NPR - Boz Scaggs Interview

Come On Home Interview

Liane Hansen, Washington, DC Weekend Sunday (NPR)

Liane Hansen, Host: Boz Scaggs has been making music for nearly 30 years now. In 1976 he broke into the pop charts with his landmark album, "Silk Degrees." On his new one, called "Come On Home," he returns to the realm of rhythm and blues, to pay homage to his heroes.

(Aidio clip, "Early In The Morning") Boz Scaggs, Singer, Singing... When a girl reach the age of 18 She begin to think she's grown, That's the kinda girl you can't never Find at home, Come see me early in the mornin' Baby 'bout the break of day, You oughta saw me hug my pillow...

Hansen: Boz Scaggs grew up listening to this song, so when it came time to put the new CD together, he wanted "Early in the Morning" to be its cornerstone.

Music rises, Boz singing... One drink of wine Two drinks of gin Pretty young girl got me In the state I'm in Come see me early in the morning Baby 'bout the break of day...

Boz: This is where the Mississippi Delta and the raw blues form meets urban America. In this case it was Chicago, and in this particular tune, Sonny Boy Williamson wrote the song, but I did a version that was very much like one done by Junior Wells and Buddy Guy long ago in Chicago.

It was electric. It was the kind of thing that they were performing in clubs. So although the song itself is a basic blues form that could have been done, you know, on the back side of some honky tonk in Mississippi, in this case it was a -- probably a bar on the South Side of Chicago, with electric instruments.

And it retains the same primitive and dark qualities that it would have had back in Mississippi, only now it's electrified and it's citified, and it's got a different kind of energy. And that's to me the distinction in what is blues and what is rhythm and blues.

Hansen: When you decided to do this project, you worked with a man -- I think his name is, what, Henry Duncan? Harry Duncan? Harry Duncan.

Boz: Harry Duncan, yes.

Hansen: And you went through something like, what, 50 or 60 songs to try and decide what to include. Boy, it almost sounds like something you're doing for the Smithsonian.

Boz: Fifty or 60 was really just the last process...

Hansen: Oh.

Boz:... we really considered literally thousands of songs, in considering what we might bring to the table here.

Hansen: But ultimately the ones you picked -- what was the criteria?

Boz: The ones that I picked were the ones that I thought suited my voice and my approach -- or that I could actually get ahold of. It was important to me that I not just copy the songs, or try to redo them, but that I possess the song -- that they become mine as a singer and as an interpreter.

Some of my favorite artists -- for instance, Ray Charles, or Little Willie John -- I couldn't reperform it with my voice and my approach. And maybe they'll be other times that I'll be able to do that, but for -- I found it daunting, although I wanted to feature those artists among my heroes.

Hansen: You do a tune that Jimmy Reed did, "Found Love." And when you first heard Jimmy Reed on the radio, you said you thought his voice was from another galaxy, another universe.

Boz: Mm-Hmm.

Hansen: It really must have been intimidating, then, to take this song on and make it your own.

(Audio clip, "Found Love") Boz singing... I found true love One worth me waitin' for I found true love One worth me waitin' for I want to sign her to a contract Won't find one of love...

Boz: I think that time itself helped me on this one. Jimmy Reed was around when I was an early teenager, growing up in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. I heard him on the radio, and my first bands featured a number of Jimmy Reed's songs. That particular style of guitar playing is very easy to learn, basically, in the beginning.

So a lot of people emulated his style and his songs, because they were accessible. That is, on the surface. Still, stating it once and for on all this record was quite a challenge. And I find his particular way of performing and writing songs is the most challenging and the most elusive of all.

(Music rises) Boz singing... It's hard to believe, The condition the world is in, It's hard to believe, The condition the world is in, You can't trust nobody, Girl you know it's a sin

Hansen: You were raised on radio, right, in Texas?

Boz: Yes, I was. We had a lot of radio in the big skies of Texas, and a lot of the Afro-American black influence was around in the area where I grew up -- on the radio in the clubs and on the touring circuit. There was a good tradition of that music.

