Measuring the Silk Degrees with Boz Scaggs

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Boz Scaggs had been playing music for a long time before he became a household name. He played with Steve Miller after meeting him as a teenager in a private school in Texas in the late 50s, the same place where he got his nickname ‘Boz’. He recorded his first album in 1965 after a gigging stint in Sweden, then came back around to play with the Steve Miller Band in the late 60s. He then recorded his 2nd solo album with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section in 1969 which included a blossoming session guitarist, Duane Allman, who contributed a legendary solo on Loan Me A Dime.

Boz was 6 albums deep into a career, slowly mixing more soul into his bluesy rock when the 1976 album, Silk Degrees, seemingly came out of nowhere and hit #2 on Top Albums chart as well as #6 on R&B albums chart, selling over 5 million copies and spawning 3 Top 40 hits. His late 70s trilogy of albums [Silk Degrees, Down Two Then Left and Middle Man] laid out a blueprint of smooth soulful pop rock for a new generation of musicians and kick-started the genre of West Coast music. Not to mention he ‘accidentally’ got the future members of Toto together by assembling all of them in a room at the same time.

I talked with Boz during his 2016 tour with Michael McDonald. Here is an excerpt from that conversation:

Me: I consider you the Godfather of West Coast music. Has anyone ever told you that?

Boz: No I’ve never heard that expression. Wow. I’m a little surprised by that one.

Me: Can you just take me back to the sessions of Silk Degrees? What was the feeling going into that album after the popularity of Slow Dancer?

Boz: Well I learned something with Slow Dancer. My record company had a base in Los Angeles. I had for the first time made an album with West Coast musicians. I had worked in Muscle Shoals before, so I was familiar with the idea of an artist working with studio players. I did have a band and I made several records with the band. Working with the staff producer from Columbia Records with the Motown rhythm section on Slow Dancer got me to L.A. and familiarized me with the possibilities of working in the studio with high level producers, particularly with studio musicians, so I became acquainted with the scene.

I found a group of players and a studio with a sound I wanted to work in. My ideas and demos could now be fleshed out in a broader way with these musicians, like they could read into your mind and see where you were going. That, and a connection in having met a young arranger and co-writer, David Paich, who was one of the young studio musicians I was working with. David & I went off to write things together and he was able to flesh out some of the material that I had rough sketches of and turn it into beautiful well-crafted work.

Me: The rhythm section is phenomenal on those three albums [Silk Degrees, Down Two Then Left & Middle Man]. They went on to form Toto and you have obviously a hand in doing that. What did you think those guys brought to the album that made it so successful?

Boz: Well they were young, but they were seasoned pros on the session scene in LA. They were on the cutting edge of music that was being recorded in popular music at the time. They had their own individual styles. They had a band since they were in high school, junior high school actually, so they were a unit. They were tight. And when I came along, it was a sort of a natural fit.

Me: What songs have you written that you have enjoyed the most by other artists?

Boz: Well, Rita Coolidge did We’re All Alone and that one was a wonderful surprise. That’s the first one that comes to mind and I was very honored by her rendition.

Me: You have had a 50-year career. You’re still going strong. What advice can you give other musicians to have a career like yours?

Boz: I think playing live is really the most important thing, to be in front of people, to be in the same space and open up your artistry. I think that does more to connect your music and to inform yourself about what you’re really trying to say.

 

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