Boz Scaggs is a Grammy-winning, chart-topping blues, jazz, and R&B singer/songwriter and performer. He served as guitarist and occasional lead singer with the Steve Miller Band in the 1960s, and in the '70s gained fame with several solo Top 20 hit singles in the United States, including the hits "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown" from the critically acclaimed multi-platinum proto-disco breakthrough album Silk Degrees (1976), which peaked at number two in the Top 200. Scaggs' earthy tenor ranges wide across virtually any material he chooses to sing. His laid-back delivery belies his intense focus and passion. His recordings run the gamut from earthy blues and R&B dates to pop standards to jazz and rock, cut with some of the finest musicians in the business. While he records infrequently, when he does it's an event. More recent recordings -- including 1997's Come on Home, 2013's Memphis, 2015's A Fool to Care, and 2018's Out of the Blues -- all reflect his lifelong obsession with R&B, soul, and blues that originally captured his attention as a high-school student and budding musician in Plano, Texas. In addition, his live appearances, particularly with the all-star Dukes of September touring group that included Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen, have underscored that assertion.
Born William Royce Scaggs in Ohio on June 8, 1944, he was raised in Oklahoma and Texas, and while attending prep school in Dallas met guitarist Steve Miller. Scaggs joined Miller's group the Marksmen as a vocalist in 1959, and the pair later attended the University of Wisconsin together, where they played in blues bands like the Ardells and the Fabulous Knight Trains.
Scaggs returned to Dallas alone in 1963, fronting an R&B unit dubbed the Wigs; after relocating to England, the group promptly disbanded, and two of its members -- John Andrews and Bob Arthur -- soon formed Mother Earth. Scaggs remained in Europe, singing on street corners. He also recorded a failed solo acoustic LP for Polydor in Sweden entitled Boz (as "William R. Scaggs"), before returning to the U.S. two years later. Upon settling in San Francisco, he reunited with Miller, joining the fledgling Steve Miller Band; after recording two acclaimed albums with the group, Children of the Future and Sailor in 1968, Scaggs exited to mount a solo career. With the aid of Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jann Wenner, Scaggs next secured a contract with Atlantic. Sporting a cameo from Duane Allman, 1968's soulful Boz Scaggs failed to find an audience despite winning critical favor, and the track "Loan Me a Dime" later became the subject of a court battle when bluesman Fenton Robinson sued (successfully) for composer credit. After signing to Columbia, Scaggs teamed with producer Glyn Johns to record 1971's Moments, a skillful blend of rock and R&B which, like its predecessor, failed to make much of an impression on the charts.
Scaggs remained a critics' darling over the course of LPs like 1972's My Time and 1974's Slow Dancer, but he did not achieve a commercial breakthrough until 1976's Silk Degrees, which reached number two on the album charts while spawning the Top Three single "Lowdown," as well as the smash "Lido Shuffle." Released in 1977, Down Two Then Left was also a success, and 1980's Middle Man reached the Top Ten on the strength of the singles "Breakdown Dead Ahead" and "Jo Jo."
However, Scaggs spent much of the '80s in retirement, owning and operating the San Francisco nightclub Slim's and limiting his performances primarily to the club's annual black-tie New Year's Eve concerts. Finally, he resurfaced in 1988 with the album Other Roads, followed three years later by a tour with Donald Fagen's Rock and Soul Revue. The solo effort Some Change appeared in 1994, with Come on Home and My Time: The Anthology (1969-1997) both released in 1997. The newly energized Scaggs spent the next few years consistently releasing new material, including Fade into Light, Dig, and a collection of standards called But Beautiful. An expanded reissue of Silk Degrees and Runnin' Blue (a recording of a 1974 performance) appeared in 2007, and Speak Low saw him reinterpreting a number of jazz standards in 2008.
Scaggs toured as a member of the Dukes of September in 2012; the group's other principals included Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen. Scaggs emerged from his recorded silence in March of 2013 with the Steve Jordan-produced Memphis, a collection of original and cover tunes. Recorded at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio in the city, the album was meant to reflect the heritage of the Southern soul tradition in the 21st century.
In 2014, Scaggs -- with Jordan again as his producer -- booked four days at Nashville's famed Blackbird Studio with a core band from Memphis. They enlisted top-flight Music City session players as well as guests Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams to supplement the sessions. A Fool to Care, released by 429 in 2015, showcased covers of classic soul, NOLA R&B, rock & roll, country covers, and new material.
After successful tours of the U.S., Europe, and Japan -- both solo and with the Dukes of September -- Scaggs returned to the studio to complete his "roots trilogy" begun on Memphis and A Fool to Care, that expressed his lifelong love of great blues and R&B. He'd been mining the music throughout his career but began paying homages in earnest with the aforementioned covers set Come on Home. He recorded the material of iconic soul-blues singers such as Bobby "Blue" Bland, Jimmy Reed, and Magic Sam, as well as delivering an unexpected reading of Neil Young's "On the Beach," and included original compositions by songwriter Jack Walroth. For the occasion, Scaggs produced the set, and assembled a star-studded studio band that included guitarists Doyle Bramhall II, Ray Parker, Jr., and Charlie Sexton, bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Jim Keltner, keyboardist Jim Cox, and Walroth on harmonica. Scaggs played guitar and bass. Preceded by the May issue of the single "Rock and Stick," the album Out of the Blues was released in July of 2018. It hit number one on the blues charts and spent more than six months in the Top Ten.
© Jason Ankeny /TiVo