Associated Entertainment - Boz Scaggs Interview
Boz Scaggs: "I've wanted to do this rhythm and blues album for a long time," says Boz Scaggs about his new Virgin Records release, Come on Home. "I grew up on this music, and this record is a tribute to some of my heroes, some of the great R&B singers, songwriters, and musicians." It includes fourteen classic rhythm and blues cuts - shuffles, laments, love songs, rockers -- ten rendered earlier by such giants as Jimmy Reed, T-Bone Walker, and Bobby "Blue" Bland, plus four Scaggs R&B originals.
"These songs are basically simple -- of course the simplest things are often the most difficult to do. The music was conceived and executed by some truly masterful people, and more often than not, attempts to recreate it end up being pale or unauthentic by comparison. The emotion is what gives these songs universal appeal and makes them ring true. But it's the ability to handle those emotions, which are so genuine, so immediate and volatile, that takes care."
With Come on Home, Scaggs has made a full circle back to his musical point of origin in Texas, listening to radio. "KNOK, KGKO, some nights we got WLAC in Nashville -- they played the essential R&B records, the hits being made those days. WRR in Dallas played the blues -- Delta Blues, New Orleans traditionalist, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago stuff - the formative ingredients of R&B. This guy Jim Lowe - his show was called Kats' Karavan - he was like a professor. He was a blues aficionado - he taught us everything."
The education continued in high school with classmate Steve Miller in The Ardells. Scaggs then kicked around Europe and Asia as a dharma bum and a folk/blues player, recording his first album in Stockholm. Returning stateside, he rejoined The Steve Miller Blues Band for two records before signing with Atlantic Records for his own U.S debut, Boz Scaggs, made with the famed Mussel Shoals rhythm section that featured Duane Allman blazing through "Loan Me a Dime."
After that came Moments, Boz Scaggs and Band, My Time, and Slow Dancer; then Silk Degrees, the breakthrough record that elevated Scaggs to star status. "It's still fresh to me, too. Good songs, great fun to make, " he told Rolling Stone nearly twenty years later. Down, Two, Then Left, Middle Man, and Hits followed Silk Degrees, along with some ambivalence for the path Scaggs' successful career had taken. "It had all become a business for me.
I enjoy music on a very basic level and I wanted to get back to that." After an eight-year hiatus, he released Other Roads in 1988, joined Donald Fagen's New York Rock and Soul Revue in 1992, and in 1994, with the release of Some Change, made his return complete. "I felt like I did when I first started playing -- and there's nothing in the world greater than that. When you discover an instrument, a way of using your voice, music that speaks to you -whole worlds open up. It's a state of grace of some kind."
Some Change earned critical plaudits for Scaggs as a songwriter, guitarist, and above all, as a master vocalist. Said Rolling Stone: "Profligate in his command of styles both raw and sophisticated, he has so refined his approach that anything he sings now is marked by an uncommon subtlety and taste. Among top-rank blue-eyed soul singers, Scaggs, with his rootsy grounding remains the sturdiest." "Some Change was one of the most satisfying records I've ever done," the singer says. "And I found that the music which was rooted in blues and R&B was some of the strongest. So I decided, with Come on Home to take the full plunge."
With executive producer Harry Duncan, Scaggs reviewed literally hundreds of potential covers from a list of thousands. "Defining the musical territory was tricky at first, like trying to draw a line between where the blues and gospel end to where R&B begins; where R&B ends and becomes soul, funk, rock and roll, Stax, Motown, the Philly style and on and on," Scaggs says. "Ultimately I chose the songs I liked to sing the most."
Come on Home features, among others, drummer Jim Keltner, Little Feat's Fred Tackett on guitar, and legend Willie Mitchell's horn arrangements. "Wilie Mitchell has an extremely astute musical mind," Scaggs says, "as a producer, he knows how to create an environment where the players leave everything but music outside the door and then sink into a groove." With musicians from LA and the Bay Area, Scaggs and crew recorded rhythm tracks in two weeks and then settled in to make music that "retained the original feeling, yet put it in a modern context....therein was the challenge."
As he did on Some Change, Boz also stretched out on guitar, playing solos steeped in the spirit of the genre. "That was one of the things that drew me to this music - my love of guitar." This is the music of hot nightspots and roadshows as well as the Saturday night barbecues and Blue Mondays," Scaggs says, "from the period when the blues had grown up a bit; chord changes had become more complex; more sophisticated instrumentation was introduced." From the New Orleans syncopations of "Sick and Tired" to the club-style delivery of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Early in the Morning," from the title track, a Willie Mitchell original, to the "T-Bone Shuffle,"
Come on Home showcases a full range of R&B styles. "Love Letters," originally recorded by Ketty Lester, was introduced to Scaggs when Steely Dan's Walter Becker suggested it for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Soul Revue. "I tried out a Solomon Burke approach to the song." Scaggs says, "slowing it down, singing it very deliberately. I found the lyrics very touching, very poignant."
About Jimmy Reed's "Found Love," he says: "Jimmy sang from a very distinct, deep place. And while his music can be seen as the essence of simplicity, it's remarkably complex." "Ask Me 'Bout Nothing (But the Blues)", originally recorded by Bobby Bland, is one of the album's highlights. "He's probably my favorite singer of the genre," says Scaggs. "I've been listening to him as long as I've been listening to this music. It's daunting to attempt one of his songs because his voice is so smooth. He has such a grasp of dynamics and he makes it all sound so easy."
"Goodnight Louise," "After Hours," "I've Got You Love," and "Picture of a Broken Heart," all Scaggs' originals, skillfully mine the R&B vein: they're songs whose mood, texture, and musicality hold their own alongside the classics he so commandingly interprets. In the same way, Come on Home stands assuredly alongside the best records of this singer's career, as much a tribute to a rich musical tradition as a testament to Boz Scaggs' place within that tradition.