Scaggs Showcases Album
By GENE MYERS - Special to Twin-Boro News
Boz Scaggs first made his mark in the Steve Miller Band in the late 60s, and then again as a solo artist in 1976 with the hits "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" from his "Silk Degrees" album.
He put music on the back burner for the majority of the 80s to concentrate on family, but returned in full force in the 90s. While the charts eluded the artist this time, he once again attained critical success with albums like "Some Change" and "Fade into Light."
After the commercial failure of 2000s "Dig" (a personal favorite of Scaggs), he changed direction and recorded a collection of standards called "But Beautiful" in 2003. The change suited him and he continued in that vein for his most recent release, 2008s "Speak Low."
Columnist Gene Myers speaks to Scaggs about the winding path that brings him to bergenPAC on Jan. 13.
Gene: Who were some of your favorite singers when you were starting out?
Boz: Well, when I started listening-really avidly listening-to the radio and buying records I would have been about 10 or 11 years old. I grew up when radio started playing early rock and roll My favorite singers were, let's see, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles and Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. I guess those were my favorites.
Gene: OK, who are your favorite singers these days?
Boz: Bobby Blue Bland-you mean contemporary singers?
Gene: Whoever you find inspires you right now.
Boz: I guess my favorite singers are pretty much the same, Ray Charles, Bobby "Blue" Bland and, oh, I like Frank Sinatra and I like early Bob Dylan.
Gene: Thats interesting. When you were starting out you named Elvis. You could see that in your early records, and when you say Bobby "Blue" Bland, I can see that in your recent records.
Boz: Well, I didn't know about Bobby "Blue" Bland when I first started listening. It was only a few years later when I discovered Bobby Bland. But he's been my favorite for all of these years. I recently did a poll for Rolling Stone Magazine. They did [a poll of artists] favorite singers and I listed him at the top of my list of all singers.
Gene: I read that issue. It was interesting.
Boz: Actually, I didnt. But they asked me to submit my choices to it and that's what I did. What did you find interesting about it?
Gene: What I found interesting was Bob Dylan was number seven and a singer like Daryl Hall wasn't even on the list.
Boz: Yeah, it was crazy. I entirely agree with you. I think that that list was really a popularity contest that reflected some other things that certainly weren't primarily focused on singers in the way that I think of them. Daryl Hall not being on that list was a real mistake, and it sort of blew the credibility of that whole idea.
Gene: So what makes for a good singer?
Boz: Well, there's just a certain vocal quality, which Sam Cooke has. Tens of thousands of us singers absolutely love Sam Cooke and we can listen to him for hours and hours and we will never be able to do what Sam Cooke does. We can emulate certain little nuances and certain little inflections and probably certain aspects of his style. But we can't sing like Sam Cooke because there's something in the shape of his throat and the texture of his actual sound that comes out of his larynx. It is unique and his.
His ability to do certain physical things mechanically, it is superior. It's better. It resonates in the human ear better than anybody else's [voice]. Then there are people like Ray Charles who not only have a great voice but [also] the stylistic thing that they do. Many artists have tried to emulate it, but it's their own invention. Only their concept goes with their particular mechanical equipment and can make that happen. As much as I love Bobby "Blue" Bland, I cannot sing Bobby Bland style songs because my voice just doesn't do that.
As much as I might like Michael McDonald or Ella Fitzgerald or Nat King Cole, I just don't have the mechanics to do that. So that's another quality that has to be taken into consideration. But mostly it's the way a singer perceives music and is able to translate it in his own brain and sing it that produces his own style. Picasso had style. Charlie Chaplin had a style and the same thing applies to a vocalist.
Gene: You write and interpret songs, play instruments and sing. Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer? Which role do you enjoy the most?
Boz: Well, I'd say that I enjoy writing and I enjoy playing the guitar as much as I do singing, but I have probably a better facility as a singer. More songs are more accessible to me. I can't play all the things that I hear in my head on guitar. I love to practice. That's very satisfying, but I can't hear it as broadly as I can vocally. The same thing is true with writing a song. I just don't do it as much as I probably should. But singing is so accessible and I love listening to singers. I love finding a song and figuring out how to sing it.
Gene: What is it about singing that you like? What kind of feeling does it give you?
Boz: It's like flying. It's like being free to soar. It's challenging-going from one note to the next and one phrase to the next. You have to negotiate it. You have to know how to get there. They [notes] are like stepping stones and you have to hop, like crossing over a stream. Its a beautiful feeling. It resonates inside of you and it satisfies your musical perceptions. It's just like flying. Thats the closest thing I can think of.
Gene: Do you build your albums around your voice?
Boz:Yes. In the case of, let's say these jazz standards albums that I did, everything-the arrangements, the instrumentation, choice of song-all revolves around my voice and my approach. The key that I sing it in, the rhythm that we choose to do the song in it all revolves around my voice and how I can make it work.
Gene: I had read a review of the album "Dig" on allmusic.com and it said that your voice sounded better than ever on that album. I also read that you really favor that album. What was it about "Dig" that was an especially good vehicle for your voice?
Boz: I was working with two producers, David Paich and Danny Kortchmar who are very experienced musicians. They were able to design the songs to give me a very comfortable approach. They understood my style and helped provide me with a bedrock, a platform to do what I do with my voice and guitar. They just sort of created a path for me that was very comfortable and very negotiable. It was also challenging and really satisfying and fun. That was the key. Those two guys made it happen.
Gene: Going from "Dig" to "Speak Low" and the jazz standards, what kind of accommodations did you have to make with your voice? What kind of things did you have to take into consideration when you switched to singing songs in a different genre?
Boz: Well, I had to go from the style of songs that I had written, that had been written around me, to songs that are classic and had a certain melody that had to be respected. Today I'm working with jazz musicians and my voice is more of an instrument. It's a challenge. But it's also easier because it was already written. I didn't have to write it. They're gorgeous songs. I just had to step up as a vocalist and find my own style in genres that were not entirely familiar to me.