#494- Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs- 1969

The Artist:

William Royce Scaggs was born in 1944 in Canton, Ohio.  His father was a traveling salesman, and his job meant that the family moved frequently.  Eventually they settled in Dallas, Texas.

Scaggs attended St. Mark’s School in Dallas.  A classmate began calling William “Bosley” for no reason, but the name stuck and everyone was soon calling him Bosley or, more often, Boz for short.

Perhaps the kid was a fan of ol’ Tom.

When Boz was 14, a fellow St. Mark’s student named Steve Miller asked him to join a band he was putting together.  Boz agreed to join as the lead singer and guitarist.  Steve got his brother, Buddy Miller to play bass, and together they called themselves “The Marksmen.”

Steve was a year older than Boz and left Dallas to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison after graduation in 1961. After Boz graduated, he, too, decided to attend UW-Madison. By that time, Steve had already started a new band called The Ardells.  They played Texas Shuffle blues, something that was brand new to audiences in the Midwest in the early 60’s.

Miller invited his old friend to join the band on rhythm guitar and vocals. They were very popular regionally. Their popularity was short-lived, though. The band members started going their separate ways as they started graduating and Miller disbanded the band.

Boz left school 6 credits short of graduating and moved to England to be part of the music scene there in the early 60’s.  He didn’t stay there long and began hitchhiking across Europe.  He was “discovered” by a music executive while playing on the street in Stockholm, Sweden and signed a record deal with a small Swedish record label.

He released his first album in September of 1965.

Entitled Boz, the album failed to get any recognition.  It was made up of covers of folk and R&B tunes.  The album is extremely rare nowadays, as it sold just a very few copies back in 1965, was only sold in Sweden, was deleted by the record label immediately after the first pressing, and has never been reissued on any music format.

Boz’s old friend, Steve Miller, sent him a postcard and told him he had moved to San Francisco and had put together a new band, which it that time was called The Steve Miller Blues Band.  Miller invited Boz to join the band if he ever returned to the US.  Boz immediately left Sweden, flew to San Francisco and joined the band, whose name by that time had been shortened to The Steve Miller Band.

When Scaggs joined, they were getting ready to perform at the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1968.

The Steve Miller Band with shirtless Boz on the far right

A couple of months later they traveled to England to record their first album, Children of the Future.

The album cover was designed by Victor Moscoso, the same guy that designed the cover for Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters.

The album contained two songs written by Scaggs, “Baby’s Callin’ Me Home” and “Steppin’ Stone.”  While the album was not commercially successful, (it only reached #134 on the Billboard album chart) it was popular amongst critics, many of whom noted the two songs by Boz as standouts.

The band was already recording another album by the time Children of the Future was released. This time they decided to record in Los Angeles.  The album, Sailor, was released less than a month after their debut album.

This time, they had a commercial success.  It contained two songs that are now Steve Miller Band classics: “Livin’ In The USA” and “Gangster of Love.”  Boz had written or co-written 3 songs on the album: “My Friend,” “Overdrive,” and “Dime-a-Dance Romance.”

By 1969, Boz felt that he and Miller’s music tastes were going in different directions; he wanted to get back to more R&B and soul-based music while Steve wanted to move further towards psychedelic rock. Boz decided it was time to pursue a solo career, and with the help of Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner, he secured a deal with Atlantic Records.

Jann Wenner

Boz and Wenner went down to the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.  Backed with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and a then popular session guitarist named Duane Allman, Scaggs wanted to record a mix of R&B, soul, and country music.  Wenner co-produced the album with Muscle Shoals producer Marlin Greene, and Scaggs himself.  After the recording was completed, they brought in Stax Records’ music engineer Terry Manning to mix the album and give it the same “feeling” as a Stax record.

Coolest. Logo. Ever.

The Album Cover:

The front cover has a photo of Boz taken by San Francisco based photographer Elaine Mayes.

She wanted to take a photo of Boz in front of a “typical San Franciscan building.”  They walked around the neighborhood behind her studio and found a wooden building with a small old door and took his picture there.  If you look closely at the picture, you can tell that it is San Francisco by the deeply sloped sidewalk.

The back cover has a black and white picture of Boz laughing along with the track listing and band credits.

The original release contained a gatefold cover, and guess what it contains…

the ol’ “candid photos of the artists in the studio” collage.  That’s two!

…and a naked Duane Allman.

The Album:

I am reviewing the original 1969 vinyl release of Boz Scaggs on Atlantic Records.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the tracks, but they are the remixed versions. In 1977, after Boz’s big chart hits for Columbia, Atlantic remixed the album to capitalize on Scaggs’ new success.  The new mix was done in a way that many fans disapproved of.  Since Duane Allman had become a legend by then, they upped the sound on all his guitar parts and put the background voices and other instruments further down in the mix.  The problem is the newer remixed version is the only one Atlantic has ever made available on cassette and CD, refusing to release the original Terry Manning mix. So the only way to hear the album as it was intended is to get the original vinyl release which is Atlantic catalog #SD 8239. The remixes aren’t really all that different, but some songs are shorter and some have a bit of a different sound to them.)

This is who I’m betting remixed the album.

The string of great opening tracks continues!

If you only know Boz Scaggs from his late 70’s hits, then this first track may blow your mind. “I’m Easy” starts the album off on an amazing note. The Muscle Shoals sound is evident right away. The best blue-eyed soul is the kind where you can’t tell if this is a white or black artist, and that is true here.  It is just a fantastic song.  It really surprises me that this did not make any kind of dent on the Billboard Hot 100.

