Boz Scaggs: A Retrospective on his 80th Birthday

The one musical artist long on talent and far too short on recognition? – Boz Scaggs, this month celebrating his 80th birthday.

I went to see Boz in the late Seventies just after he released the album Silk Degrees. He showed up in tight white sprayed-on clothes but sported an even tighter band. The disco phase was just beginning and it looked like Boz was going to be a big star with “Lido Shuffle”. I came away from the concert a big fan, not for his up-tempo stuff but for his ballads, particularly “We‘re All Alone” and “Harbor Lights”, which are now MOR standards. Boz got his start working with the Steve Miller Band, and even did some songwriting with noted jazz star Ben Sidran, but soon went out on his own in the early Seventies, having acquired considerable songwriting chops, equal to that of Sidran.

You may have heard his radio hits too often, as tends to be the case with such songs. Best to change stations because his songs deserves more than being sandwiched in on MOR. Alternatively, get hold of the DVD of ‘Boz Scaggs Greatest Hits Live’, from 2004. There are several standout tracks, particularly “Loan Me A Dime”, a track written by the blues master Fenton Robinson; it was made famous by the brilliant guitar solo of Duane Allman in performance with Boz back in 1969. Now Boz is no beginner or easy-way-out rhythm player as a guitarist; in fact he may be the most underrated six string talent alive. He recreates all of the excitement and more of Allman‘s performance. As for his singing, his voice is deeper and richer than back in the Seventies, but no less passionate. He opens the concert with “Lowdown”, probably his most successful track and the one he is most often identified with today. Whether you hear him sing it from 2004 or from 1976, you are going to hear “silk degrees” of musicianship from both Boz and his band.

On Silk Degrees he was backed by members of what became Toto, one of the most musically interesting session bands ever assembled. David Paich on keyboards, David Hungate on bass, and Jeff Porcaro on drums were much in demand for studio work, and together formed a signature sound of the Seventies. It was a sound that appeared to be smooth jazz, but on closer inspection went much further, combining funk, rock, pop rock, soul, and what came to be called neo-progressive rock. Boz has always great bands behind him. though. He attracts the best. His 1971 album Boz Scaggs and Band is truly worth searching out, particularly for the searing track “Running Blue” that featured a remarkable horn section..

His albums through out the Eighties and Nineties have been models of great songwriting as well as wonderful singing, and his 2003 album But Beautiful debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Jazz charts. He is a writer, a singer, a guitarist, an elegant dresser, and a careful practitioner of all of these crafts.

In short, not only has he lasted, but he has continued to make great records for close to forty years.

I also recommend that you take a listen to “Sierra” from the Some Change album of 1994. A better song of heartbreak and desolation you will never find. Or “I Just Go” from Dig in 2001: this is an exquisite apologia for the carelessness that can unknowingly affect any relationship; we‘ve all done it, but Boz expresses both love and regret with sincerity and dignity. Then take a listen to “How Long Has This Been Going On?” from But Beautiful. He can sing standards with the best of them. His voice is as silky as the music behind him. Show me another voice from the Sixties that has held up as well for as long:  Robert Plant, Dion and ??

Boz has been blessed with never achieving the superstar status that his talents surely deserve. There‘s a saying that the greatest fortune is obscurity. Now Boz has never been obscure, but in my view he has definitely been overlooked for the last twenty-five years. In the meantime he has never left music; instead we have left him in relative peace to forge his craft to a level that will continue to be appreciated by discriminating music fans for decades to come.

His best later recordings? – “Some Change” from the album of the same name in 1994. He is the tastiest singer of the vernacular around the pop/r&b scene. That was one of the great unmentioned appeals of Silk Degrees, and he hit the mark again with Some Change. Nearly the equal of that recording is the 2015 release A Fool To Care, which features a very tasty duet with Bonnie Raitt on “Hell to Pay” – it turns out that she is the ideal vocal partner for Boz. The rest of the album is of a high standard, but doesn’t quite match the brilliance of Some Change. Highly recommended is the 2018 album Out of the Blues, which we feature in a separate review.

“Some change comes down for the better
You feel it move
Then some comes around like the weather
You take that in too”

Convincing proof that Boz Scaggs is here for the duration and continues to make great music.

Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the Publisher and Editor of Vivascene, which he founded in 2010. A former record store owner, business executive and business writer, he is devoted to vinyl records, classical guitar, and b&w photography.

One comment

  1. Thank you for that wonderful retrospective of the musical life of the great musician Boz Scaggs, he has always deserved the respect and recognition of the American musical world. We hope to have his presence and adorable voice for longer.

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