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Boz Scaggs

A man who could turn his hand at most rock/pop genres: folk, R&B, soul, country, disco, nostalgia and jazz, Boz (born William Royce Scaggs, June 8, 1944 in Canton, Ohio) served his musical apprenticeship well for several years before hitting pay-dirt with the platinum-selling “Silk Degrees” set in ’76. However, after a couple of attempts to recapture his soft-rock formula, subsequent sales took a slight tailspin, that is, until 2013, when “comeback” set, “Memphis”, went Top 20.
One could trace the singer’s history back to the late 50s, when, with fellow (St. Mark’s School) Dallas, Texas pal STEVE MILLER, led out R&B act, The Marksmen. The pair duly enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, where they joined the Ardells, an outfit which mutated into the Fabulous Knight Trains. In 1963, Boz (a nickname given to him at school, although shortened from Bosley) returned to Texas where he took up a position in the Wigs; he moved to London the following year. Winding up, in all places, Sweden, Boz recorded and duly released an LP for Polydor International, simply titled BOZ (1966) {*4}. Unreleased elsewhere, the folk-blues covers set sold poorly and it went quickly out of print; versions of the REV. GARY DAVIS’ `Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, BOB DYLAN’s `Girl From The North Country’, Arthur Crudup’s `That’s Allright’, JOHNNY “GUITAR” WATSON’s `Gangster Of Love’ and other R&B staples (`Let The Good Times Roll’, `Stormy Monday Blues’ and `C.C. Rider’), were its most recognisable dirges.
In September ‘67, guitarist/singer Boz joined forces with the STEVE MILLER BAND and played on two albums, “Children Of The Future” and “Sailor” (both released in 1968), before going on to solo work again; one thinks he might’ve had a stint with rivals MOTHER EARTH around the same time.
Signing to Atlantic Records through Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, the much-travelled troubadour recorded an eponymous LP, BOZ SCAGGS (1969) {*7}, at the famed Muscle Shoals studio, the record introducing a more soulful blues/R&B sound which he’d polish over the coming decade. Band member Barry Beckett helped compose a couple of songs (`I’m Easy’ flopped singles-wise, and `Sweet Release’), while there was a soothing female gospel choir to tame its ragged edges. A stand-out epic track for the bulk of fans and critics alike, was the smoking FENTON ROBINSON dirge, `Loan Me A Dime’, SCAGGS’s oak-rich vocals pleading poverty over the soon-to-be late DUANE ALLMAN’s blistering slide guitar; other covers comprised JIMMIE RODGERS’ `Waiting For A Train’ and D. Rhodes’ `Look What I Got!’.
Switching labels to Columbia, recruiting a backing band (notably Joachim Jymm Young on keyboards, George Rains on drums and David Brown on bass) and hooking up with producer Glyn Johns, SCAGGS attempted to develop his soul/rock hybrid with MOMENTS {*7} and BOZ SCAGGS & BAND {*6}; both released in 1971, the latter adding Eddie Lee Charlton (drums), Chepito Areas (conga/timbales), Mike Carabello (percussion) and Doug Simril (guitar). Still plugging on regardless, `Dinah Flo’, gave Boz his first Top 100 breakthrough, a track spawned from his fifth album, MY TIME (1972) {*6}.
While these sets were minor US chart successes, SCAGGS opted for a full-on white-soul ballad approach on SLOW DANCER (1974) {*7}, employing such noted players as sax man, Ernie Watts (alongside Fred Jackson and John Kelson) and roping in ex-Motown man and co-songwriter JOHNNY BRISTOL to augment Johns on production duties. Having cut ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Hello My Lover’ and `Freedom For The Stallion’ (plus AL GREEN’s `Old Time Lovin’’) from his previous effort, there was room for the man’s `Hercules’ on this jazzy blue-eyed soul set.
But SCAGGS didn’t really nail the sound he was after until SILK DEGREES (1976) {*8}, an album which almost topped the US chart, while also climbing the UK Top 20. Utilising a super-slick core of backing musicians, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Porcaro, David Paich and David Hungate (who would develop into arena-rock kings, TOTO), Boz achieved a fine balance between orchestrated gloss and grainy soulfulness; `Lowdown’ scaled the US Top 3 and `What Can I Say’ the Top 50, becoming the man’s only UK Top 10 hit. A further single, `Lido Shuffle’, provided Boz with more transatlantic success, while his former backing singer RITA COOLIDGE reached both US and UK Top 10s with her version of the fireside smoocher, `We’re All Alone’.
The aptly-titled `Hard Times’ (from his 1977 follow-up set, DOWN TWO THEN LEFT {*5}), stalled just outside the Top 10 as SCAGGS struggled to match the form displayed only a year earlier. The TOTO connection was still in place, but with only the track `Hollywood’ making headway high in the charts (one of a handful penned with band auxiliary, Michael Omartian), the man easy-tempered formula was beginning to wane.