I’ll Be Long Gone” sounds like something out of Stax.  It sounds like a lost Isaac Hayes B-side, even down to the sax solo.  The music sits in the back to accentuate the vocals, only coming into the foreground at the right times, no doubt a signature of Terry Manning. Too cool.

Another Day (Another Letter)” is what I would imagine a song would sound like if you took an Otis Redding record and replaced Otis with some skinny white dude from Texas.

No not him.

It’s a good track, but nothing too spectacular.

Now You’re Gone” is a pure country & western song.  It sounds like it would be a cover song of some old Bob Wills tune or something, but it’s not, it’s an original track.  It is a bit jarring to place this song right after 3 soulful tracks.  I also don’t care that much for Boz’s singing on it. I still dig the song. I would even say the song by itself is great, but it definitely disrupts the flow of the album to put a country song here.

Finding Her” starts off with a haunting piano and wailing guitar.  It somehow reminds me of both “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Stairway to Heaven.” He really is attempting to do everything on this album.  It’s a great song.

Look What I Got” at first sounds a little like a lost Byrds song.  It becomes much more soulful as it goes on.  It was co-written by Charles Chalmers, who wrote tons of soul hits for people like Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, and Etta James. It’s a good closer to side one.

Side two opens with a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting On a Train.”  No one would ever imagine this is Boz Scaggs if they hadn’t been told.  One thing I will say is that when he attempts to do a song in a particular genre, he does it the right way.  Good yodeling, too. It is done very well, but the country stuff just feels so out of place on this album.

Loan Me a Dime” might just be Boz Scaggs’ magnum opus.  A near 13 minute,  soulful, bluesy masterpiece,  It is what would have happened if The Allman Brothers would have formed a band with the Bar Kays and recorded a blues song.  While I say that, this song even pre-dates the formation of The Allman Brothers Band. Duane Allman’s guitar comes in just at the right times to complement the horn section and organ. It doesn’t really matter that the lyrics are kinda pointless, because Boz’s wailing of the blues makes it seem important.  While I loved everything on The Stone Roses, this here is the best track I’ve reviewed so far.

Really, “Loan Me a Dime” should have been the album’s closing track, you really can’t follow that.

The final track, “Sweet Release” sounds like it should be a Van Morrison song. I kinda feel like you can tell what Boz was listening to during his writing of this album by what his songs sound like. By the way, when I think of someone doing a pseudo-Van Morrison song, it reminds of “Peacepollutionrevolution” by christian rocker Larry Norman.

The album pictured is supposedly the “Sgt. Pepper’s” of christian rock.

Duane has another great part on “Sweet Release.”  While I like the song, I do feel it goes on a bit too long with a running time of 6:17, especially after the last track went nearly 13 minutes.

This was truly a surprise how many musical genres Boz tried to touch on at one time on one album.  The high points of the album are truly amazing, but the country songs just don’t fit with the rest of the album.

Aftermath:

As I seem to keep repeating with these reviews, Boz Scaggs received tons of critical praise, especially from Rolling Stone (whether that had anything to do with their founder producing the album, I can’t say,) but no one bought the album.  In a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, Boz estimated that it had only sold about 20,000 copies at that point.  The only song that got any radio play was “Loan Me a Dime” which got some play on the newly burgeoning FM radio, since they didn’t mind playing near 13 minute songs.

Boz left Atlantic in 1970 and signed with Columbia Records.  He spent the next 6 years releasing albums for Columbia with only modest success.

In 1976 Boz Scaggs would record the album that would bring him iconic status.

Silk Degrees contained 2 hugely popular songs that would make the Billboard Top 15, “Lowdown,” which reached #3 and “Lido Shuffle,” which made it to #11.  The album itself reached #2 on the Billboard album chart, eventually going 5 times platinum.

His next two albums went platinum and in 1980, he had 4 more Top 20 Billboard hits including “Look What You’ve Done to Me” from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack.

After releasing a greatest hits package called Hits! in 1980, Scaggs retired from recording. For 8 years he made a few live appearances here and there, before coming out of retirement to release a new album titled Other Roads to modest success in 1988.  Around that same time, he opened a San Francisco nightclub called Slim’s, which is still open to this day.

Boz has continued to tour and record for the last 24 years.  In 2003, his album But Beautiful, went to #1 on Billboard’s Jazz chart.

Currently he is touring the country with fellow 70’s hit masters Donald Fagen of Steely Dan and Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers.

My take on Rolling Stone’s Take:

RS:”The stone-solid grooves on this underrated gem come courtesy of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section; the soulful guitar comes courtesy of Scaggs and guest Duane Allman. Together, they made “Loan Me a Dime” an FM-radio classic – more than 10 minutes of knockout blues pleading and wailing.”

I’m fine with this.  Although, doesn’t seem a little suspicious that the album produced by the magazine’s founder makes the Rolling Stone 500, when really no other publication rates it so high?

Conclusion:

There is nothing bad on this album at all.  Every song individually is great, but part of what makes a great album is its flow, and the two country tracks just don’t fit.  It would have been better if Boz had either recorded another album of country music or perhaps made one side of the album soulful and the other side country.  Although, I’m not sure if that would have worked, either.

“Loan Me a Dime” is pure goodness and any album that includes a track that good is going to be recommended by me.

4 Stars out of 5, recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

3. Bonnie Raitt- Give It Up

4. Outkast- Aquemini

5. Boz Scaggs- Boz Scaggs

6. Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!!

7. B.B. King- Live in Cook County Jail

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: