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Hot Wacks 6 - Boz Scaggs Interview

The Life & Times of Boz Scaggs

Hot Wacks 6 - 1975 [By: Andrew Cowan]

Boz is now 30 years old, and has been actively involved in music for around 15 years, starting with high school groups led by Steve Miller, when the two attended St Mark’s, a private school in Dallas, Texas. He’s just one of the many musicians whose careers have benefited from a spell with Steve Miller; some of the others will appear later on the story. Boz started playing with the Marksmen, singing and playing tambourine, whilst Steve Miller was teaching him guitar so that he could contribute more to the band. When Miller was kicked out of St Mark’s, he went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and the following year Boz joined him there.  The band that Miller formed in Madison was the Ardells, also known as the Knight Trains which in addition to Boz had been Sidran on keyboards.

“He played part of the time, the same time I was there. He wasn’t exactly my replacement; I was a guitar player and singer, he was a keyboard player, we played at the same time . I came back to play with the Ardells – I went in the Army, when I was gone he played – and when I came back he was playing and we all played together. We did mostly R&B, blues material, some modern R’ n B’ and some old R’ n B’, light jazz stuff.”

Then Boz got kicked out of University, where he was doing a varied B.A. plan in science, and he went down to Austin to continue his schooling at the University of Texas. Here he formed his own band, the Wigs, and once more found that the London based groups, Chris Farlowe, the Bluesbreakers and so on, were playing his beloved R’ n B’ as well as the guys back in Texas, he was more determined still, to get a record contract for the Wigs. This didn’t work out, so he bummed off to the Continent, borrowing a guitar here and there, and ended up in Stockholm, where he made his first record (‘Boz’ – Polydor Int.). He went into a studio with a band which was having some trouble with an old Coasters song: “I wasn’t the lead singer with the band, they just asked me to come along and help them to record this particular song right there in the studio. They are Swedish and they were doing an old Coasters song, called Searchin’ and they didn’t really know the words, they knew the lyrics phonetically, but they didn’t know what the words really were. Actually I went along to help them with the lyrics and help them do the song, and I ended up singing the song on the session, and the producer of the session wanted then to make an album with me, and it was very casual. It was Friday afternoon that we did the thing with the other band, and I did the album on Saturday, and a little bit on Sunday afternoon, and finished on Monday morning so it was pretty casual.”

Two of the songs he was playing around this time were ‘Gangster of Love’ and ‘You’re so Fine’, which reappeared on ‘Sailor’.

“We’d done those previously, Steve and I used to do those songs in high school when we were 15 or 16 . ‘Steamboat.’ ‘Gangster of Love’, ‘Got You On My Mind’.”

After a trip to India he was set to return to the States to rejoin Steve Miller whose band (The Miller Band, then the Steve Miller Blues Band, finally the Steve Miller Band) had been based in San Francisco for a year and a half. “They sent me a postcard, I was living in Stockholm, asking me if I’d be interested in coming back and filling in a spot, and I said ‘Yeah’, kinda interested, and they sent me a plane ticket, and I went back to try it out and I stayed”.

With Steve Miller, Boz made two records “Children of the Future” and “Sailor”, the last named is rated by many as not only Miller’s finest work, but one of the best records to come out of the whole West Coast shebang. Although it is as a Miller sideman that Boz is best known, he spent only 11 months with the band, joining in September 1967 and leaving the following August (compare Gram Parsons’ 4 month stay with the Byrds). Steve Miller had landed the best record deal yet known for a rock band, and by early 1968 had completed ‘Children of the Future’, which had been gestating since 1964.

There was a concept devised mostly by Steve, Steve had actually done one side of the album, had not done it, but conceived Side One of ‘Children of the Future’, which didn’t get finished entirely the way we wanted it, and the rest of the band and Glyn Johns contributed to the completion of that side, and the other side of the album I actually wrote two of the songs and of course performed on the rest of them. Overall, we all participated equally, all the songs on that album.”

Those two songs that Boz refers to were “Baby’s Callin’ Me Home”, with Ben Sidran on harpsichord, and “Steppin” Stone, a rocking blues about which Steve Cropper commented: “They’ve been studying their blues. Someone in that band has been listening to blues records for quite some time . The singer sounds pretty good. He sounds like he’s got a lot of intensity, a lot of feeling, and a lot going for him”.