While his Bill Schnee-produced MIDDLE MAN (1980) {*6} album took him back into the Top 10 (`Breakdown Dead Ahead’ and `JoJo’ rode into the Top 20), things looked hot-to-trot for a man that was challenging for the AOR crowns of HALL & OATES, BILLY JOEL, VAN MORRISON, GEORGE BENSON, ELTON JOHN, et al). Two further Top 20 entries came courtesy of `Look What You’ve Done To Me’ and `Miss Sun’, the former taken from the double-LP soundtrack to the John Travolta-starring Urban Cowboy, a song that complemented the latter on his career retrospective, HITS! (1980) {*8}. SCAGGS subsequently retired from the music business in the early 80s to run a Southern style restaurant in his adopted hometown of San Francisco.
Returning to the studio in 1987, he cut the slightly under-par/average OTHER ROADS (1988) {*5}, scoring a minor mainstream hit single with `Heart Of Mine’ (penned with his band) and a few others (`Crimes Of Passion’, `What’s Number One?’, etc.) co-written with JIM CARROLL. Boz finally returned to performing full-time as part of DONALD FAGEN’s New York Rock and Soul Revue in the early 90s; subsequently inking a new contract with Virgin and releasing SOME CHANGE (1994) {*6} and COME ON HOME (1997) {*6}.
While the latter set won praise for its rootsy take on trad R&B, the long-awaited DIG (2001) {*7} was an unlikely yet highly welcome attempt by SCAGGS to bring his soulful style bang up to date. While so many rock vets have compromised themselves with contemporary production methods, the record seemed to have brought out the best in Boz’s voice (think AL GREEN or the warmth of AARON NEVILLE), still a thing of luxuriant wonder after all these years.
Also released on his own Grey Cat imprint, BUT BEAUTIFUL (2003) {*4}, was the man’s diversion into the nostalgic American popular songbook, popularised, if that’s the right term, by ROD STEWART and other former pop-rock stars. With standards and staples coming via Duke Ellington, Rodgers-Hart, the Gershwins, et al, the near-60-year-old looked by taking the Johnny Mathis route. Still, Boz’s glowing and gentle tones, made for a nice Sunday night in with slippers and pipe.
Turning the ship around full-mast, Boz showed he could still match his contemporaries with the release of DVD or double-CD package, GREATEST HITS LIVE (2004) {*6}. Straddling all elements of his illustrious career, the record was just as described on the tin, albeit with a few surprises: Earl King’s `It All Went Down The Drain’, a re-vamp of BOBBY “BLUE” BLAND’s `Aske Me ‘Bout Nuthin’ But The Blues’ and an extended version of `Loan Me A Dime’.
Harking back to nostalgia and the world of jazz, SPEAK LOW (2008) {*6} fared but than its similarly-themed predecessor, although the welcome-mat was truly unfurled for his return to R&B, soul and electric blues: MEMPHIS (2013) {*7}. Taking his cue and inspiration from the city’s soul producer Willie Mitchell and his main artist, AL GREEN (Boz covered his `So Good To Be Here’), only two bookend tracks were supplied by SCAGGS. While one might recognise the traditional `Corrina, Corrina’ (from the DYLAN catalogue), others too will stand out from the pack: TONY JOE WHITE’s `Rainy Night In Georgia’, WILLY DeVILLE’s `Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl’, STEELY DAN’s `Pearl Of The Quarter’, Sylvia Robinson’s `Love On A Two-Way Street’, JIMMY REED’s `You Got Me Cryin’’ and MOON MARTIN’s `Cadillac Walk’. The soothing BOZ SCAGGS had now become the new Johnny Mathis, while keeping his feet in soulful blues terra firma.
Booking the same core of Memphis studio alumni and adding guest BONNIE RAITT (on `Hell To Pay’) and LUCINDA WILLIAMS (on `Whispering Pines’), the soulful sophisti-swing of SCAGGS was again in evidence on 2015’s A FOOL TO CARE {*7}. Basically an album primarily of cool covers that reflected earthy exotica and gorgeous grooves of yesteryear, the Boz man slipped back to a time when croon was king; even modern-day merchant RICHARD HAWLEY’ and his `There’s A Storm A’ Comin’’ had the effect of nocturnal nostalgia. The Ted Daffin-scribed title track `I’m A Fool To Care’, Huey Piano Smith’s `High Blood Pressure’ and Li’l Millet & The Creoles’ `Rich Woman’ (from the 40s/50s) were a breeze to Boz, while his sensuous soul shimmy on AL GREEN’s `Full Of Fire’ and CURTIS MAYFIELD’s `I’m So Proud’ dot the I’s and cross the T’s.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD / rev-up MCS Mar2013-Apr2015

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