Thursday, 21 July 2011

Boz Scaggs: Archive Interview August 2004

Interview with Boz Scaggs
18th August 2004

Boz Scaggs has enjoyed a long and successful career for over thirty-five years. Originally as a solo artist and then moving to the original Steve Miller Band where he stayed for two albums (Children Of The Future and Sailor) Following his departure from the Steve Miller Band Boz embarked on a solo career once more releasing many albums throughout the seventies first for Atlantic Records and then Sony. His success reached a peak in 1976 with the release of Silk Degrees.

Since then Boz has continued to release highly respected albums and tour occasionally. More recently Boz has embraced a more jazz style, which has also received critical acclaim and commercial. Boz's style encompasses a great many genres and including straight pop soul and jazz and all these styles can be heard and seen to good effect on the new double CD and DVD release Greatest Hits Live. The album was recorded and filmed at the Great American Music Hall in August 2003.

Jon Kirkman Spoke to Boz in San Francisco about the album and the CD and Boz's plans for the future

Jon Kirkman The new album and the DVD are due to be released in the UK shortly. It is a kind of career overview. I have to ask, with an artist like yourself with so many albums released during your career, how do you go about cherry picking the best songs for an album like this?

Boz Scaggs Well there are songs that have been obvious radio hits and songs that have been taken from the most popular album, the Silk Degrees album and songs that are always requested. Then over the years there are certain songs that just seem to work with certain band configurations that I have. So there is a song from the very beginning of my career Loan Me a Dime which is from my first album that is usually requested. I guess I have got a sense of how to perform these things over the years and know the ones that people want to hear the most. Then I have chosen a few others randomly that I just happen to like to do.

JK The track Loan Me a Dime, what do you think it is about that song? Like you said it goes right back to the very first Boz Scaggs album on Atlantic that you recorded with the Muscle Shoals guys in the original version and features Duane Allman of course.

BS I think that is a big part of the attraction, at the time that album was released and that song was heard it was a time when FM radio in America was popular or was just beginning to become a popular medium. It was the first time extended tracks could be played. This song in its original recording was I think eleven or twelve minutes. They used to play it in its entirety. It was just an underground favourite that became a mainstay. I probably get as many requests to do that now as I did then.

JK Some artists like to re-interpret older material, this version is pretty faithful. Would you ever re-interpret or re-arrange it or are you quite happy performing it the way it is?

BS It depends on who I am playing with. It takes different forms every night depending on the musicians I am with. The guitar player, who was on this run of concerts, his name was Drew Zingg, recreated some of the original solos. That is the way he likes to play it. The opening solo he patterned very much after Duane’s solo, there’s a middle solo that he patterned after Duane then from there on he put his own style to it. Actually, not to confuse things but I did the first solo in that. But I couldn’t duplicate Duane Allman. We keep the form the same and it necessarily goes through the same tempo, hinges and progressions. It is a form that gets changed from time to time. Sometimes I don’t do all the singing verses but shorten or extend the song. If you are talking about that song in particular or songs in general, I might comment on that.

JK Some of the songs in general, as an artist it has to be interesting for you as well doesn’t it?

BS You know I haven’t done many of these songs in so long it is interesting to re-visit them. I am looking at a list of the songs now and seeing Slow Dancer that I haven’t done in years, Georgia also. It is interesting for me to put them back together again as they were. They are not the same even if I wanted them to be. Lowdown, Lido has evolved over the years and I do it quite differently night to night and from band to band. I don’t use the same musicians all the time. But for these sessions I wanted to re-create the same general arrangements even specific arrangements, which is not to say that I do that all the time. When I was in London last year I worked with a quartet of jazz musicians and we did some of these songs. They lend themselves to re-interpretation but for this project I wanted to remind people of the original versions.

JK You came through during the development of music when touring was a very important part of the whole promotion process. What is your take on playing live these days?

BS Last year I toured more than I have every toured in my entire career. I didn’t really set out for it to be that way, it just happened. I released an album of jazz style standards and ballads and it opened some doors to me and made some things possible that had not been possible to me before within the European circuit of so called jazz festivals. I played in Japan and from there did longer runs in the States, a week in New York and five days in Boston. I was able to extend my work, even going to Australia towards the end of the year. That having been said and that is the exception because generally I do not tour that much, there is a combination of reasons why I do it. Number one, for three to five weeks every year I tour mostly the west in America just to keep my hand in. Secondly when there is a new album to promote I generally do at least a national tour. It is important to the audience that has grown up with me and I still think it is the best way to get my name out and letting people know that I am out there. I no longer have relevance on popular radio as most people of my generation do not and so that is how you get the word out. I like to perform, I don’t like to travel much any more; they’ve taken all the joy out of that. But I like the musical part of it. I love the two hours I have on stage and the contact with the musicians that I have.

