Boz Scaggs From Muscle Shoals to Motown

Boz Scaggs Interview - Beetle Magazine Vol 6 1975

Boz Scaggs Dancin' Slowly

[By: Ken St. Clair - Vol 6, January 1975]

Oklahoma City: Boz Scaggs hails from McAllister, Oklahoma, a small rural community whose biggest tourist attraction is probably the prison which contains convicted felons of all types.  Luckily , Boz managed to avoid it.

The Scaggs family moved on to another small town, this time in Texas, lying on the outskirts of Dallas. It was there that Boz went through his actual growth period, starting cello lessons at nine and moving to the sax at twelve. Neither instrument appealed to him greatly, and his lessons were interrupted by the family's perpetual movement.

At age 16 Boz ventured into a semi-pro Kingston Trio type folkie threesome. From that he received offers to fill in occasionally in a local rock act. The contrast between the two styles of music was not evident to Boz, brought up in the Southern tradition which encompasses almost every musical genre extant. "It was all just guitar music at the time. I suppose it sounds like a great contrast now, but at the time it seemed natural to me. Besides, I was too thrilled by playing to notice much difference."

Boz made a 3 year sojourn to Europe and worked primarily as a solo artist there, recording for one of the Polydor custom labels snd touring as widely as possible. His solo work then, over a decade ago, is comparible to his recent solo efforts.

"The main difference between what I am doing now and what I was doing then, is that I'm writing most of my own material now.  At that time I wasn't. But the tenor, the type of material, was very much like what I'm into now."

An invitation from Steve Miller, a musician Boz had known for some years, was readily accepted and Scaggs moved from Europe to San Francisco, from solo artist to a member of The Steve Miller Band. It was a time when the flower power, peace-love-dove 'age of reason' was solidly entrenched in Frisco. The famous Bay bands were still doing free gigs in parks, love-ins were a common feature and anti-war sentiment was gradually gaining momentum. The Steve Miller Band was in the thick of it, a classic rock unit that went in the same breath as the Airplane, the Dead, Big Brother & The Holding Company and Country Joe & The Fish. It was a hell of a time to be alive.

The Steve Miller ensemble was probably the most transient of the lot, never hitting the AM airwaves, and receiving surprisingly little FM action as well.  Though the band was as prolific as any American outfit at the time, the five piece 'psychedelic' rockblock remained on the periphery of the scene. Moby Grape was well-known at the time, primarily for the money Columbia sank into the band's promotion. Steve Miller was a name whispered between good friends. The band's limited sixties popularity is perfectly re-emphasised by the fact that most people who heard the only real Steve Miller AM success, "The Joker", thought Steve was a totally new artist. "Hey, have ya heard this guy, Steve Miller?" This, after only eight albums.

Scaggs is in much the same situation right now. After the original Miller Band dissipated into a number of solo acts and session musicians, only Steve and Boz managed to continue (tho' we're all still waiting for that supposedly dynamic Tim Davis solo album that has yet to be released) in a meaningful fashion. Scaggs four albums ("Moments", "Boz Scaggs", "My Time", "Slow Dancer" - all on Columbia) are not best sellers. However, they are steady sellers, albums that will probably never be cut out of the Columbia catalogue because they sell at that moderately reasonable pace which is the result of word-of-mouth. Play a Scaggs album for a friend and the next time you see him, he'll own one too. It just kinda works like that.

Scaggs music itself is difficult to pigeonhole. The man can move from white hot funk to a Japanese-oriented instrumental to a Motown 'zing-go-the-strings' production number and complete the full-cycle journey by riffing away on one basic progression, musical whittling. His band is an ever changing entity. Names and faces become blurred. Boz Scaggs remains the only constant, a man securely standing at the helm of his musical adventures.

Boz's limited infamy is not helped any by his attitude regarding making himself a marketable item. An artist's major source of income is the cash that is accumulated on the road, from ticket sales to the endless circus stopping in every town it can. Boz visibly winces at the idea of doing the major tour routine. He likes sticking pretty close to home - which is still San Francisco - and as a result has a heavy local following.

"We've had more exposure... more people have actually seen my band perform around Frisco. I don't really feel that my music is really in tune with the type of music you might find around Frisco. Geographically, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with it. It's just proximity really. I've played every type of gig you can in San Francisco, every type of venue from small clubs to large halls to many many people. I'd like to think that the heavy interest in my music could happen anywhere, given the right amount of exposure and attention."

Yet Scaggs refuses to give himself that exposure unless he's personally confident that the gig is right. "Every gig I've played in San Francisco has been very carefully chosen as the best possible engagement from a number of possible choices. I will not play a gig anywhere unless it's going to be a meaningful situation and a good situation for people to hear the music. Large cities where I haven't played, it's only because the right situation hasn't arisen, the kind of show that I really want to be a part of."

So, Boz... you're prepared to turn your back on all that potential cash because you refuse to do a bad gig ? "I'm in no hurry to make a lot of money. I'm gonna be around for a long time. I've been doing this for a long time and I'll be doing it a lot longer. I'm comfortable the way I am; I have everything that I need, even if I am not rich. I don't have to seek out opportunities to make money."

For some recording artists, life on the road is one long party. For another it's a period of deliberate soul-destruction; a time of having no extra time. Boz feels uncomfortable on the road because it interferes with his own artistry. "I don't generally do much writing when I'm on the road. The movement doesn't allow me to concentrate. But it's a matter of translating ideas that come along onto a cassette recorder, saving the idea. But generally I'll have to sit down and close the door and try hard to get into it."

"Slow Dancer" is the biggest mover of the four albums Boz has recorded since leaving the Miller Band. In areas where he already has a hard-core following. "Slow Dancer" has done better than usual. In other areas, where Boz Scaggs is still a name inevitably followed by a question mark, the album has also done well. "Overall, the album's done about 50% better than any of my previous albums. It's been strong."

Scaggs offers a living portrait of - if you can believe it - a happy musician. He appears content with his lifestyle, satisfied with his artistic output... generally content with his lot in life. It's impossible to picture the man sitting backstage in a dark corner administering a fix or rolling up a hundred dollar bill in preparation for inhalation of a long row of white powder. Clearly, the man will not OD in some cheap motel, nor will he subject himself to the ugliness of the business which almost justifies that stereo-typical rockstar, soon-to-be-corpse syndrome. But, what if, for the sake of argument, Boz Scaggs was to see his creative flow slowly subside? What if a temporary musical dry spell should actually turn out to be a ravaging drought? In short, what will happen to Boz Scaggs, the moderately successful artist who's deliberately avoided making a million - and thus doesn't have the security of that fat bank account - should he find himself capable of continuing?

Scaggs responds slowly, as if taken completely by surprise.

"Gee... I've never... thought... thought of it like that. As long as there's Duke Ellington... Frank Sinatra... Ella Fitzgerald. Music is an endless thing. Boz Scaggs is just a small part and I'm happy just to be able to say that."

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