Exploring Boz Scaggs, besides ‘Silk Degrees’
We all know Boz Scaggs, right? The guy from Silk Degrees, the 1976 smash that spawned hit single after hit single after hit single — the million-selling “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” “What Can I Say,” “We’re All Alone.” The truth is, though, that it was the former Steve Miller sideman’s seventh solo release, and Scaggs has continued issuing varied and vital recordings, even if far fewer people have heard them in the post-white suited era.
So, enough with the Silk Degrees already. Let’s explore elsewhere in Scaggs’ lengthy catalog, from his bluesier fare to one of those psychedelic Steve Miller sides to some boffo bossa nova from just a few years ago …
“SOME CHANGE” (SOME CHANGE, 1994): The title cut from his first album in six years, “Some Change” is a glance back at Scaggs’ blues-soaked beginnings of his 1969 debut and even further back to his time in the Steve Miller Band. And yet, it’s informed with a little of the soulful croon and smoothness of his 1970s peak. There’s an unmistakable modern groove that pervades the song but make no mistake, this is straight ahead blues with Booker T. Jones’s Hammond B-3 giving it enough grit to make this stand the test of time easily better than most anything else you’ll here from a mid-90s recording from a mainstream pop star.
When Scaggs sang in Miller’s band he shared the spotlight with the legendary leader’s guitar; when he sang “Somebody Loan Me A Dime,” he gave way to Duane Allman’s blistering, name-making solo. “Some Change,” too is bolstered by some nifty guitar soloing. By no less than Boz himself.
“Some Change” offers some proof that the greatness that Scaggs had been around some 25-30 years earlier had not only rubbed off on him, it never wore off of him, either. — S. Victor Aaron
“MISS SUN” (HITS!, 1980): Before Toto was Toto, they were Boz Scaggs’ studio band. He would continue to collaborate with various members of the group over the years, but never quite matched the magic or success of Silk Degrees.
In 1980, however, he briefly recaptured that lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry with the David Paich-penned “Miss Sun.” There’s a smoky nightclub vibe that dances around Scaggs’ vocals. Where much of his earlier work could be described as jazz-rock there’s a lighter jazz-pop vibe to “Miss Sun.” Some might consider that an insult, however, in this case it’s a compliment in its highest form.
Scaggs put together a jazz song, along with sultry backup vocalist Lisa Dal Bello, that was accessible enough to be commercially and popularly successful. The David Paich keyboard flourishes are an exceptional touch and, much like his work on Silk Degrees, provides an enjoyable complement. — Perplexio, from DancingAboutArchitecture and The Review Revue.
“DINDI” (SPEAK LOW, 2008): Dating back to 1972’s My Time, another all-but-forgotten release that contained the driving minor hit “Dinah Flo,” Scaggs showed a willingness for put aside his guitar and pay closer attention to the vocals. He possessed, we quickly discovered, another instrument with both technical reach and this stirring artistry — a voice that keenly blended the sway of early hero Ray Charles with Jimmy Reed’s toe-tapping delight.
With Speak Low, he added in romantic elements of Chet Baker and Johnny Hartman with the delicate yet devastating backbeat of Billie Holiday. That helped Scaggs, together with the Gil Goldstein Septet, craft a set of carefully drawn moods — emotionally gripping, rhythmically surprising, sensual rather than ribald in a time when that’s its own headline. Nowhere is that more true on the underrated Speak Low than on this gently nudging piece of Jobim bossa nova.
In a way, this is the same role Scaggs has played for decades, from his elemental blues picking during the counterculture 1960s, to a very adult soul that offset those flashy disco days of the 1970s, and on through to these contemporary forays into jazz, amidst the cacophony of hip hop and plastic pop. Crisp yet cozy, Speak Low isn’t so much a left turn as the next iteration in the Boz Scaggs aesthetic. — Nick DeRiso
“BABY’S CALLING ME HOME,” with the Steve Miller Band (CHILDREN OF THE FUTURE, 1968): Before Scaggs made a name for himself as a solo artist, he was a guitarist and vocalist with the Steve Miller Band on its initial releases. While Miller handled the lion’s share of the vocals himself, he did defer to Scaggs on a couple tracks on each of the band’s first two albums.
Of those, “Baby’s Calling Me Home” is arguably the best — a light acoustic blues piece with harpsichord and psychedelic flourishes reminiscent of 1968. Those psychedelic flourishes do make the song sound somewhat dated today, but on the flip side they give a glimpse of Scaggs potential for his future success as a solo musician. — Perplexio, from DancingAboutArchitecture and The Review Revue.
“ASK ME ‘BOUT NOTHING” (COME ON HOME, 1997): This was, I always thought, the record that Boz Scaggs should have been making. “Come On Home” is a rocking, rib-sticking roux of blues, R&B and soul in small-band configurations. Scaggs might add some horns, but that’s about it.
The master of the silky smooth 1970s lover-man ballad, he actually started out digging this stuff. The story goes that Scaggs, growing up in Plano, Texas, heard T-Bone Walker’s “Blues for Mary Lee” on the radio — and he was hooked. You will be too, as Scaggs ladles a smoky soul over this forgotten Bobby “Blue” Bland side, “Ask Me ‘Bout Nothin’ (But The Blues).” Elsewhere, there are the expected, and terrific, nods to Charles, Reed and Walker but also moving new sides like “Goodnight Louise,” a gospel-tinged ballad that’s at once romantic and a little spooky.
It’s almost enough to erase the cavity-causing memory of that tune from “Urban Cowboy.” Almost. — Nick DeRiso
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