The Arizona Republic
Boz Scaggs gives us the lowdown on new LP Boz Scaggs
“Out of the Blues” is the third and final chapter in what Boz Scaggs likes to think of as a trilogy of albums exploring his musical roots.
The adventure began in 2012 when he traveled to Memphis with producer friend Steve Jordan to tap into that city’s rich soul heritage.
“The purpose of the album was simply to play music we both found particularly interesting,” Scaggs recalls. “We wanted to sort of dig into ourselves.”
He and Jordan set up shop at Royal Studios, where Willie Mitchell had recorded Al Green’s greatest hits, and emerged three days later with “Memphis,” whose highlights include a deeply soulful read on Green’s “So Good to Be Here.”
“I didn’t want to be the writer or the producer or the guitar player particularly,” he says. “I just wanted to be a singer and work with Steve on doing music that we really loved with some musicians we wanted to work with in studios that we thought might inspire us.”
A year after releasing that album, they traveled to Nashville “to continue the idea” on the similarly themed “A Fool to Care,” which like its predecessor featured Willie Weeks on bass and Ray Parker Jr. on guitar.
The recording of ‘Out of the Blues’
At that point, Scaggs says, “It was time to fill out the rest of the idea, which to me was made complete by playing the music that I grew up listening to and experiencing growing up in Oklahoma and Texas.”
With that, he set out to assemble a mix of covers and originals he felt “would sort of reach into that realm and give me a chance to explore those roots.”
Scaggs keep several running lists of songs he thinks could work for him.
“I have a demo set up,” he says, “so I can reproduce songs that I’m interested in. I get them in my key, I might change the rhythm pattern. I might adapt it a little bit to my own style. But I just see if it fits and see if I can find a way into it to make it my own.”
Among the songs he found a way to make his own on the sessions for “Out of the Blues” are a slow-burning take on Don Robey’s “I’ve Just Got to Forget You,” Jimmy McCracklin’s “I’ve Just Got To Know,” Jimmy Reed’s swaggering “Down in Virginia” and an albumclosing version of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “The Feeling is Gone.”
“I wanted to represent some of the musicians who were my heroes, when I first came up singing and playing guitar,” he says. “Bobby Bland was a big hero of mine at that time, as was Jimmy Reed. So I wanted to do some material by each of those guys.”
Self-produced by Scaggs, the album also features four songs written by his old friend Jack “Applejack” Walroth, including one co-write with Scaggs.
“We used to do a regular Tuesday night jam kind of thing at a studio in San Francisco,” Scaggs says. “I invited various players and we performed music that (Walroth) had written and some old blues stuff. There was quite a wealth of material there in the things he 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22. Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St., Phoenix. $35-$85.
602-267-1600, celebritytheatre.com. wrote and other things that we experimented with. So in looking for those vehicles that I could sort of ride into this concept I had, I found a number of songs there.”
Why Neil Young’s ‘On the Beach’ fits in
He also manages to make a Neil Young ballad, “On the Beach,” sound right at home.
“It’s ‘Out of the Blues,’” Scaggs explains. “And I featured a number of different styles of music that in one way or another came out of the blues.”
He originally worked up “On the Beach” to perform at a tribute to Young about a year and a half ago, he says.
“One of the producers brought that song to me so we tried it out in rehearsal and it seemed to fit,” he says. “And in performance for those several nights, the song just sort of seemed to really connect with my style.”
When he was “measuring material for this record,” Scaggs continues, he felt the Young song represented “what I might call the contemporary abstract blues form,” adding that “the wistful tone and lyrics kind of give it the bluesy legitimacy that I was looking for with the rest of the material; it just seemed to be a different way of doing the blues.”
On how he got to ‘Silk Degrees’
Scaggs himself rose to mainstream success in the ‘70s after finding a different way to do the blues, arriving at the sleek, sophisticated soul and R&B approach of “Silk Degrees,” a five-times-platinum calling card that spun off three of Scaggs’ biggest singles – “Lido Shuffle,” “Lowdown” and “It’s Over.”
It was Scaggs’ seventh solo album, building on the work he’d done with Motown veteran Bobby Bristol on his previous release, “Slow Dancer.”
“I had toured quite a lot and developed a certain style of my own,” Scaggs recalls. “But during the course of moving and changing, I was encouraged by my record company to work with a producer out of Detroit.”
Bristol moved to L.A. “with the Motown people,” Scaggs says, “after Motown was dispersing and a lot of the players moved out to L.A. So I made a studio album with all session players and it sort of opened my eyes to more possibilities.”
After making “Slow Dancer,” he says, “I was sort of intrigued by the possibilities of hand-picking studio musicians and developing some of my ideas in a more thorough way. So I made that album and the following three or four albums in L.A. with studio players.”
The L.A. experience offered Scaggs a chance, he says, “to sort of advance into a little bit more complex music, a little progressive style. That’s kind of how it Boz Scaggs
evolved. I made contact with some arrangers, some producers, some co-writers that really helped me explore some different kinds of music.”
Subsequent hits from his time in L.A. included “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” “JoJo,” “Look What You’ve Done to Me” and “Miss You.”
On what to expect at the show
He will be dipping into that side of his catalog when he plays the Celebrity Theatre, a venue he first headlined shortly after the release of “Silk Degrees,” in support of his new more blues-indebted album.
“There’s a repertoire that involves bits and pieces from all over my career,” he says. “And certainly that time, I call it my Hollywood years, there were hits. And that’s a great way to connect with audiences to fill that part of their experience. So yeah, there’s stuff that people are familiar with in that regard. And then I’m leaning more toward this recent material as well as some earlier blues stuff and bits of this and that. It’s a pretty broad-ranging program.”