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IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE SINGER...
AND THE SONG

Boz Scaggs Talks

Excerpts From Rare Boz Scaggs Interviews

BOZ TALKS: GOLF

"Playing a concert with Steve's band was a reunion of sorts," smiled Scaggs. "I started playing guitar when I was about sixteen years old because I wanted to be a musician, you know, and hang out and stuff. Some of my friends taught me how to play and Steve was one of those friends. He had been playing for a few years so he became my mentor. We played throughout high school and college and then I left for a stay in Europe. I came back, joined the first Steve Miller Band and cut two albums with him. It was really crazy because I was really unfamiliar with the rock scene in America in the late sixties, being in Europe for a couple of years. I came back with Steve and here we were tossed into the middle of this whole psychedelic scene!"

BOZ TALKS: YOUNG BOZ ON STEVE MILLER

"When you're that age, a difference of a year really does matter. I idolized Steve (Miller). To me, he was so much older and wiser. It sounds corny, but he was like my hero."

BOZ TALKS: 1965

"I went to Copenhagen first. Then by the summer of '65, when the weather was getting warm, I hopped over to Paris for a while, then on to Spain and back up to Southern France. I played things like an old Inez and Charlie Foxx tune called "Mockingbird" and the Righteous Brothers "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and an old Drifters shuffle called "Steamboat".  Just loud R'n'B stuff mostly. It was sort of hand to mouth and I was living pretty loose, but the weather was good and I always found a place to sleep one way or another."

On Stockholm and recording of "BOZ":

"I got to know most of the musicians in the city, played with them. One of the most popular bands in Sweden at that time were The Merry Men. They were doing an R'n'B kind of thing and they asked me to come in on one of their recording sessions, help out on arrangements, play the guitar, add some background vocals. They were recording things like the old Coasters' number, "Searchin'", except they didn't really know the words. So we got into the studio and I was singing for them when their producer suddenly asked me to do a solo album. It was a low budget thing, recorded for Polydor. Came out in Sweden and Denmark, did pretty well, too."

Boz Talks: Tracks off the 1965 album "BOZ"

"Most of these songs are my arrangements of the old Rhythm & Blues songs I have done earlier with a band or with the guy who taught me guitar named Miller.  In the band I played rhythm guitar and I still find most of my strength in the rhythm.  I'm most familiar right now with these songs because I needed them playing in the streets. Each one allows me to sing at the top (sometimes really pushing it) of my voice, to use the harmonica as well as I know it, and to take advantage of the strong rhythm."

BOZ TALKS: THE MAKING OF SLOW DANCER

The making of Slow Dancer:

...Boz and Bristol put material together, sang it to each other, and while Boz went back to San Francisco, Bristol called in the session men to lay down the tracks. Then Boz came back in to sing. Horns, strings, backup voices, and adjustments were all added later.

His new roll as "only a singer" required a considerable readjustment..."I started to feel insecure, and felt great frustration several times because of difficulty writing things. I had a feeling that things were getting out of proportion. It was frightening at first until I realized that it was just a whole new thing. I was learning how to sing, how to use my voice, and how to use dynamics. I really had to live up to those tracks.

I wanted to move in a certain direction, and Johnny (Bristol) walked me through it. It meant a stronger vocal delivery, more the way I like to hear myself sing. It meant a different relationship to the material. With soul music you can't have lyrics that rely on subtle shadings or interpretations. It's got to be something you can deliver with conviction to a live audience."

BOZ TALKS: SLOW DANCER

"I was a little disappointed in the way "Slow Dancer" was accepted.  It was the first time I'd worked a full album with studio musicians and I got a lot of help from those guys.  If I wanted to do a particular kind of song, their musical ability had transcended all kinds of music and they could deliver what I wanted to hear immediately and my songs became more complete.  I really liked that album - I was happy with the way my voice had come out and I thought, 'This one's going to get me to a broader audience, I'm gonna be able to tour more places that were not available to me before.'  The album came out and, as albums before it had done, it was well-accepted here and there, but as far as general appeal was concerned, it didn't really take hold. So, by the time I got to make "Silk Degrees", I'd spent more time in L.A. and got to know more musicians who were thinking along the same lines as I was."

