Boz Scaggs on ‘A Fool to Care,’ Duane Allman and the Newfound Joy of Duets: Exclusive Interview
Boz Scaggs snared the top spot on the Billboard Blues Chart with 2013's Memphis, and even found his way inside the Top 20 of the Top 200 album charts. So, it’s hardly surprising that only a short time later, Scaggs has reunited with album producer Steve Jordan for a fresh collection of songs to continue mining the good chemistry they had together on Memphis. A Fool To Care finds Scaggs tackling a mix of covers and originals with guest turns by Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams. He spent some time discussing the new album during a recent conversation with Ultimate Classic Rock.
The music industry as you know, is in an interesting place. But for you, it seems like the upside of things is that you can really make the kind of records that you want to make, without any interference like you might have run up against in the past.
I really never had any interference with any record companies. With the exception of the later days with Columbia Records. I made an album in 1987 with Columbia Records and there was a new president aboard at that time who tried to direct my musical interests. I didn’t really go for that and I left the company. That’s the only time anyone’s ever tried to influence what I’ve tried to do. But no, that’s never been a factor for me.
It seems like these two records came pretty quickly, one on top of the other. It seems like you’re in a good groove and a good place when it comes to making records at this point.
Mmmm hmmm. Yeah, I feel that way. I feel like the collaboration with [Steve] Jordan has been really interesting and a good process.
He’s one of those guys who likes to work quickly and certainly you’ve spent a good amount of time on some of your records in the past. How comfortable is it for you to go in and knock out a record in four days like you did with this one?
Well, you know, four days sounds like a pretty quick time. There are a couple of points I’ll make on that. One, it took us a lifetime to do that, because you know, there’s so much experience among the four principal musicians and myself, doing what we do, that yeah, it comes together quickly in a certain way of thinking. But otherwise, you know, it’s kind of miraculous that it comes together the way it does. But these musicians, these guys, these friends, have amazing ears and are amazing musicians.
We know where we’re trying to go or at least we know how to feel our way there, very, very easily. So, in one way, it is fast and in another way, it’s not fast at all. We’ve been working at this for a long, long time. But secondly, the tracks were cut in four days -- the rhythm tracks with the key players -- and then I take the rhythm tracks back to my home studio and I do a lot of my vocals and my guitar overdubs, some background vocals, horns perhaps, percussion.
So, there’s a good deal of time spent in what I’ll call post-production, and then of course mixing and so forth. So yeah, the rhythm tracks came together quickly, relatively speaking. But it takes a good deal more time.
When you look at the experience that you had making the Memphis album, what did you take away from that as far as how you wanted to approach this one?
Well, we really found that the section was great. We found the four essential players that we wanted to go forward with. But I think we wanted to expand the audio palette a little bit. The studio in Memphis, Royal Studios, it’s a sound -- it’s one board, one set of equipment, one room, one set of microphones.
I think we wanted to expand the sonics a little bit. We wanted more versatile electronics and we wanted to expand the musical possibilities by way of going to New York or L.A. or Nashville, because of the wealth of musicians that live and work in those areas for special instrumentation and overdubs.
We really chose Nashville because it seemed a more comfortable place to be, to me. I knew it was going to be a quick recording thing and Nashville just seemed a more relaxed place to do that. Plus, the [Blackbird] studio is one of the most famous for its equipment and its great sounds and great rooms, which Jordan was familiar with, but I wasn’t. So yeah, we wanted more sonic possibilities on this record and I think we achieved that.
What do you like about what Steve Jordan brings as a bandleader and a producer to your music?
It’s the depth of his musical knowledge. He really understands where this stuff comes from. We’re exploring some very interesting songs and he knows where they’re coming from. He knows what these grooves are and it’s his knowledge and his experience in the studio. He’s a great leader of the section. It’s the most natural touch that he brings into the arrangements when everybody’s in the room, and then he starts playing and everybody feels very clearly where the groove is and we talk about the form and then we just knock it down.