But radio was that voice from outer space to me that just showed me the big world. It was T-Bone Walker that I heard one night, comin' through the clouds, and it was a song called "Blues for Mary Lee," which was an instrumental. And at that time I had been playing, learning, a little guitar, so my hearing this instrumental guitar version by T-Bone Walker struck me as something that was accessible to me -- struck me as just a beautiful, graceful use of this instrument.

And it sounded like something that I could do, something that I could get to.

Hansen: You have "The T-Bone Shuffle." T-Bone Shuffle should really be a part of everyone's basic blues library, right?

Boz: I think so. I think that particular -- that album it came from, it's called "T-Bone Blues," probably is, you know, one of the songs in every aficionado's list.

(Audio clip, "THE T-Bone Shuffle") Boz singing... Let your hair down baby Let's have a natural ball Let your hair down baby Let's have a natural ball 'Cause when you ain't happy It ain't no fun at all You can't take it with you That's one thing for sure No you can't take it with you That's one thing for sure There ain't nothin' wrong with you girl The T-Bone Shuffle can't cure...

Hansen: I have to admit that my favorite vocal tune on this CD is "Love Letters." I mean, there are times when you're sounding like Aaron Neville singing this one.

Boz: Good company.

Hansen: Very good company. You bet. And -- but this is a song that actually you've been playing with for a while -- I mean, what, back in the days of the rock and soul review?

Boz: It was actually brought to mind during the rock and soul review, which I think was 1992 or '93, when some friends and cohorts got together and revived some rhythm and blues standards.

Walter Becker, who with -- who along with Donald Fagan, make up the band Steely Dan, who were part of this project -- Walter had included only this song and a Paul Butterfield song. I had to look twice at the lyrics and to step back and reanalyze this song to see what Walter held in it.

And when we did examine it closely, I think, you know, we found some very, very poignant lyrics, and a very clear, true, sweet emotion in this song that makes it unique. It makes it a song that's been recorded really quite a number of times. I was surprised, when I actually got into the discography of it, how many times and by how many artists it had been recorded.

Hansen: It's such a nice song, though, I mean -- you know, those lyrics...

Boz: It is, isn't it?

Hansen: ... are powerful.

Boz: It's a dear, dear song.

(Audio clip, "Love Letters") Boz singing... I memorized every line, And I kiss the name that you signed, And darling then, I read again, Right from the start, Love letters straight from your heart...

Boz: There was a time in my career when I was -- I call it the Los Angeles days -- when I was working with top-of-the-line studio players, some of the great musicians of our time. And I was really sort of intimidated by bringing my own guitar to a session like that.

And the songs that I was writing at that time didn't lend themselves to my guitar style.

But having come back to the instrument in writing and performing for the last, oh, four or five years, I'm beginning to have some confidence again. And it's starting to feel very close to me again.

And particularly doing this rhythm and blues album, because it's in rhythm and blues style, it's suited to my style of playing.

This is what I can play and this is what I feel close to. And I think it gives me a certain comfort, just having the guitar with me.

There are times when I'm actually on microphone singing only -- I have a guitar in my hand because there's something about the attitude that I take with that guitar in hand, cradling that instrument, that makes me sing a song differently.

(Music rises), Boz singing... And darling then, I read again, Right from the start, Love letters straight from your heart...

Boz: That guitar reminds me, really, in some deep way, of why I started this in the beginning. It was really just a love of holding that instrument and feeling the resonance of it, and being able to recreate some of the sounds and the notes and the melodies that I was hearing on my records and on my radio.

It has a magic touch to me. It's my Aladdin's lamp -- not that any miracles come out of my guitar. But it's something that I touch and it charms me.

Hansen: Boz Scaggs joined us from the studios of KQED. Terrific talking to you, and good luck.

Boz: Thanks, Liane. Nice talking to you.

(Audio clip, "Don't Cry No More") Boz Singing... You cry me a river, Cry me a sea, And I'll believe without a doubt, That you really really really Love me...

Hansen: This is NPR's Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen.

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