BOZ TALKS: SILK DEGREES COVER

"When we talk about the Silk Degrees cover, we talk in terms of it going hand-in-hand with the music. I think it should be thought of in sexy terms or an even better word is 'provocative.' And the music should be representative of the cover. It could also be amusing or standoffish because my back is turned on a girl. I think it's provocative in that respect. I'm very aware of styles and images, but primarily musical styles. The style of the Silk Degrees cover worked well with the music. But the music, of course, came first."

BOZ TALKS: WE'RE ALL ALONE

"We're All Alone" was a piano experimentation on my part. Every time I'd go by the piano, I'd repeat this little pattern. And I can remember being intrigued by the first three chords, and I don't know whether this is accurate or not, but I think they're the first three chords of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday," and that was the catalyst.

- Performing Songwriter 2002

BOZ TALKS: TAKING TIME OFF

"When I took off for 10 years, I really got completely away from music.  I had no interest.  It just left me.  Eventually, it started coming back.  Music was coming into my head again.  I got involved in a couple of projects.  There was a thing called the Rock and Soul revue that Donald Fagan from Steely Dan put together with Charles Brown and Michael McDonald and Phoebe Snow and myself.  We went out and started doing some shows together.  We made a record.

And I started putting together a blues band and just playing for the real joy of it.  I felt like I felt when I was 15 or 16 years old and playing my first jobs.  It was fun to be back in it with a new beginning."

BOZ TALKS: SONGS FROM DIG

"Miss Riddle" I am very proud of because the idea is complete, as far as the song’s composition from beginning to end. And "Thanks to You" because it is autobiographical. It means a lot to me and I am very happy with the way it turned out."

BOZ TALKS: 'VANISHING POINT' CO-WRITERS

"...'Vanishing Point' was one of the most challenging tunes I had ever written.  I had written pages and pages of notes, trying to find the theme of that song.  David Paich wrote the music to it, and it's more a song from his idiom than mine, although I liked a lot of things about it.  I wanted to complete it, but I just couldn't get a handle on it.  I couldn't find the key to it.  
 
Anyway, I was expressing my frustration concerning the song to my wife, Dominique Gioia, over the telephone.  She's a book editor, and I told her of my dilemma and started reading specific lines to her.  I had the character in the song going to Nepal or some high place, and I said to her, "I'm sick of trying to elevate this song.  I just want the guy to go to Vegas or something."  And she said, "Well, there you go.  That's where your song needs to go. That's going to tell your story."  And that was the key.  She was absolutely right.  So I finished the song, and I got stuck a little later on the bridge and she helped me again.  She swooped in after I had a rough idea and filled in the blanks beautifully and understood, subliminally, where I was going.  She was surprised (afterwards) that I wanted to give her a co-writing credit, but there really was no question that she had made a significant contribution to that song." 

BOZ TALKS: SAN QUENTIN PERFORMANCE

One of the forsaken places that Scaggs was able to reach through Bread & Roses was inside San Quentin Prison, the most memorable concert of his remarkable career...

"I remember that San Quentin show as one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I can't think of any other incident in my life to compare with what it's like to walk through those gates and feel that atmosphere. That was a very heavy place to be for me.

I told myself that I would do it again and again. I never have done it again. I'm not sure why. But it seemed so important to do that. I remember thinking that I must do more of this because it was so well received and appreciated."

BOZ TALKS: SCRIBBLINGS

"I keep notes, drunken images and things. I have this box full of bits of paper, cocktail napkin scribblings, bits of wisdom. I always look through it before I do an album. In fact, 'silk degrees' was a phrase I'd had around in that box for a long time. Originally I was going to use that name for my second album (Moments).

BOZ TALKS: SONGWRITING 2002

"The way that I come up with the words and the concept to a song is perhaps similar to the way that a novelist writes.  It's very much a fictional process.  I have to find the characters in each song individually.  I have to listen to what each song says, plus what the attitude of the singer is.  Then I find the voice and create the character that can perform that song.  And sometimes the music is so suggestive that I can pretty much write it in a few passes.  At other times-and more often than not-it's a matter of trial and error and trying to find that voice.  In doing that I use a little multi-track hard disk recorder and just lay my voice into it.  I then listen back and see if that voice is really resonating with that particular version of the music-until I find a voice that I think is the right voice.  Then I listen to what that voice is saying and try to fill in the blanks.  I don't dwell on melody much at all.  That comes in the very beginning.  I'm primarily a singer, and where my voice goes is where the music's going."


