of that.”

In 1959, Mr. Miller formed a band called The Marksmen, and Mr. Scaggs became the lead singer. After graduation, he and Mr. Miller attended the University of Wisconsin and performed in local blues bands. Then it was off to Europe for Mr. Scaggs.

He was part of an emerging rhythm and blues scene in London and he performed with the bands The Wigs and Mother Earth. Sweden was his next stop, as a solo performer. He recorded his first album, with the humble title of “Boz,” in Sweden, but it did not gain him much recognition. Though he did like Europe and the side trips to India, when his old bandmate contacted him, Mr. Scaggs was ready musically to return to the States, and specifically to the cultural explosion taking place in San Francisco.

“I remember being in Bombay and reading a Time Magazine article about psychedelic San Francisco, so I had a pretty good idea of what was happening there,” the singer said. “Plus, one of my best friends was Jorma Kaukonen,” lead guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, “who went back and forth with new records between San Francisco and Stockholm, where I was based. When the postcard from Steve arrived, I wanted to check out what was going on. The reality turned out to be more than I expected.”

Mr. Miller had formed his own self-titled band that was attracting a following in the late ’60s. Mr. Scaggs was on board when the Steve Miller Band recorded their first two albums, “Children of the Future” and “Sailor.” They were critical successes, and it seemed likely that commercial success would follow.

But Mr. Scaggs was hankering to be a solo act again. After seeing him perform, Jann Wenner, who had recently founded the magazine Rolling Stone, introduced him to executives at Atlantic Records and Mr. Scaggs was offered a contract.

His first two Atlantic albums sold poorly, despite the participation of Duane Allman and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. In 1976, Mr. Scaggs, now signed to Columbia Records, went into the studio with new material and musicians who would later form the band Toto and ... lightning struck. “Silk Degrees” was an international smash and the singles “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” seemed to be on almost every radio station. He received a Grammy for “Lowdown” in the R&B category, which previously had been locked up by black performers.

“I had a special feeling about making that album and being with the musicians I worked with,” said the singer. “It just felt real good to go into the studio every day and ideas were bouncing all over the place. However, I can’t say I had high hopes for the album because I felt pretty good about my previous records and they had not done well. With ‘Silk Degrees,’ I felt I had arrived at a turning point musically, but I didn’t allow myself to believe that the public would agree.”

For five years after “Silk Degrees,” Mr. Scaggs hovered near the top of the charts. “Silk Degrees” was followed by “Down Two Then Left” and “Middle Man.” Those albums spawned such hit singles as “Breakdown Dead Ahead” and “Jojo,” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me” on the “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack also scored well. And then the singer sort of dropped out. He stopped touring, he preferred to run a nightclub in San Francisco, Slim’s, and it was seven years before he recorded another album.

“I was tired, always on the go, and I really needed a break,” he said. “It was supposed to be for six months. But I had two young children and as time went on I discovered that I enjoyed being with them more, not less, and I was not motivated to record or go on the road. The seven years sort of just happened.”

Feeling revived musically and personally, he released “Other Roads” in 1988, and for the last 20 years he has created jazz and blues CDs—“But Beautiful,” a collection of jazz standards, debuted at number 1 on the jazz charts—and gone on tours when it suits him. In recent years, it has suited him more.

“I enjoy performing now as much or even more than I ever have, and I have a great band,” Mr. Scaggs said. “Many of the pressures that got in the way of touring and having fun are not there anymore today. Some people might say they are rediscovering my music. Well, so am I.”

According to the singer, what the Performing Arts Center audience will see on Sunday will be a relaxed and confident performer who has a prepared set list—including songs from his new CD, “Fade Into Light”—but also likes to improvise, especially when less well-known songs from his catalogue are suggested.

“It gives me a good feeling that some people have followed my career,” Mr. Scaggs said. “When some folks remember that I first wrote and sang ‘We’re All Alone,’ for example, then I know I still have fans and we can enjoy each other’s company.”

Boz Scaggs will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, July 6, at 8:30 p.m.

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