Songwriter Interviews

Boz Scaggs

by Greg Prato

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Boz Scaggs' career is a study in patience and perseverance. He issued his first solo album in 1965 (simply titled Boz), and spent the later part of the decade as a hired hand with the Steve Miller Band, supplying vocals and guitar on their first two psychedelic rock albums from 1968, Children of the Future and Sailor. (Miller and Scaggs went to the same high school; Scaggs, whose real name is William, became Boz after Miller gave him the nickname "Boswell.")

His breakthrough came in 1976 with his seventh solo album, Silk Degrees. With the right combination of sophistication and soul, it sold over 5 million copies thanks to the hits "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle."

Scaggs retains a fresh sound by using a rotating cast of musicians, always keeping an ear open for new talent. You could fill a Hall of Fame with the folks who have backed Boz: Duane Allman, James Jamerson, David Foster and various members of Toto among them.

In 2013, Scaggs released a new album called Memphis, this time backed by guitar great Ray Parker Jr. and Muscle Shoals mainstay Spooner Oldham. The tracklist includes covers of "Corrina, Corrina," "Love on a Two Way Street" and "Rainy Night in Georgia," as well as two originals written by Boz. The same year, highlights of his recording career were put into perspective via another release, the double disc The Essential Boz Scaggs.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Would you agree that the new compilation does a good job of putting your entire career in perspective?

Boz Scaggs: Yeah. I think it's a pretty fair selection. I've been working with my management and the label about these songs. I think it's a pretty good representation of what I've been doing for all these years.

Songfacts: Are there any tunes on the collection that maybe you forgot about and perhaps rediscovered by them appearing on this?

Scaggs: There certainly are. I don't really, as a habit, listen too much to the back catalogue, and it was really interesting to play it back. After all this time, some of these things I haven't listened to in decades. So it's kind of funny to check in on that strange person you used to be.

Songfacts: Any specific songs?

Scaggs: I didn't totally forget about them. There was a song called "Might Have to Cry." There's a song I did in Muscle Shoals called "My Time," which was really an exotic kind of beautiful song I'd forgotten about. There was a song from my first Atlantic album called "Downright Women," which I actually still get requests for and I hadn't listened to in a long time that I'm thinking of pulling out of the mothballs again. There are a couple of songs off an album I did called Dig; it came out about 12 years ago and I consider it some of the best work I've ever done. One was called "Miss Riddle," and the other one was called "Thanks To You." That really kind of knocked me out, not having heard them for a while.

Songfacts: Looking back at all your albums, is there one that you think maybe didn't get the praise that it should have when it first came out, or maybe an album that holds up that people haven't really discovered yet?

Scaggs: I would say so. There's an album called Dig that came out September 11, 2001, the day of the big bang. All the publicity and the whole campaign went down the tubes with that horrible event, but the record remains to me the best collection of music I've ever made.

Songfacts: How would you say that you write your best songs?

Scaggs: I usually find some chord changes on a piano or on the guitar and I just play around with it to the point that maybe I make a rhythm track with a drum machine. Then I'll add some instruments and find a melody and find a place for my voice. Once I add my voice to it, the singing of it begins to suggest a certain mood or maybe a subject, and I'll just expand on that and add one thing and another and weigh it out and throw it away and pick it up and start over.

That's one way. That's probably the most common way that I work.

Songfacts: How proficient are you on piano?

Scaggs: I don't really play piano. I'm more familiar with a guitar and I tend to go over the same road time and time again on a guitar, whereas with the piano, I make mistakes and I tend to follow my mistakes and get more original ideas when I'm banging on the piano.

Songfacts: Did you have any idea while you were writing and recording Silk Degrees that it was going to be a classic and also such a big hit?

Scaggs: No. I think if it had been my first or second album, I would have had such thoughts, but it was my seventh or eighth album, I suppose [it was Boz's seventh solo release]. I'd had those thoughts with earlier albums and realized that it's sort of useless to think about such things. You just do what you do, and the point was just to do them.

Of course, when it did become such a big record, I was working very hard and just following the natural trend of things. I'm really grateful that it expanded my audience; it gave me the opportunity to keep on doing what I was doing. It's carried my career even today - it's very resonant in terms of what people want to hear and I still enjoy playing those songs.

Toto was an agglomeration of six of the most respected studio musicians of the '70s, and a throwback to a time when you could love a band without being able to recognize the lead singer or even know his name (it was Bobby Kimball). Before they ruled the FM airwaves with the hits "Hold the Line," "Rosanna," and "Africa," eventual Toto members David Paich (keyboardist), Jeff Porcaro (drummer), and David Hungate (bassist) all appeared on Silk Degrees, with Paich - Toto's main songwriter - co-writing two of the album's biggest hits with Scaggs: "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle." These Toto contributors (as well as guitarist Steve Lukather) would go on to appear on many future Scaggs recordings.
Songfacts: As far as working in the studio on that album, I've always found it interesting that the musicians that would later form Toto worked on that album, and they also went on to work on Michael Jackson's Thriller, which I don't think many people know about. How was it working with those musicians that went on to form Toto?

Scaggs: Oh, they were the greatest. It was just wonderful working with them. They were friends, they were young. They were only like 20 years old when we got together, and they had fresh ideas and a lot of energy. We ended up going on the road together for a couple of years, and I still keep in touch with some of those guys. They were just wonderful.

Songfacts: Who would you say are some of your favorite musicians that you've worked with on albums looking back?