BOZ TALKS: RECORDING OF LMAD

"Loan Me A Dime was a song that I had heard Elvin Bishop and his band doing with a singer called Jo Baker; I didn't know who it was by or any of the words. So I called Jo in San Francisco and she was able to give me some words, although as she didn't know them all and I had to add some of my own.

As things turned out at the very end of the sessions we had a small amount of time left and everyone who'd been involved were all there. Now it was very difficult to get everyone in the studio at one time because Muscle Shoals wasn't very big. We had the horns out in the corridor, I was singing in the rest room next to the soda machine, and Duane was enclosed with his amplifier in a kind of broom closet in the middle.

We just started to run it through for one take to make sure that everyone knew where they were going, and then because time was running out, went for one final take. The energy that was in the room was just fantastic; Roger Hawkins on the drums really got into the thing, changing up the tempo several times, and the sax player just came up with this riff that the others fell into. And of course Duane's playing was just out of sight."

- guitarist 2001

BOZ TALKS: OPENING OF SLIMS

Boz explaining the delay in the opening of Slim's Nightclub originally scheduled to open June 23, 1988 with an opening week bill that included Otis Rush (with Scaggs, under the nom de plume of Presidio Slim, sitting in) and Ornette Coleman...

"The escrow didn't close and, therefore, the liquor license and the assets didn't transfer to Slim's, and we were on just a hairline schedule to get open on time anyway, as these things go. I mean, we planned way, way out in advance and gave ourselves a month leeway. We had a month to be finished. I mean, we planned to be finished an entire month to just fine-tune it. And, as things go, we just got right down to the wire. It seemed to me that we were going to make it. Then I left for Japan about 10 days ago and while I was away this thing didn't transfer. And we had to hold up construction; we couldn't construct it - the permits wouldn't allow us to. It just didn't make any sense to commit. We had about $150,000 committed to this particular phase of construction and we just cannot go ahead and do that until we legally have the place. That's what happened. When I came back from Japan it had been delayed to the point that we had an emergency session and decided that we simply cannot open. We had to cancel all the acts. It's just a monumental bummer...It's one of the saddest things that's ever happened to me. I just don't ... I'm heartbroken."

BOZ TALKS: MIDDLEMAN DAYS

"... The rapport is.... I can walk into any club that has almost any form of music and be accepted.  I've walked into cafes in Afghanistan, India, Mexico and Russia and once I identify myself as a musician to other musicians the barriers are instantly all down.  There are no boundaries amongst those who have gone through the growing pains of the process of learning music.  And you, as a musician, are sympathetic, in turn, to anybody who even attempts it or shows any desire to learn about it..."

BOZ TALKS: MADISON, WI

"By the time I got to Madison, Steve had already formed another band and established himself as a fairly popular name on campus, and we'd play two, sometimes three weekends a month durin' the school year.  Then, durin' the summers, we worked as sort of a small-time tourin' band around Wisconsin and northern Illinois.  One-nighters, generally - five, six, seven nights a week.  Sometimes we called ourselves the Ardellls, sometimes the Night Train, and there must've been other names we went under, too.  We wore gold lame vests and did little dance steps and all that $#^!,  sort of as a put-on for our own weird sense of humor.  But we were learnin' a lot too, because playin' under those more or less backwoods conditions is the best dues you can pay for actually gettin' proficient on your instrument."

BOZ TALKS: LOWDOWN 1997

"I think I got myself in a bind not writing the words in time to sing them for the session, and I had to write the words down very quickly. It was either the night before or the morning of the session. I just had to come up with something and the words came out onto the page pretty easily. I found them the other day in going through some notes. They were on the notepad that sits beside the bed in the hotel I was staying in in L.A. And with very little refinement, they came out the way they are. The song just has been real easy for me to relate to, and real easy to sing. After all this
time, I still enjoy doing it."

BOZ TALKS: LONDON 1964

"I remember walking into a club called the Flamingo one of the first nights we were in town, and there was this band, Chris Farlow and the Thunderbirds. They were doing Bobby Bland's arrangement of 'Stormy Monday Blues' to a tee, horns, beautiful organ, just wailin'. Knocked me right out, man - it was like walkin' into some little black dive in Houston or someplace."