By the time the band started to record “Sailor,” which was to have been a concept album, musical differences caused Steve and Boz to stay away from each other’s sessions. When Steve was recording he would use the band and Boz stayed at home, and vice-versa. However, they both overdubbed parts onto each other’s songs, for example the beautiful guitar solo on ‘Song for our Ancestors’ is played by Boz using a Leslie unit.

“We were one of the first to do it. It’s done through a Leslie, there’s a unit that’s made by Leslie that you can plug a guitar through. It’s usually used for an organ, but they make a special unit, which will adapt normal electric instruments guitar, electric piano, whatever We were one of the very first to use it, it happened to be set up in the studio for someone else’s session, and I went in and started fooling around with it, and we used it.”

If you’ve never heard this track, you’re missing a treat, in fact the album is stacked with good things. Boz wrote a song with Tim Davis, “My Friend”: “I gave him (Tim Davis) the chords, I wrote the music with him, the actual chord structure. Then there’s a bit at the end of the song, where it does a kind of Indian sound, with a different time signature, and it goes out, and I gave him that. Steve played a little solo on top of it. I did the music and put the backing track on and Steve put the solo on, as I remember.”

On the Steve Miller Anthology album, Boz is credited with guitar and vocals on ‘Livin’ in the USA’, which in the light of repeated comments to the contrary seems rather odd. “I don’t remember playing any guitar on that song at all. I may have gotten in on some of the vocals, but I wasn’t really involved in that song at all.”

Boz wrote two songs for ‘Sailor’, ‘Overdrive’ which has him intoning the lyrics in a very Dylanish voice which is hardly surprising as Dylan’s influence was ‘Dime-a-Dance Romance’ which fairly steams along, with Boz singing at the top of his normal voice, just managing to avoid a falsetto which would not have had the power to suit the urgency of this song.  It’s many people’s favourite Miller Band rocker of the period, with a riff strongly reminiscent of Jumping Jack Flash which was around the same time.  Boz left the Steve Miller Band in August 1968, one month after finishing ‘Sailor’ which was eventually released in November 1968, and embarked upon a period of fruitful inactivity.

“I stayed in San Francisco, worked a few odd things, nothing formal really. I stayed around the house a lot, wrote songs and became good friends with Jann Wenner who was starting Rolling Stone at the time, and Jann and I had the idea of making an album, so I quit working with Steve in August, and started working on a new thing in December, so there was a period of about three months where I was just active but inactive.”

“Boz Scaggs” (Atlantic)

The ‘new thing’ turned out to be his first major solo album, recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama with Jann Wenner and Marlin Greene co-producing with Boz. He knew about the Muscle Shoals studio musicians from listening to various Atlantic albums, by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and so on. One of these musicians was Duane Allman, whose solos on ‘Loan Me A Dime’ gave the album a much wider audience, though again because of Allman’s subsequent fame. It was one of the tracks on the posthumous Duane Allman Anthology, although I can’t really see what all the fuss is about. I must confess to a preference for the CBS records, I like ‘Boz Scaggs’, it’s a fine record, but I feel that production, performance and material are superior in most cases on the Columbia albums. This is the first example of Boz’s predilection for various styles of music ranging from the R’ n B’ sound of ‘I’m Easy’, the country-flavoured ‘Now You’re Gone’ and Jimmie Rodger’s ‘Waiting for a Train’, and the melodic, jazzy ‘I’ll Be Long Gone’, the standout track on the album. It’s not hard to see why this track is singled out, it’s a beautiful song which dare I say it, I’d love to have heard by the ‘Moments’ band. It was quite obvious that Boz had been using his time to good effect, after leaving Miller.

“All of the songs were written, and I had actually done demos on all the songs that I had written to bring to Muscle Shoals. I didn’t have the words completed in every case, as a matter of fact, I had, in general the words about half complete. I had the titles, and working chords and working verses, but I completed them in every case in the studio.”

Not everything that was recorded in Muscle Shoals was released, for example, there were two takes of ‘Loan Me A Dime’, which, judging by the ravings of the participants are both killers, and two other songs.

“Moments”

Boz formed a band at the beginning of 1970, adding horns to the basic unit a few months later. He had signed to Columbia, which was a company which seemed to be particularly amenable to the artists’ requirements, although it was not the highest offer. The first CBS release was ‘Moments’ which carried on the wide range of styles employed in the Atlantic album, with some refinements.