JK I suppose the touring side of things has always been the drawback for bands. Bands and artists enjoy performing but the travelling between the concerts is the tedious bit.

BS Well it used to be rather different because I was younger. You could run for an airplane at the last minute instead of being there an hour and half early to go through all the things one has to go through these days. It is just a different time in that regard. There have been times in my career when I have done extended tours and I have used private planes or buses and that makes the touring a lot easier; when you take the airports and security lines out of the equation it is a whole different thing.

JK What is it like for you when you go to places like Australia and England? Is that an enjoyable experience?

BS Yeah it is really the best for me. I feel like I am playing for the first time in new places and it is really challenging. In some cases it is very rewarding. Particularly for this jazz style album I did last year there was more appreciation in Japan and Europe than there was in America in a way. If I am in New York, Chicago, San Francisco or New Orleans is one thing but to play that kind of material in the hinterlands gives no appreciation or background for the most part. I feel they are a more sophisticated audience in many cases in Europe.

JK If we look at the current DVD, which has been beautifully filmed, it is a very intimate venue, are these the sort of venues you prefer to play?

BS I’d say I prefer a concert audience with this material. Last year and this year I played in Japan for a month, a week each in these clubs called the Blue Notes that are large jazz clubs with great sound systems. That is an ideal venue or I am thinking of several concert halls with eight hundred to eighteen hundred seats is really good for what I am doing. It is intimate enough but large enough so that the dynamics are right. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. Clubs in general are fun; there is an intimacy with the audience and a sort of excitement that you can get. If I have a couple of horns the Jazz Café is a great place to play. I think I am more comfortable in an eight hundred to eighteen hundred seat concert situation.

JK The DVD was filmed at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco; I was thinking that there are a lot of theatres in England very similar to that in capacity. We have a lot of older theatres. I was wondering if you would do some dates over here; I would love to see you live.

BS Actually I am thinking of an ensemble that would be more like the one I brought to the Jazz Café last year. I like a basic quartet and a couple of horns. Those would be perfect settings. I was also thinking of this band that was a ten-piece band, which is pretty big.

JK It is kind of like moving an army really isn’t it?

BS It really is. With an ensemble of that size you are confined to certain arrangements. It is not a free form or open to experimentation. The arrangements have to stay within a certain framework, which isn’t as much fun musically as being able to improvise with a smaller group that is more flexible.

JK The album is beautifully recorded and filmed. You must be very proud of the way it has turned out?

BS I think it is very well crafted, I am pleased with the surround sound particularly. In trying to define what this is going to be, there is a certain part of this that is trying to re-create these songs and by the numbers. I think it is beautifully recorded and the mixing is terrific. Yeah, I am very proud of that. The visual, I am very self-conscious about the videotaping. I think it comes off as well as it can be. I am more into the music part of it and I think the audio is great.

JK Looking ahead then; this frees you up to do other things although I guess that has never been the way you think. A lot of people see a live album like this as a stopping off point and a re-evaluation of what you have done and then that frees an artist up to move onto other things. What have we got to look forward to in the future from Boz Scaggs musically?

BS Well I think I am drawn to the ensemble that I worked with last year, the quartet, the acoustic instruments, the upright bass, the piano. I think that what I do now is going to expand from there. I got a sense of playing last year with that five, six piece band that that is where I want to be; that is what the next project is about. I want to write for that as well as finishing another standards album of more up-tempo songs in the vein of what I did last year. I don’t know. I haven’t worked in the studio for a year and a half. I have my own studio that has been going through some renovation. I am going to go in and see what I find. It could lead me anywhere. I don’t have anything clear in mind other than some things to finish up, just handiwork. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when I get to create here.

JK Well we look forward to whatever it is because there are a lot of fans, certainly this side of the Atlantic who are very fond of Boz Scaggs. It is great to talk to you today.

BS You are very kind Jon, thank you.

JK Best of luck with the album; I am sure it will do very well. Thanks a lot, take care.

© Jon Kirkman 2004

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