BOZ TALKS: LIDO SHUFFLE

"I love a shuffle, and that was just a version that I happened to be playing on the piano. I was trying to find a groove that I'd heard Fats Domino do. There's a song that he did way back in his heyday called "The Fat Man," and I'm not much of a piano player, but I can sort of bang that groove on a piano and try to duplicate the feel that Fats Domino used. I showed it to David Paich, and I just sort of howled along with it. Paich picked up on the vibe and carried on with it."

- Performing Songwriter 2002

BOZ TALKS: GUITARS & AMPS

"From the beginning I wanted my guitar playing to be an integral part of the recording 'of Dig'. It isn't that I've ever stopped playing - I always have several guitars hanging around and can't remember a time when I haven't owned a Strat and Gibson 335.

I also love old amps and on the Dig album I used this great little 15 watt thing called an Orotone; it was lent to me by a harmonica playing friend and looks like one of those things you would have bought from a Chicago store in 1962 - all silver sparkle with old radio-type knobs - but a great sound. In many ways it sums up what I'm about; a little bit of here and now, and a little bit of there and then."

BOZ TALKS: FRANK SINATRA

When asked to name his favorite Sinatra tune or album, Boz Scaggs replies:

"I can't pick one record. There's a whole body of great stuff. I was more directly influenced by Bobby (Blue) Bland, but Sinatra's omnipresence makes him an influence on anybody who sings."

BOZ TALKS: DTTL 1978

"I'm geared up to cope with success now but there's a constant ego-wrestling you have to deal with. Do I need it? Is it important? Do I want an obvious format or shall I move on? I could have repeated 'Silk Degrees' but I can't consider that. The title 'Down Two Then Left' is a juggling around with the image. I really am trying to depart from the norm."

BOZ TALKS: DISCO 1978

"Personally, I like it.  Disco is bright, major key music.  I like to try and write good lyrics to it.  Also, it's a natural outgrowth of Motown and Philly music, which means a lot to me.  Disco showed me how to move from rock and blues, but still keep the energy and freedom that rock gives you."

BOZ TALKS: 'DIG' CHARACTERS

...From the greasy funk and gritty licks of "Payday" to romantic, elegant ballads, Dig is emotional and near-cinematic. The cover captures the mood with photos of a trench coat-clad Scaggs wandering city streets lit only by neon and streetlights.

According to Scaggs, these sketches by Boz are about losers -- in the sense of people who have genuinely lost something as opposed to the popular conception of the term; no slackers or Jerry Springer guests here. "We're so tuned in to our culture being some sort of race or game of accumulation that we look at people who don't succeed in the way that modern standards dictate as not belonging somehow," Scaggs says. Characters on Dig, like the border-straddling searcher on the desolate, country-tinged "King of El Paso" or the duo drifting to Vegas on "Vanishing Point,"certainly fall into that category. "We need to stop seeking the weaknesses in each other and find a little more humanity and compassion," Scaggs continues. "Actually, I think these characters are more disillusioned than what we think of as losers."

- 2001

 

BOZ TALKS: 1974

"Playing a concert with Steve's band was a reunion of sorts," smiled
Scaggs. "I started playing guitar when I was about sixteen years old
because I wanted to be a musician, you know, and hang out and stuff.
Some of my friends taught me how to play and Steve was one of those
friends. He had been playing for a few years so he became my
mentor. We played throughout high school and college and then I left
for a stay in Europe. I came back, joined the first Steve Miller
Band and cut two albums with him. It was really crazy because I was
really unfamiliar with the rock scene in America in the late sixties,
being in Europe for a couple of years. I came back with Steve and
here we were tossed into the middle of this whole psychedelic scene!"

Boz grinned sheepishly, "I left that to do solo work and knock about
on my own, but Steve and I are still real close. We play together
once or twice a week...golf and dominoes. I beat him at golf, he
kills me in dominoes."

 

BOZ TALKS: A RECORD THAT CHANGED MY LIFE 

"WE ALL HAVE those moments when you hear a record and time seems to
stop…

I grew up in north Texas and there was a late-night radio show five
nights a week that played R&B, primitive and modern.

One night, they played T-Bone's 'Blues For Marili'. When I heard
that for the first time, it was the music I'd been waiting for all
my life. It was the attitude and the sound of that guitar, sort of
an extended guitar solo piece. So I went out, found that record and
went about learning to play everything on there. It sounded easy
enough because it was very basic and simple, but in order to get
that expression, well, I'm still working on that.

