Interview: Boz Scaggs
The legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist talks about the challenges of collaborating, selecting tracks, and making a song your own
Ohio-born William Royce Scaggs – better known as Boz – is an award-winning, chart-topping, genre-spanning, songwriter and performer. He gained fame in the 70s with several solo singles in the US, including Lido Shuffle and the Grammy winning Lowdown, from his critically acclaimed breakthrough album Silk Degrees, which peaked at No 2. While he records infrequently, when he does it’s an event. More recent recordings – including 1997’s Come On Home, 2013’s Memphis, 2015’s A Fool To Care and this year’s Out Of The Blues – all reflect his lifelong obsession with R&B, soul, and blues, which originally captured his attention as a high-school student and budding musician growing up in Oklahoma and Texas.
Although, as we quickly discover, it was many thousands of miles away that Boz’s career as a songwriter was born…
Can you recall the first song you ever wrote?
“It was called Baby’s Calling Me Home. It was a song I wrote when I was living in Europe. I think it was written in about 1965 and I was living in Stockholm at the time. I spent about a year travelling in Asia and I think it really took shape there. It’s sort of a minor jazzy little thing that I recorded on an album when I was with a band in about 1969.”
Until that point weren’t you just playing the standards, so what compelled you to have a crack at writing yourself?
“Well, I guess after I’d played live in high school bands and when I was travelling I did all sorts of music in all sorts of places, and with different musicians… I don’t know, it was just a melody that went through my head and began taking shape on the guitar for me. It was just one of those melodies that go around and it was my first experience – I didn’t consciously sit down to write a song. It just happened to be something that continued and words began to appear, and there I was.”
Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up?
“I grew up listening to the radio so I listened to everything and I had many, many heroes. It was the early age of rock ‘n’ roll so the usual: Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, so I had access to a lot of blues and rhythm & blues that were indigenous to that part of America, and not so far from New Orleans. So that was easily accessible and all the music that came out of New Orleans like jazz and some early rock ‘n’ roll like Little Richard. I had a lot of heroes but I have to place high above them people like Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles and Chuck Berry.”
Over the years you’ve created some fantastic albums where you managed to mix cover versions with your own songs. How do you go about selecting tracks for each LP?
“Well, there have been quite a number of records and they’ve all come at different periods of my development and reflect my songwriting. It was very important in the 70s when there seemed to be a premium placed on people who sang their own songs. We had the brilliant examples of your Beatles and our Bob Dylan, who inspired many of us. So it’s hard to say. On any given project there’s a different point of view, there’s a different reason for it. It changes, so there’s no set way.
“But for instance, I’ve just finished an album that completes a trilogy of albums where I spent time with a producer, a drummer named Steve Jordan.
We literally went through hundreds of songs, if not thousands, just batting back and forth things that had a particular interest. I’ve also done a couple of tours and some work with Michael MacDonald and Donald Fagen. I formed a performing outfit in which we explored a lot of songs among the three of us.
“So you just sit through the multitude of songs and you find something that seems to fit the time and place where you are in your life. We all have an abiding love and respect for great rhythm & blues music, from Marvin Gaye and Sly & The Family Stone to… all of it! So it’s really fun, sifting through all that material with other like-minded professionals and finding those grooves or a particular lyric, or that spark which ignited that particular song…”
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