The first thing that strikes the listener is the production, which is by Glyn Johns, who had produced both the Steve Miller albums which featured Boz. The arrangements were very tight, often very imaginative and tasteful, and the playing superb. I don’t intend to comment on all the tracks, but to pick out some of the high spots, starting with the very first track. ‘We Were Always Sweethearts’ goes along at a fair clip with a beautiful Leslie’d guitar solo by Mr Scaggs, the brass arrangement in this and all other tracks on the record is by Pat O’Hara. This is followed by ‘Downright Women’ which is my favourite Scaggs song, everything about it is faultless. It contains one of Boz’s best vocal performances, a fine Jymm Young piano solo, some tasty vibes by Ben Sidran, and a light bossa rhythm underpinning the whole. It also boasts some fine lyrics (“She bathes herself in sweet perfume, she helps herself to all the room she can muster .”) which fit the mood of the song perfectly, so perfectly in fact that you can guess their meaning even if you can’t always hear them exactly. Boz’s vocal delivery, beautiful though it is, obscures some vowels and leaves you guessing.

“I would like them all to be understood, maybe that’s why I have trouble, because I like to have lyrics say something special, and if they don’t say something special I don’t want to put them down, I don’t want them in the song – the music says enough for me. I’m more interested in the musical content, whether it’s the arrangement or the particular performance. Other songs just don’t make it for me until the lyrics say the whole song.”

Well, it’s a gorgeous song, and it’s this type of performance that had led people to compare Boz’s sweet vocal delivery to Johnny Mathis, but don’t let that alienate you. The only song on the album apart from the instrumental at the end, which is not sung by Scaggs, is the countryish ‘Alone Alone’, sung by David Brown, the bass player (one of 3 bass playing David Browns in San Francisco), and it also features the pedal steel guitar of John McFee, who also graced Van Morrison’s ‘Tupelo Honey’ and ‘St. Dominic’s Preview’.

‘I Will Forever Sing (the Blues)’ features Doug Simril on guitar, he plays the introduction and has a solo in the middle. Boz plays the Leslie’d guitar solo, and the song was written by R. Powell St. John of Mother Earth, another Texan band based in the Bay Area.

Glyn Johns helped Boz to arrange ‘Moments’ (“I can’t take all the credit”), another beautiful song with an ace chorus, which is very lavishly arranged. A girls’ choir (the Rita Coolidge Ladies Ensemble, featuring, in addition to Coolidge, Clydie King and Dorothy Morrison) counter-pointing the organ, Latin percussion and gentle cymbal washes. Glyn Johns also helped to arrange the instrumental track, ‘Can I Make It Last  (Or Will It Just Be Over)’, which echoes some of the features of his arrangement of “Song For Our Ancestors” on ‘Sailor’.

“That wasn’t intended to be an instrumental song. I knew the title, I wanted it to be ‘Can I Make It Last’, and I wrote lyrics to it, but they never seemed to evoke quite the mood that I was getting with just the musical track. I like the music, it had a mood that I just couldn’t get with the lyrics.”

By the way, that fellow Tom Slope who can be seen on the back cover on ‘Moments’ doesn’t actually play in the album, and his name isn’t Slope.

“I thought his name was Slope, he’d only been in the band for about 2 weeks, and we were writing the credits ..”.

He is in fact Tom Poole, who plays on ‘Boz Scaggs & Band’, Bill Atwood plays on ‘Moments’, but is not seen on the cover.

“Boz Scaggs & Band”

Boz took the band to London to record a new album, and played a couple of gigs in the area which were ecstatically received by all accounts, and the studio version of the band that was heard in London and at the Fillmore can be found on ‘Boz Scaggs & Band’ released in December 1971. The band did not change much from the band on ‘Moments’, Tom Poole replaces Bill Atwood, and there is a lot more guitar from Boz himself (you can hear him on ‘Monkey Time’, ‘Runnin’ Blue’, ‘Flames of Love’, ‘Why Why’, and ‘You’re so Good’). The production is once more by Glyn Johns who produced all but two tracks. Boz produced ‘Here To Stay’, and ‘Nothing Will Ever Take Your Place’ himself, presumably when Glyn Johns had finished his own tracks.

“Last I heard he was doing a group, this was a year ago, he was doing something called the Ozaek Mountain Daredevils. The album’s out and getting’ around, and I haven’t heard from Glyn in that long. I hear odd rumours that he’s starting a recording studio in California, and I’ve lived there and I haven’t heard from him.”