So many people talk about BB King as being one of the seminal
figures of electric blues guitar. And what he's done is enormous.
They talk about the way he uses the guitar to punctuate his vocals
and him being the innovator of that, but we all know that it was T-
Bone who really defined blues electric guitar. He sort of invented
that string-bending style, as far as I know. I still go back to this
record.

I got the anthology a few years ago [1995's Complete Capitol
Recordings] and as I settle into that handful of guitar players I
really admire (like Jimmie Vaughan, for instance), they're still
playing the licks from that record. It's part of their vocabulary
and indispensable for any Texas guitar player. I still have to smile
to myself each time I hear one of those subtle riffs, because
there's only one place they come from.

I made a record called Come On Home [1997] and one of the songs I
wrote was 'After Hours'. It was the simplest piece of music I
could've put down - an eight-bar progression with one pass of guitar
over it­ - but listening back, it was reminiscent of how my
interpretation of T-Bone had evolved. It was similar in mood
to 'Blues For Marili' and just came out spontaneously. Some things,
you don't know where they come from, but they're already in us. It
just needs something to awaken it."

- UNCUT MAGAZINE

 

BOZ TALKS: COME ON HOME
1997

"I remember hearing (T-Bone Walker's) `T-Bone Shuffle' (as a youth) as I was
driving away from my school on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. I was listening
to a radio station that played this kind of stuff and it came on. Something inside
of me stirred. There was something that I heard that was a clue about what I would
be doing later on. In choosing this material, we considered thousands of titles.
We ultimately put down a list of hundreds, and I actually made demos of 40 to
50 songs. I couldn't sing some of these songs, so it became a matter of the ones
I could sing as well as the ones I like. It was very difficult for me. It should have
been easy as pie, but I found myself tortured over what I could do to lend myself
to that genre. It was really difficult to come up with pieces that I could hold up to
Jimmy Reed or Bobby `Blue' Bland much harder than writing a typical solo album.
One of the challenges was to bring these songs into the '90s sonically. So much of
the abmbience or the atmosphere of these songs had to do with the primitive recording
technique people used, and you have to bring it into the modern age, but not lose that atmosphere."

 

BOZ TALKS: QUICKSAND BLUES (CD by Kermit Lynch)

"The night was crystal clear on that hillside terrace, and a warm breeze played among the pines.  It was Provence in the middle of summer, and the smells were of the last embers under the grill, the lamb, a garlicky aioli, some French cheeses, and, of course, another bottle of something good and old out of the cellar, for I was, after all, chez Kermit Lynch... some Jimmy Reed and Jerry Lee on the box and well, life is good and life is long, it seemed, as talk turned back to the early days and the heady haze that was San Francisco and Berkeley in the sixties.  Turns out Kermit had been fronting a band and writing songs in those days, and he just happened to have a cassette around somewhere... Awfully nice bottle of wine, by the way, and you know, that wailing voice and rockin' band out of the past sounded pretty darn good to me!

The next day Kermit seemed certain I had offered to gather some top musical talent in my recording studio in order to... guess what?  

You could call this CD the result of that well-aged nightcap we shared in Provence."

Boz Scaggs 2005
Quicksand Blues CD Liner Notes

 

BOZ TALKS: QUICKSAND BLUES (CD by Kermit Lynch)

"The night was crystal clear on that hillside terrace, and a warm breeze played among the pines.  It was Provence in the middle of summer, and the smells were of the last embers under the grill, the lamb, a garlicky aioli, some French cheeses, and, of course, another bottle of something good and old out of the cellar, for I was, after all, chez Kermit Lynch... some Jimmy Reed and Jerry Lee on the box and well, life is good and life is long, it seemed, as talk turned back to the early days and the heady haze that was San Francisco and Berkeley in the sixties.  Turns out Kermit had been fronting a band and writing songs in those days, and he just happened to have a cassette around somewhere... Awfully nice bottle of wine, by the way, and you know, that wailing voice and rockin' band out of the past sounded pretty darn good to me!

The next day Kermit seemed certain I had offered to gather some top musical talent in my recording studio in order to... guess what?  

You could call this CD the result of that well-aged nightcap we shared in Provence."

Boz Scaggs 2005
Quicksand Blues CD Liner Notes

 

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