Scott Edwards - previously with Stevie Wonder - played bass on Silk Degrees and toured with Boz in 1977. He says that overseas, the backing musicians get a lot more attention: "When we landed in whatever country in Europe it was, the reporters were running to me and Jeff [Porcaro] more than they were to Boz, because we were heroes over there. So it was kind of unreal to see the respect that they give musicians as opposed to being here in the States."
Scaggs: There's a guitar player named Ray Parker, Jr. who was a star in his own right [best known for the hit theme song for Ghostbusters] who I love working with.

Recently, working with Steve Jordan, drummer and producer of my last album [Memphis], was just great. He's one of my favorite musicians.

Marcus Miller is a bass player who arranged and co-wrote a number of things with me at a point, and he was great.

David Paich is my favorite all-time collaborator. He and I wrote "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" and other hits, and collaborated on this album Dig, which I had mentioned.

David Foster was a great collaborator and an amazing musical mind that I worked with on an album called Middle Man.

The guys at Muscle Shoals were fantastic to work with. Gosh, there's so many. I really have made a point of getting together with some of the best musicians around. That's my favorite part of this whole thing is getting to play with great guys.

Songfacts: Didn't James Jamerson play bass on one of your albums, too?

Scaggs: Yeah, he played on Slow Dancer. You don't get much better than that in the bass chair.

Songfacts: Tell me about recording the song "Lowdown."

Scaggs: That was the first song that I wrote with those Toto guys, with David Paich in particular. When we first met, the producer suggested we try to write a song or two together. We took off for a weekend to this getaway outside of LA where there was a piano and stayed up all night banging around ideas. We hit on "Lowdown," and then we brought it back to the band and recorded it. We were just thrilled with that one. That was the first song that we attempted, and it had a magic to it.

Songfacts: How about "Lido Shuffle?"

Scaggs: "Lido" was a song that I'd been banging around. And I kind of stole... well, I didn't steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle. There was a song that Fats Domino did called "The Fat Man" that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to Paich and he helped me fill it out. It ended up being "Lido Shuffle."

Songfacts: And how did "Jojo" come about?

Scaggs: "Jojo" was a collaboration with David Foster and then one of the background singers, David Lasley, helped fill out some of the lyrics on that one. The music was Foster; he just starts playing it and I start singing along with it and wrote the words. Then Lasley filled in some words, too.

David Foster was writing some great R&B songs at the time, writing with Earth, Wind & Fire and others. He was just David Foster, he's just a genius.

Songfacts: Do you prefer writing on your own or writing with a collaborator?

Scaggs: I don't really enjoy collaborating all that much. I'm not very good at it. I wish I had more opportunity to do that, because it's great, particularly when I'm working with a very strong piano player, arranger, or somebody who has arrangements in mind who can fill out ideas in a way. I can come up a skeleton of a melody or some chord changes, but then when there's someone with an arranger's mind, it helps fill out the idea in a way that I cannot on my own.

Songfacts: And who would you say were the best collaborators you've worked with?

Scaggs: Definitely David Paich, David Foster. Marcus Miller, Steve Jordan, although we didn't co-write together. But I could show him a song and his arrangement ideas are brilliant.

Songfacts: What is your opinion on the current state of recording? Back in the '70s it was totally different, because you would go in a recording studio and also take your time, whereas now it seems like a lot of musicians can make a professional sounding recording at home with such programs as Garage Band and their own recording equipment.

Scaggs: I think it's great. Everybody who gets their hands on professional recording equipment, it's fabulous, it's wonderful. To me, the spirit of the music that I've always loved is a collaborative effort; it's fun to be in the room with a drummer and a bass player and other musicians. And I think that there's some magic that happens with collaboration. These home workstations are wonderful in filling out an idea, but I don't think that they are necessarily the means to the best ending. I think they're wonderful tools. But music, to me, is a collaborative thing.

December 5, 2013. Get more at
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Comments: 9

  • Jeffrey Palmer from Greenfield Wisconsinyour album slik degrees will be in my casket when they lower me - and a smile will be on my face to light up the gates of heaven and we will boogie down with maurice of EWF
  • Steve from New JerseyA great interview, thank you.... Nice to read of how Boz became his nickname!
  • Gayle from Dunigan Two of my favorite songs by Boz are definitely Miss Riddle and Thank You. Boz you are are great musician.
  • Colin from Uk Just like Bii from Montana,Slow Dancer got me into Mr Skaggs,bought his music ever since,Dig is just class
  • Tim Barrett from OahuDavid Hungate in Bass in Lowdown...none finer! Great interview Greg! Thanks Boz!
  • Thomas from FloridaBoz will be at the Van Wezel on the 9th of April. Whether he knows it or not "Lido Key" is just across the bridge between Sarasota Bay and Gulf of Mexico. It might get a "little" crazy when he does that fantastic song! ;-)
  • Stuart from Usa/italyBoz oddly contradicts himself saying that "I don't really enjoy collaborating all that much. I'm not very good at it. I wish I had more opportunity to do that, because it's great" than He then sez: But music, to me, is a collaborative thing. So am I to understand that,,, no forget it what difference dose it make? He made a couple of scores thats all that matters.
  • Bii from MontanaWhat memories, Slow Dancer started my love for Boz's great music.
  • Chucky from NyI love Lowdown.....but Jojo is a favorite of mine. Good to see Boz with a new album!
see more comments

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