These days, it's good to be the Wizard of Boz. In recent times, Boz Scaggs has been recording and touring as he pleases, including a highly successful road jaunt with Donald Fagen of Steely Dan and ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald as "The Dukes of September." Outside of music, he's got a San Francisco nightclub (Slim's) and his own wine business (Scaggs Vineyards) to keep him occupied.
Rocks Off spoke with the smooth-voiced and very underrated classic rocker, who spent his Wonder Years in Dallas, about playing in Houston, the future of the Dukes and climbing aboard the Love Train.
Rocks Off: Are you seeing a lot of second-generation fans in your audience that maybe discovered your music through their parents' record collections? Boz Scaggs: I do. I get a lot of autograph seekers saying "My mom loved you!" (laughs). I see more of them during the summer shows, but they like the same thing their parents did - live music.
RO: Your last two records, But Beautiful and Speak Low, have consisted of covers of standards, a move which has done pretty well for artists like Rod Stewart. BS: A jazz musician friend of mine started just exploring songs. I had done an acoustic benefit show, and he came with a trio and backed me up. We did "My Funny Valentine" and a version of "Lowdown" in a jazzier mode. And it led to a musical conversation.
We went through lyrics books and listened to hundreds of songs and tried them out.
But I'm a singer and I listen to all singers in that genre. Nat Cole or Chet Baker or Johnny Hodges, I can relate my voice and my style to them. And it's a credit to those songs themselves that they have lasted so long, especially the melodies. We're working on a third collection now.
But I have to say that some people accuse people like Rod of exploiting the songbook to make a buck, but his voice is really honest on those records. That's his style, and he's really a good singer. And he's got a lot of fans and his record company knows how to promote him. That's why they are [so successful]. You can't begrudge him for that. RO: Any particular memories of Houston? BS: I remember playing when I was in high school at St. John's Academy. I have a hazy memory of playing in the early '70s in a psychedelic club with Jimmie Vaughan, and I think Gatemouth Brown was there. One of my fondest memories was that so many of my favorite singers came from there, and Bobby "Blue" Bland and Johnnie Taylor would tell Houston stories.
There was a section of Houston - I think it was called Boot Hill - that had a lot of clubs. And I loved a [Lousiana-based] band called Cookie and the Cupcakes.
RO: The city just unveiled a historical marker for Lightnin' Hopkins. Did he have much influence on you? BS: Oh yeah. I got to see quite a bit of him. I lived in Austin for awhile in 1964 or 1965, and he was playing a lot of coffeehouses and clubs then. He's just monumental to me, one of the five greats. I associate a lot of what we were trying to do with his style, and I speak for a lot of Texans who came out in music at that period. RO: Any chance of a CD or more dates for the Dukes? BS: We're taping a live show for PBS later this year, and that's going to kick off a wider tour. We did about 25 cities, but we all had our own individual dates to work around them. It was an experimental run in some ways just to see if we were going to enjoy it and where it might lead. It turned out to be highly successful in the fun and musical factors. And we all agreed we wanted to continue.
The high point was being onstage with each other. We got to be sidemen! That was nice to just play some guitar and sing some background vocals. As far as choosing material, we must have exchanged hundreds of emails between the three of us! I personally learned a lot from looking at Michael and Donald's lists.
RO: You were all onstage the whole time, playing backup for each other, and not on your "hits." What song did you like doing the most that wasn't associated with you? BS: We did a little tribute to the Band, and that was really fun. But the biggest surprise I got is that we were looking at material from the Philadelphia Sound era, and we settled on [the O'Jays' hit] "Love Train."
I had it in my mind that that would be a good song for Michael to sing, but it came down to both he and Donald pointing at me saying "No, you're gonna sing it." (laughs). But I got comfortable, and it was in almost every show. That was a nice surprise, and it was nice to be challenged.
RO: What are your plans after this tour? BS: I just collect material. I have a little idea here and a little one there and a bluesy thing and then a jazzy thing. And I've just started to pull it together for another record.
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