Boz arranged most of the songs on the album, although ‘Runnin’ Blue’, which is a Ray Charles type jazz-blues was arranged by Pat O’Hara, who has a trombone solo on ‘Love Anyway’ which was recorded in New York (all the others were recorded either in London or San Francisco), so who are the Lady singers on this song?

“I don’t know, it’s probably Rita Coolidge. Glyn did those, I didn’t have anything to do with the voices.”

‘Flames of Love’ was recorded in San Francisco at the same time as ‘Moments’, and it consequently has Bill Atwood on trumpet, not Tom Poole, and Mike Carrabello and Chepito from Santana providing percussion, which at one point during the song sounds more like Dr John than anything else, with girls wailing away. Boz plays a fine solo as well.

‘Here to Stay’ and ‘Nothing Will Ever Take Your Place’ introduce soul music to the Scaggs repertoire.

“They were really pretty much written to be that. I don’t think they fully accomplished it, the way I conceived it.”

Well they sound fine to me, especially, ‘Here To Stay’ which is right up there in the ‘Downright Women’ class, and it’s arranged beautifully. One feature of the arrangement is Lee Charlton’s saw and Barp. Barp?

“You know what a spittoon is? You see them in old pubs, in bars, old men spit in it. It’s got metal rods welded to it, it’s played with a saw, you put water in it, it’s played with a saw and it makes strange sounds, useless little things.”

It’s a fine consistent album, which aside from the songs already mentioned, has a song co-written by Boz and Tim Davis, ‘Why Why’, and song collaborations with Clive Arrowsmith who also took the photos on the sleeve. Doug Simril plays a nice guitar solo on ‘Up To You’.

“My Time”

‘My Time’ retains Joachim Young, George Rains and David Brown from the old band on the tracks recorded in San Francisco (which also features ladies’ chorus and various horn players), and the Muscle Shoals studio musicians on the other tracks.

“I worked with a producer named Roy Halee on that album. We did 5 songs in San Francisco. We were spending a lot of time working . Roy Halee is a perfectionist who takes a long time to record, and we were just going day after day after day and we were enjoying the work, but the record company started to complain that we were using too much studio time, and they hurt both Roy’s and my feelings, and it was kind of a bad situation, so I just took it upon myself – I had some material – I went to Muscle Shoals the next week and finished up the album in three days, brought it back to Roy and he remixed a couple of things”.

‘Dinah Flo’ was quite a big single, and it shows Boz phrasing his vocal in a manner reminiscent of Van Morrison, often uncannily so, and he was making the words up as he sang it, as was his wont at the time.

‘Slowly In The West’ is a David Brown song, recorded not in San Francisco as you might expect but in Alabama.

“He came with me to Muscle Shoals, and I wanted to feature one of his tunes in any case because I think he’s a great writer, and I just wanted to feature one of his tunes.”

Many people saw ‘Full-Lock Power Slide’ as a welcome return to the churning rockers that Boz used to play with Steve Miller, and it certainly blasts along, living up to that title, which as some of you may know is a motor-cycle term.

“It’s when you’re going around a curve, and you lock the wheel the other way, and you bend all the way over and wide open on the thing – that’s called Full-Lock Power Slide. I don’t remember the exact circumstances. The rhythm track itself was just a monster, this is before the overdubs and before the mix. The guitar sounds and some of the effects that we used on it were just a screecher. The song didn’t come out mixed like that, and it wasn’t intended to, but that’s what I used to call it in the studio, while we were working on it.”

‘Old Time Lovin’ is pure soul, an Al Green song, handled with care and respect.

“Just fell in love with the song, first time I heard it, and Al Green’s vocal style, just thought I’d like to take a shot at it.” This facet of Boz’s eclectic repertoire is featured more fully in ‘Slow Dancer’.

‘Might Have To Cry’, ‘He’s A Fool For You’, and ‘My Time’ are three beautiful ballads all written by Boz, and my favourite things on the album – beautiful vocals, great lyrics (listen hard, and be rewarded).  ‘Hello My Lover’ and ‘Freedom For The Stallion’ were both written by Allen Toussaint, though ‘Hello My Lover’ is credited to C. Toussaint.

“Anything that you see Toussaint, he’s got a C. Toussaint, D Toussaint, all kinds of Toussaint. The other big name is Neville, N Neville, or A Neville, they’re all Allen Toussaint. He couldn’t take credit for them, because someone would take the publishing rights away from him, so you get to keep all the money that way.”

