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Boz Scaggs Concert Review: Ruth Eckerd Hall 2011

Smooth sailing with Boz Scaggs at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater
April 19, 2011 at 1:00 pm by Gabe Echazabal

Often referred to as a vast wasteland of throwaway pop , excessive prog rock and bland soft rock, 1970’s radio boasted a few bright spots throughout the decade. The true beauty of the airwaves in that maligned time period was how blurred the lines that separated the genres were. It wasn’t uncommon to turn on the radio and hear a range of different styles and sounds blaring from the same radio program. Whereas walls have been firmly built around radio formats and genres nowadays, 30 years ago the separation wasn’t as rigid. And miraculously, a select handful of artists that emerged from the era were able to straddle the lines between styles effortlessly and no one seemed to mind. The obvious artist that comes to mind when recalling that type of versatility is most definitely Boz Scaggs.

Scaggs, a white crooner whose vocals could easily pass as those of an accomplished black soul singer, was all over the charts in the ’70s. He was a difficult artist to pigeonhole as he scored hits that fit into many different types of playlists. Boz seemed as at home belting out a funky R&B number as he did a slinky smooth jazz piece. And as his fans were delighted to see and hear last week at Ruth Eckerd Hall, his versatility and mastering of so many different genres hasn’t waned.

[Photo at left by Tracy May, from Scaggs' 2009 show.]

Taking the stage promptly at 9 p.m., Boz Scaggs and his six-piece band emerged amid a sparsely lit stage and launched into “Runnin’ Blue,” a smooth, bluesy nugget from a 1971 album. It was clear from the opening number that Boz was in fine form, his trademark baritone sounding as rich and soulful as ever. Scaggs and band then leapt forward to the 1980’s for a selection from his continuing string of hit singles, “Jojo,” a funky smooth jazz tune that dominated radio airwaves in 1980.

Scaggs did a fine job of mixing genres all night and the near-capacity mostly 50-plus aged crowd responded positively throughout the evening. Boz didn’t take a lot of time-outs for between-song banter; we were treated to introductions of all the highly skilled band members and not much else which, again, seemed to suit the crowd just fine. The loudest and heartiest response came when Boz introduced Ms. Mone’t, his sole feisty female backup singer who all on her own sings with the power and ferocity of an overzealous choir. Mone’t complemented Scaggs’ smoky vocals perfectly all night but her true power and ability were displayed when she took center stage for an inspired, soulful cover of the Bonnie Raitt hit “Something To Talk About.” The crowd leapt to its feet to shower Mone’t with a well-deserved standing ovation.

And although Boz sprinkled newer material amongst the old nuggets he’s known for, the loudest ovations came when he revisited his milestone album from 1976, Silk Degrees. That album put Boz Scaggs on the map and made him a household name in the year of the Bicentennial thanks to the smash hit singles “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.” “Harbor Lights,” “We’re All Alone” and “Georgia” also helped catapult the LP to mega-platinum success and has remained the album that Scaggs will always be remembered for. Silk Degrees is a perfect example of Scaggs’ uncanny ability to flip-flop between styles as he perfectly displayed live for the Clearwater crowd.

While it’s a rarity to come across a modern-day artist with the chops or the audacity to alternate between so many different genres and actually do it well, Boz Scaggs’ ability to do just that for the better part of 40 years is quite an awesome achievement.

A nicely-paced 90-minute set covering his entire career was enough to draw heartfelt roars from the appreciative crowd. There’s no doubt that all of Scaggs’ longtime fans know what a cherished rarity he is as far as musicians go. The man who started his career as a San Francisco-based sidekick for blues rocker Steve Miller has charted lots of ground and miles throughout his career and accomplished a whole lot in his impressive lengthy tenure. Luckily Scaggs continues to push the envelope and release fine recordings to this day. He’s shown no signs of slowing down or relying on his past glories. And as the crowd last Thursday night witnessed, he’s still a true professional who is at ease belting out blues, jazz, soul or rock ‘n’ roll, an art and a skill that is sadly lacking in most of today’s musical performers.
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