Boz Scaggs Interview - Sounds - June 22, 1974

Boz Scaggs... a name to conjure with. And conjure they did - you should have seen (perhaps dear reader, you even did, in the dim and distant past) the multitude of variations we got on that theme; Box Scraggs was one that I remember particularly vividly.

Boz is a plain-dealing, ordinary feller who hails from Texas and is feted on the West Coast of America as one of their finest. He is, quite simply, one of the classiest of all the writers, singers and bandleaders we have. A household name he may not be, and may never (though who knows what eccentricities can happen in this business) but he has never put out a bad album.

The way some people figure, when times get tough we've always got Van Morrison, is the way I figure about Mr Scaggs. Shall I tell you how I got into him ? Why not. I was a Steve Miller band fan, and one day in one of my many idle moments I was browsing through the racks of a local record shop, which is not the way exciting things often start. These were times when shops would still play you an album if you showed interest in them. I stumble across a record with the title "Boz Scaggs".

Hello, I think, that's a familiar name. Is he not the guitarist with the Steve Miller Band? He was, or rather he had been. This was his solo debut album. I flashed the cash and for the rest of that summer I played some of the most perfect sounds I'd heard. Gritty, tender, bittersweet songs about winning and losing love. They felt real, and the magic was no illusion.

Since that time I have regularly sallied forth to flash the cash for every album he's ever made, though me ears may be wearier and my responses jaded and the free copy due to roll through a couple of months later when CBS discovered his latest product on their release schedules.

All right. I'll lay it on the line: I still believe in Boz Scaggs. Other heroes may have fallen by the wayside, but for sheer consistency and for his continuing integrity I place him at the top.

Now he is back in London again, a town where he is no stranger, for it was here that he spent some of the formative years of his life. But, unhappily, it's only a promotional schedule. Only a handful of people have ever heard Boz Scaggs and Band live in the U.K. and they remember the evening well. It was at the Hampstead Country Club when Scaggs, plus his entire band of the moment, were recording an album with Glyn Johns.

For some reason they had chosen to do it in London - to use the combination of Glyn Johns and Olympic Studios I think - and because CBS were picking up the expenses of the band's stay, they were able to afford it. Now, he says, it's not really possible unless it's done as a full tour, and you all know how expensive it is for American bands, particularly when they are not huge "names", to cart around all the paraphernalia and more importantly to pay for bills that the party accumulates.

But Boz is hopeful that he may be able to arrange something for the autumn. Scandinavia, where Boz lived for a couple of years, still remembers him well, and I understand that Holland has been picking up on the latest album "Slow Dancer".

And at least he is here, now, it's good that he should be showing his face for though you may have the memory of an elephant the warm glow of "the best gig ever" (which is how the promoter of the Hampstead Country Club gig described Scagg's appearance there) gradually fades with time, the cherished memories (particularly other people's) do not soften the hearts of open the cheque-books of promoters.

Would it do to recount you the history of Mr Scaggs and the details of his albums? I fear such documentation would be tedious to all but the converted. How, then, can I persuade you all out there to take an interest in Scaggs, for it is your interest which determines whether or not we shall see him perform here this year.

Scaggs' albums have sold remarkably consistently after the initial sales push when he joined Columbia. For the record, since the first Muscle Shoals album, which was on Atlantic (Polydor in this country; and later reissued by Atlantic when they took over the catalogue) Boz's albums are "Moments", "Boz Scaggs And Band", "My Time" and "Slow Dancer".

The last looks as though it may break out beyond the usual audience, for Scaggs it was departure, for it is the first time he has worked with an arranger and artistic producer; The producer was ex-Motown man Johnny Bristol. Boz is a long-time admirer of the Motown sound and using a genuine Motown writer was the fulfillment of one of his ambitions.

The album was recorded November through January using many of the Motown session musicians. "It was a new experience for me to use an arranger," he says. "A lot of the music I have admired and learned from in the last few years has been soul music from Philadelphia, Detroit and New York, and they all use arrangers, and so I've learned a lot of how some of my favourite things are put together. I'd like to incorporate some of those things."

He says the approach was quite different from what he had been used to. For a start he spent a lot of time writing tunes with Johnny Bristol on piano and himself on guitar before he even went to the studio - this he says is unusual as he had previously done most of his work in the studio, as in for example the fabulous jam with Duane Allman and the Muscle Shoals session gang which resulted in the two takes of "Loan Me A Dime".

With Bristol, much of the work was already done by the time they presented themselves at the studio door.  They would have selected all the material and presented a cassette to arranger H.B. Barnum (a twice removed nephew of the famous circus proprietor) with some indications of what was required of the orchestra. First they cut the rhythm tracks, then put on the vocals and followed up with the strings, horns and finally background vocals.

"The creative time was put in before the songs went to the arranger. When the songs were cut there would be a few last minute changes but not many. That was why it was such a departure. I like to do most of my work in the studio. There was one particular aspect of this way of working. After having given the song over to the arranger we would come back several days later, cut the song and it would be like hearing a different song back.

"The rhythm tracks were very stylised, suggesting almost a very specific attack to the tunes... a certain stance had to be adopted to perform the tune. The lyrics had to strike the same attitude. That presented the real difficulty in getting to the heart of the music in that Motown's music is very cocky.

"It was an experiment. We tried three tracks out initially to see how we'd get along together. We were favourably impressed and decided to go ahead. That's when the real experimentation came in. It's something I've been shooting at for a long time."

Scaggs still lives in San Francisco and is pleased to call it home, though of the year he spends some four or five months on the road. Last winter he was reunited with his old buddy Steve Miller when he toured the States as support act to the Miller Band, who were very hot with the single album "The Joker", which has been far and away the biggest seller for Miller.

By Scaggs account it was a good tour. The James Cotton Blues Band would open, then Scaggs would do a spot with his band, then Miller would do his act and the two of them would then jam together, ending up with musicians from both bands blatting out something familiar that everyone would recognise - as often as not "Living in the USA".

In every way it was a success. "Steve made a lot of money and I played a lot of places I hadn't been to before. I've been to places I never even knew were there."

One of the numbers Scaggs will always be associated with, come what may, is Miller's "Living In The USA". But it was a touch and go thing, for Scaggs might never have come back from Europe where, as a teenager, he spent a lot of time learning about life. Why did he ever go back?

"I grew up in Europe at the time when you first start finding your way around, and I had no intention of really returning to America. But I went back because I missed playing. Something was missing, perhaps playing with the musicians that I grew up with, and playing musical things that you grew up with, even though London did have that musical synthesis.

"London had first-generation good musicians. By that I mean that I don't see any great difference between when I first heard Jimmy Reed and when Eric Clapton first heard Jimmy Reed. Bobby Bland, B.B. King - he probably heard them at the same time.

"Most places there's a generation loss, they heard Eric Clapton before they heard B.B. King. They heard Peter Green before they heard Albert King. The Beatles and the Stones first heard Smokey Robinson a long time ago. Since then, because of the Beatles and the Stones, Paul Butterfield and Steve Miller, they've come to know the source.

"I was missing that element when I got a postcard from the fellow who was managing Steve Miller in 1967 asking me whether I would be interested in returning. I knew if it was Steve it would be a good band so I went when they sent the airfare. Otherwise I couldn't have done it. But even then I had no intention of staying."

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