‘Hello My Lover’ is a fine New Orleans rock and roll number, with a Professor Longhair style piano introduction and a beefy tenor solo sounding like Lee Allen’s roaring saxophone solos. The other track on the album not mentioned so far, is ‘We’re Gonna Roll’ which has Jules Broussard and Jack Schroer on saxophones, and not surprisingly the song has a Van Morrison flavour when these two are blowing.

“Well, that’s ‘My Time’, maybe Boz’s best album, it certainly shows that he is maturing with each new release, never anything but classy and always showing he’s got taste. The album was released in October 1972 to coincide with a tour of the States, which included a gig at the Berkeley Community Theatre, which was a well-rehearsed concert featuring strings, the band, female singers, Latin percussion and horn section. It was one of those occasions where everything went just right, and if reports are anything to go by, one of those occasions that should have been captured on tape.

“Slow Dancer”

I had my say about this album in Hot Wacks 3 (oh no you didn’t!) but I would like to reiterate that it’s a beautiful album which repays close attention. My reservations about ‘Take It For Granted’ have been swept away by the beauty of the song itself, the arrangement somehow sounds less glutinous than it did, I am happy to say. Now it’s Boz’s turn:

HW: This is a very soul influenced album, what would you say about that?

Boz: I’d like to say that I think it is. My voice just doesn’t lend itself to that kind of treatment entirely. I don’t know. I’m no good at classifying my own records, somebody else is much better suited to say if it’s a soul album or a country album or whatever. All the elements that went into it certainly would make it a soul album.

HW: You said about the Atlantic album, that you weren’t happy with your recorded voice, and yet this one seems to be Your Voice with a backup orchestra.

Boz: Yeah well I like the way my voice sounds on this album, it’s my favourite album for that.

HW: You’re very self-critical about your voice?

Boz: Very, very . And this album’s the first I’ve ever been satisfied with, for the vocal performances all the way through.

HW: Sounds very modest, I think a lot of people would give a lot to have your voice.

Boz: It’s the first time I’ve ever been satisfied with my voice. It’s taken a lot of work, its taken years and years.

HW: I would agree that the vocals are more consistent on this one, but some of the earlier songs, ‘Downright Women’ again, and the slow songs from ‘My Time’ just slay me whenever I hear them.

Boz: That’s why I like that song ‘My Time’ for instance, I like that song, because I like the vocal, and I like ‘He’s A Fool For You’ and that’s only one of the things. A lot of people don’t pinpoint that, they don’t dig that. Those happen to be my favourite things. They don’t really make it overall for a lot of people.

HW: Depends what people want.

Boz: Most people want something a bit more obvious to it, and as more than an artist, or a singer, I’m an entertainer, and I try to (conform) to what people expect from an artist.

HW: Were they all studio musicians on ‘Slow Dancer’?

Boz: Yes.

HW: Who was the pedal steel player on ‘Let It Happen’?

Boz: Sneaky Pete. I think, I’m not sure. I wasn’t there when they did the overdubs, I was told it was Sneaky Pete. They couldn’t remember, it said, oh, Sneaky Pete somebody or other.

HW: Who’s in your band now?

Boz: On bass, Gene Santini, from New York, had played previously with nobody live, he was a studio musician, discovered playing in Jesus Christ Superstar. On guitar, Les Dudek, he was on the Allman Brothers’ Brothers and Sisters’ album, he will be a very big star within a couple of years, amazing talent. On drums, Richard Shlosser, been with Van Morrison, Edgar Winter, Andy Pratt, and recorded with a number of people. Keyboards – Joachim Young, who’s been with me for some time. On horns, saxophone and flute, Jules Broussard, who’s very prominently featured on the new Santana album and he’s played with Ray Charles, Van Morrison. On Trumpet – Michael Fugate, formerly with Buddy Miles and Malo.

HW: How did you get hold of Johnny Bristol?

Boz: He had just signed as a producer with Columbia, a year ago, and I met him at the CBS convention, and we just both happened to be there, and somebody thought it would be interesting if we met, and they introduced us, and we talked for several hours. Then I said we should try some things together, which we did.

HW: I wondered if he had the idea to create a background around you, in any particular style?

Boz: In no particular style, but I knew it would have the Johnny Bristol touch on it because he always uses his own studio musicians, his own arranger.

That just about brings us up to date. If you haven’t already been converted to Boz Scaggs’ music, find someone who has and have a good listen, and as I have said repeatedly, you will not be disappointed. There is just about something for every taste in Boz’s music, always done with conviction, not just to be eclectic.

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