Legendary musician crossed paths with giants of rock and blues
Boz Scaggs, who played the Taft Theatre Wednesday, Oct. 30, agreed to this interview before he played the PNC Pavilion in 2016. But he didn’t have phone service at the scheduled time, and I was on a deadline for the newspaper. Rather than scuttle the story, Boz said if I sent him my written questions he would record his answers and text the file to me. I did, and he did, and that’s why this story is in a Q&A format
Bill Thompson: It’s hard to talk about your music without talking about the people whom you have played with you along the way. From the Muscle Shoals guys to Steve Jordan and his crew, you have played with the best rock and R&B folks over the years. Is that as simple as making a phone call?
Boz Scaggs: In the case of the Muscle Shoals record, it was a matter of just calling and booking the time. Of course, their question would be who is paying for it. They book it a week at a time, so is there time, who’s coming in. They knew I was with Atlantic Records, been signed by Jerry Wexler, and the producer was Jann Wenner from Rolling Stone magazine. So they knew there was credibility there. The special part of that recording was having Duane Allman play. He wasn’t working the session at that time, but Duane knew my work from me having been with the Steve Miller Band for a couple of albums. And he knew people at Atlantic Records, so I guess he considered me a credible person to work with.
In all cases, there has to be some sort of connection with the prospective artists before someone considers working simply because putting yourself in their place, you want to know you really can serve this cause, whatever it is. If your particular instincts and talents really match up to something this artist thinks that they want to work with and whether there’s a credible working environment.
BT: On the “Memphis” album liner notes, you thank the Hodges family. Did you know them before that? (The Hodges family – guitarist Teenie who died in 2014, and his brothers Leroy and Charles – was the core band for Al Green’s great soul records in the 1970s).
Boz: Yes, I had gone into that (Royal) studio before on my own to do some demos. I met all the Hodges family at that time. They are very dear people and became very good friends. Having that first introduction and having that working experience with them, made every time we came in contact with each other all the sweeter. It really has a great deal to do with the spirit of that family that gives that particular charm and soul, so I thank them for that.
BT: Some of my favorite songs – “Loan Me a Dime,” “We Were Always Sweethearts,” “Lowdown,” “Sierra” – are very different. Is there a secret to your writing process?
There is no secret; I’ve tried every trick that I know to try to find inspiration. Some of it is pure imagination and fantasy. Other times, I start with a rhythm thing or other times there’s a brief melody. Other times there’s a catchphrase or a title or a theme that I come up with. I don’t count myself as exceptional as a songwriter. If there’s any single thing that directs me, it’s my voice. There are certain things that I like to do with my voice and that I can do with my voice. I have developed a style over the years and if that style fits into something that I’m thinking about, I let my voice tell me where to go.
You credit me with writing “Loan Me a Dime”; I was credited with writing it but that was a mistake. It was written by Fenton Robinson in Chicago, actually. One of the other songs that you mention, “Lowdown,” was co-written (with David Paich), so I would have to say that is another category that has greatly influenced the songs that I’m credited with writing and co-writing is choosing the people that I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with some brilliant songwriters.
BT: How many shows do you play a year? Do you still enjoy touring?
Boz: I play about 90 shows a year, and I do enjoy it. It’s what I started doing when I was 15 years old. My life takes different turns and there are times when I don’t enjoy touring. There are times I don’t tour and there are times that I do. I’ve been doing it for a long time and this is one of the things I love doing in life and I hope to be able to continue. I feel very fortunate that I can do this at this time in my life
BT: Do you still have your club in San Francisco? What are the advantages of owning your own performance space?
Boz: I have two clubs (Slim’s and Great American Music Hall) that I’m involved with in San Francisco. I have several partners and I have nothing to do with the ongoing operations of these clubs, but I have been involved from the beginning. A friend and I originally got the space for the first club and saw it turn into a regular nightclub. The success of that one club led to the acquisition of the other. I have played there at times and there are special events that I’m engaged in from time to time.
The advantages are you can get in free if you want to see somebody – I’m being facetious – but there’s some pride in being part of a city like San Francisco and being able to bring music to that city, thinking that people might experience some joy in seeing live music. It’s obviously been a special part of my life, attending and being part of live performances. I think there are probably hundreds of thousands of people at this point who have been in our clubs and have enjoyed the music. I think one of the other things that I find so giving about being a proprietor or a partial proprietor of these places is that the clubs have been enjoyed by a lot of people in the community. There are times that people will come to the club not knowing exactly who they are going to see … just having some trust in the club, the management, the bookers and the people who run it. They know they’re probably going to see something, a well-chosen act and the experience – in several ways – is going to be good.
Watch Boz Scaggs plays “Loan Me a Dime”