We know these songs, Steve and I do. When we finalize our list, we know where we want them to go. It’s an instinctive kind of experience that we share. But you know, these players have never heard the songs before. They know what it’s about, but you know, he just brings that experience and knowledge, and it makes it such a complete process.
“Hell To Pay” is a song that you’ve been carrying around for a little bit. What do you think it was that finally brought it to the surface to wind up on this record?
I don’t know. I was looking for a duet vehicle [with Bonnie Raitt] and I found it among some of the older – I keep little bits and pieces of ideas around on bits of paper and little bits of tape and little bits of this and that. I found that groove and it was an idea and a little groove that I’d been playing with for several years, and it just seemed to work as the duet [with the] vibe on this song. Probably being in Nashville added something to that as well, just the environment has a bit of a country and rockabilly vibe about it.
It’s surprising that you and Bonnie hadn’t worked together at some point over the years on a record. Had there ever been opportunities where things almost happened?
We’d never really looked for it before. We’d known each other for some time. We both live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I’ve played with some of the guys in her bands for many, many years. So, yeah, there’s a rapport there, but we just had never collaborated. I’m not much of a collaborator. I rarely do duets and Bonnie does a lot of it, but it’s just not something that I do particularly.
What pushed you in the direction of wanting to do some duets on this record?
It just seemed like a good idea. I’d been on a show a couple of years before with Lucinda Williams, where we were asked to do a duet and that went really well. I think a spark went off between Lucinda and myself with that duet, and we sort of left it that we would try to find another occasion to get together.
So that’s probably where the idea came from. Lucinda is, to me, a very important artist and I very much admire her style and thing. Then the idea, well, might there be other collaborations – and when we thought about Bonnie, that got us all excited about creating another duet.
You’ve got two tracks with ties to the Band on here, Rick Danko’s “Small Town Talk” and then also, the Band’s own “Whispering Pines.” What drew you to those particular tracks?
I’ve always loved the Band. Actually, the “Whispering Pines” song just came up. My son actually suggested that I take a look at that song. I did and I fell way deep into that song and. in researching it, I saw that Lucinda had done a live version of that as a tribute to Levon Helm after his death and I was really taken by it. So the combination of things, the duet with Lucinda and my finding that track, really took me all the way with that one.
And then again, my son introduced me to “Small Town Talk,” the Danko track, and it has such a charm that I couldn’t resist it. I’d been playing it to myself for about three years and thought this would be a good time to get it out there.
Have you had a chance to work some of the tracks from this new record into the setlist yet?
We just have finished two shows on this new tour and we are incorporating some of the new songs into the set. It’s not easy. You know, I feel very tentative about doing it, but that’s the way it goes every time. I had the same experience two years ago when the Memphis album came out.
Fortunately, these songs are really kind of cut from the same cloth and they kind of lend themselves very, very well to my repertoire. They kind of fold in in a very natural and easy way. So, it’s really fun playing them and I sort of make apologies to the audience before I do them, mostly just to try to get their sympathy and it works. So yeah, it’s really fun breaking out the new material.
Do you still write a fair amount?
I don’t write very much. I usually write with a gun to my head. I’m not someone who carries around a notebook and is constantly writing. I write on a project-by-project basis. I have a really nice place to work at home and I love just spending time in my music room. It’s very quiet -- a remote place up in the hills in Sonoma/Napa Valley area in California. So when I’m not on tour, I’m either in the studio or I’m probably home. It’s my favorite place to be.
You ended up working with Duane Allman on the Boz Scaggs album. He put a lot of interesting colors into the music that he worked on during his short career as a guitar player. What did he bring to those sessions that you loved?
Duane was really inspiring to the Muscle Shoals musicians. He had been a regular player with them up until about six months before those sessions and then he had left to go start his own band, the Allman Brothers. We fortunately persuaded him to come back to Muscle Shoals and work with the section. His coming back was a great reunion for those players and he gave a special spirit to the record as well as, of course, his wonderful solo on “Loan Me A Dime.” That has been one of the most requested songs that I do.
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