Scaggs brings his laid-back style to Basie

Asbury Park Press, N.J. - January 9, 2009

By Ed Condran

Boz Scaggs has made a career out of taking chances. A pop sensation 33 years ago thanks to his breakthrough release, "Silk Degrees," the laid-back performer has rocked out with Steve Miller and gone the blues route with Charles Brown.

Six years ago, he tried out standards with the gorgeous "But Beautiful," which scaled the jazz charts.

Now Scaggs, 64, is back with "Speak Low," a sensual and at times somber jazz disc. The veteran singer-songwriter's 17th album is a consistent, well-crafted offering on a par with "But Beautiful."

"This has been challenging and adventurous for me," said Scaggs, who will showcase the tracks Saturday at Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. "It's a different way for me to go vocally."

The material may have changed since Scaggs' salad days, but so have his fans. Perhaps "Speak Low" can connect with his baby-boomer fan base.

"Maybe it's so the audience I had then (a generation ago) has matured like myself and are into listening to these type of songs," Scaggs said. "They may have grown up with jazz playing in their homes like I did. Perhaps there is a connection. I feel some excitement when I play live. In some ways it reminds me of the days when I was getting started in this business."

During the late '60s, Scaggs was a rhythm guitarist and vocalist with the Steve Miller Band. Miller and Scaggs had played together since their college days in Wisconsin.

Scaggs' solo career commenced in 1971 with his self-titled album. But his sleek, romantic soulful rock didn't connect with the masses until "Silk Degrees" — which includes the Top Five hit "Lowdown" — made him a superstar in 1976.

1977's "Down Two Then Left" and 1980's "Middle Man" were disappointments. For much of the '80s, Scaggs took a hiatus to focus on, among other things, his San Francisco club, Slim's.

"I regret not having kept up performing and touring, which is something I've always enjoyed," Scaggs said. "I didn't have any music in me at that point, but it wasn't that I had to write. I could have stayed on course by performing, but I didn't."

Scaggs resurfaced in 1988 and recorded "Other Roads," but it wasn't easy. His record label at the time, Columbia, was filled with new faces — and a new attitude.

"The regime changed," Scaggs recalled. "When they heard what I was doing, I was told to write new songs. I was told to write some singles. I never heard that before. After I recorded that album, it was best for me to leave the label."

Virgin Records signed Scaggs to a deal and he recorded three solid adult contemporary albums: 1994's "Some Change," 1997's "Come On Home" and 2001's "Dig."

"That was a satisfying period," Scaggs said. "But now I feel I'm entering something new. I'm in a good place."

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