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Boz Scaggs; A 21st Century Troubadour

The son of a traveling salesman, William Royce Scaggs was born at home in Canton, Ohio on June 8, 1944.  When his father returned home from serving in World War II, the family moved to Oklahoma before settling in Stockholm, Texas.  At the age of 12, Scaggs already had an interest in the music crackling from the car’s AM radio.  Listening in rapture to T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed and other legends of the era, he knew that this is what he wanted to do.  While attending St. Marks, a private school in Dallas, he met up with Steve Miller and the two formed a band, The Marksmen.  Scaggs was given the name Bosley by his friend Donald Lively at the age of 14.  Later, he would be called simply Boz.

After graduating, Boz joined Miller at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where they put together the band they called the Ardells.  They were also members of the Fabulous Night Trains, made up of the top local musical talent.  Eventually dropped out of the university.  After serving a short stint in the US Army in San Antonio, he formed a R&B band called the Wigs in Austin, TX.  In 1964, the Wigs moved to England.  They found a scene overrun with ambitious and talented musicians.  Out of money, two of the members returned to Texas.  Boz decided to travel, living the vagabond life in western Europe.

Early in 1965, Boz ended up in Stockholm, Sweden where he remained for the next couple of years.  After a few fruitless jobs, Boz sustained himself as a curbside troubadour, singing the songs he learned from the radio back in Texas for tips. Boz recorded his first album in Stockholm, 1965’s BOZ.  In 1966, Boz headed for India, still wanting to further explore the “bum scene”.  He ended up back in Stockholm where he found work with various bands playing mostly jazz and blues.  In August, Boz received a postcard from San Francisco.  His friend Steve Miller had formed a successful band and invited Boz to join them as a second guitar and vocalist.  Boz arrived in San Francisco in the midst of the Summer of Love.  The Steve Miller Blues Band soon recorded a breakthrough debut album, Children Of the Future, followed with another epic of the age, Sailor.  Boz penned and sang lead on songs like “Baby’s Calling Me Home”, “Steppin’ Stone”, “Overdrive” and ‘Dime A Dance Romance”.
 
Boz’s stint with the band only lasted about a year, ending when he set out on a solo career.  Signing with Atlantic Records, Boz recorded his US debut, Boz Scaggs.  Backed by the infamous Muscle Shoals musicians, and joined by Duane Alman, the album is best known for the blues drenched, extended play “Loan Me a Dime”.  After only limited sales, Boz signed with Columbia.  In 1970 released Moments, followed by 1971’s Boz Scaggs and Band and My Time in 1972.  In each case most of the songs were written by Scaggs, songs that today shine in their test of time
.  His poetic lyrics and smooth production were popular with his many fans, but the albums never sold well.
 
1974’s Slow Dancer proved to be a turning point in Boz’s reputation and style.  His arrangements and personal style had left behind the country and had moved up to the big city.  But it wasn’t until 1976’s Silk Degrees that Boz realized the fame and recognition he had coveted for so many years.  Songs like “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle”, the former earning him a Grammy Award, propelled sales to more than 4 million albums.  The next year, Boz followed with the platinum selling Down Two Then Left.  The backing band for these last two albums would go on to achieve their own fame as Toto.
 
In 1980, Boz released Middle Man, which hit over a million in sales and had two Top 20 hits, “Jojo” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead”.  It is about this time that Boz wrote and performed “Look What You’ve Done For Me” for the movie, Urban Cowboy.  He also wrote and recorded “Miss Sun” with Lisa Dal Bello, a bonus track for his Hits compilation that came out in 1980.  Both songs have become standards in his performances today.  That same year, tired of the scrutiny and pressure of fame, Boz Scaggs simply dropped out of the music business, spending more time with his sons and developing some special projects.  He would open the Blue Light Café and a nightclub, Slim’s, in San Francisco.  Boz continued to play music in his club, home studio and at guest appearances about town.
 
Boz released Other Roads in 1988.  The searing song “Heart of Mine” would return his name to the Top 40 once again.  In 1991, he teamed up with Donald Fagan’s New York Rock & Soul review, performing songs like “Drowning in a Sea of Love”.  Boz was later signed by Virgin Records.  His first release on the new label, Some Change (1994), offered elegant and sophisticated compositions like “Sierra” and “Fly Like a Bird”.  In 1996 Boz and Virgin produced a Japanese release entitled Fade Into Light, with “unplugged” versions of some of his hits and two new songs, “Just Go” and “Some Things Happen”.

The release of Come On Home in 1997 fulfilled a long held desire of Boz’s to record the music steeped in the tradition of the sound he loves.  Once again, Boz stepped forward on guitar, resulting in passionate solos and clearly displaying his affinity with the roots music of a bygone era.  Come On Home earned Boz another Grammy Award nomination.  1997 also marked the release of My Time:  A Boz Scaggs Anthology (1969-1997) which includes most of his early favorites now out of distribution and some of the songs not contained on his releases.  For many fans, the accompanying booklet is irreplaceable.  Another compilation was released in 1998, Here’s That Lowdown.
 
In the following years, Boz continued to expand on his touring schedule.  Assembling a band of top-notch musicians, he played the wineries of California, the casinos of Nevada, the east coast dinner clubs, while also playing to sold out crowds at many 3,000-seat theaters across the country.  The music was back in him and his fans couldn’t get enough.
Released on September 11, 2001, Dig came into the hands of his fans and the industry.  There was a resulting exultation in the new sounds and dynamics produced by Boz and his collaborators, David Paich and Danny Kortchmar. Dig not only provides an ideal showcase for Boz’s writing talents, but it also captures his matured vocal and guitar techniques.  Boz has called it the best work he has ever done.
 
While sharing his San Francisco studio space with some local jazz musicians, Boz was captivated by the prospect of performing some of the old jazz standards.  Something in Boz had been awakened.  He poured through suggested songs, picking and choosing those that fit his voice and manner.  The result was 2003’s But Beautiful, released on his own label, Gray Cat Records, and backed by a polished and sometimes iridescent quartet (Paul Nagel; piano, Eric Crystal; saxophone, Jason Lewis; drums and John Shifflett; bass).  From the opening cymbal taps on "What's New", with its beatnik-cool bass lines and clear, lightly placed piano chords, the listener is taken to a land so groovy that you can almost hear the fingers snap with the laid back beat in the dimly lit club. Boz's mesmerizing treatment of songbook standards like "Never Let Me Go", "How Long Has This Been Going On” and “Sophisticated Lady” induces a warm, comfortable mood.  But Beautiful is an exemplary triumph for Boz, proving himself a vocal master with few peers.

On August 26 and 27, 2003 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall Boz recorded a soon to be released double DVD set.  The first night captured the magic of his jazz quartet and the second night caught the power and mastery of his “Hits”.  In the two nights, his performance material spanned 35 years of his contributions to the musical scene.  For those in attendance, and for those that purchase the DVD set, the artistic perspective offered in the productions further reinforce the positive impression Boz Scaggs has always selflessly offered his audiences and fans.

- Skip Moore
skip@billmoore.com

 

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