Boz Scaggs & Michael McDonald: Smoothest Of The Smooth
Bob Ruggiero /Houston Press Sep. 30, 2011
Boz Scaggs photo by Joyce Goldstein
For fans of '70s classic rock, it was the equivalent of three comic book heroes coming together in one Super Smooth Team when Boz Scaggs, ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen announced last year that they would do a short tour as "The Dukes of September." The generous show combined each performer's individual hits, choice R&B/soul covers, and surprise collaborations.
Scaggs' own musical journey has taken him from teenage years in Dallas--where he met and later joined the group of school friend Steve Miller--to a surprisingly varied solo career that peaked commercially with the release of Silk Degrees in 1976. That record spawned the hits "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle," and "What Can I Say."
He later scored with the Urban Cowboy soundtrack ballad "Look What You've Done to Me," "Jojo," "Breakdown Dead Ahead," and MOR hit "Heart of Mine."
More recent decades have seen Scaggs continue to tour and release records (including two collections of well-received standards), all while running his own Napa Valley winery with wife Dominique and co-owning the San Francisco nightclub Slim's. A son, Austin, is a scribe for Rolling Stone.
He played the Stafford Centre earlier this year, and returns with fellow Duke Michael McDonald for this go round. Rocks Off spoke with the man born William Royce Scaggs about his tourmate, his Houston blues hero, and how this year's California weather is affecting his crops. speak low 2008
Rocks Off: I know that Donald is currently touring with Steely Dan, so this is sort of a "Mini-Dukes" show. Is the format the same where you and Michael are onstage the entire time?
Boz Scaggs: It's the same. We're using the same band for both of us. We take turns opening and closing shows, then we do a third set together.
RO: Last time we spoke, you said the Dukes would be filming a DVD. Did that happen?
BS: No, it was supposed to happen last June, but circumstances prohibited it.
RO: Is there a favorite song of Michael's that you would like to tackle, and then is there one of yours that you'd ever like to take a shot at?
BS: We actually kicked around that idea a bit because we had not done each other's songs. But Michael's songs are so distinctive. He's got such a unique approach and unusual voice, he really owns his material. There are very few covers of Michael McDonald songs out there!
But on the last tour, we sometimes did "Takin' It To the Streets" together. It's an interesting question, though.
RO: I know that Lightnin' Hopkins was a big influence on you, as were a lot of the blues musicians. Since you were last here, both Pinetop Perkins and Honeyboy Edwards, who were in their 90s, have died. But a lot of blues musicians are out still performing in their 70s and 80s. Do you think that your rock generation, who is approaching that, will be similar?
BS: Yeah. A lot of us are approaching that 70 mark. The Rolling Stones, McCartney is still out there doing amazing three-hour shows. I think those guys, the older blues musicians, gave ideas to us that if you love it, keep doing it. And people still want to hear live music.
I saw Lightnin' I guess when he was a lot younger than I am. And a lot of blues musicians have come up in Houston and Texas, along with Chicago and Memphis and the Delta.
Scaggs Vineyards' 2008 Mt. Veeder Montage
RO: You and your wife operate your own Scaggs Vineyard. Some bands like the Doobie Brothers, the Stones, and now AC/DC kind of slap their name on a wine label as product. But the two of you are actively involved in the day-to-day operations. How has this growing season been?
BS: It's really slow, slowest in the history of record-keeping in Napa Valley. It was cool weather and a rainy spring where it would have normally been hot and sunny for the grapes to be developing.
Fortunately, it's been nice and warm these past few weeks, so the grapes will get to maturity. But it's still farming and it's still weather, so it still could be a short crop for everyone this year. We're crossing our fingers, but what we've seen so far has been beautiful.
RO: Finally, do you have a favorite aspect of running the vineyard? Other than the tasting, of course!
BS: Mostly, it's just watching the development. I had the month of August off for the first time in years. And when the grapes turn red, it's a really interesting time. And I'm going to be around for the harvest this year. I like seeing what one vintage produces [compared] to the next.