Although Boz Scaggs is perhaps best known for his innovative white soul music during the 1970s, this versatile musician has recorded many other styles of music as well, ranging from rhythm and blues and folk to slick urban pop and disco. Born in Ohio, Scaggs moved with his family to Piano, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), when he was quite young. His interest in music was sparked by his childhood friendship with Steve Miller, with whom he attended St. Mark’s Preparatory School in Dallas. Miller, who would grow up to front the highly successful Steve Miller Band, taught Scaggs the rudiments of guitar playing and encouraged him to sing.
In the early 1960s the two friends formed the Marksmen Combo and gained performance experience by playing local venues. A few years later, the pair headed north to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, drawn to the area in part because of its proximity to Chicago’s thriving blues culture. In Madison they met another developing musician, Ben Sidran, and performed with him as the Ardells.
Scaggs left the University of Wisconsin without graduating and returned to Texas alone. He formed a new group, the Wigs, and flew to England with them, confident that they would make their mark on the British music scene. Success never materialized for the Wigs, however, and they disbanded within a few months. Scaggs traveled through Europe on his own, supporting himself by singing on plazas and street corners. The continent appealed to him, and by the mid-1960s he had established a home base in Stockholm, Sweden, where he became affiliated with Karusell Records, the company that released his first album. Boz, a collection of folk songs, was a substantial success in Europe, although it remains relatively obscure in the United States.
Just as he was settling down for a long stay in Europe, Scaggs received an urgent postcard from Miller, who had migrated from Madison to San Francisco and formed one of the area’s first “psychedelic” rock groups. The Steve Miller Blues Band, as it was then known, was the first such group to be offered a contract with a major record label, and Miller wanted his old partner to share in his success. Scaggs agreed, but stayed with the group just long enough to record two albums: Children of the Future and Sailor, regarded by some as the best albums ever made by the Miller band. After those projects were completed, Scaggs’s restless nature drove him to strike out on his own once more.
His solo debut in the United States, entitled Boz Scaggs, was produced by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner
Born William Royce Scaggs, June 8, 1944, in Ohio; father was in sales; married Carmella Storniola, 1972 (divorced 1980); children: two sons.
Member of bands the Marksmen Combo, the Ardells, and the Wigs, early 1960s, and of the Steve Miller Blues Band, late 1960s; solo performer, mid-1960s and 1970—; founder and owner of the Blue Light Cafe in San Francisco.
and featured some powerful guitar work by Duane Allman, an unknown at the time. Rolling Stone contributor Michael Goldberg called it a “classic [that] instantly established Scaggs as a gifted songwriter and musician.” High Fidelity reviewer Steven X. Rea also commented enthusiastically on the album, classifying it as “a milestone ... full of bluesy rock aggressiveness and spooky ballads.” But despite reviewers’ high opinions of the album, it was not a great commercial success. Scaggs’s audience was still limited to the San Francisco Bay area and a small but intensely loyal following scattered about the rest of the country.
During the next few years Scaggs worked hard to win more listeners. He refined his rough-edged blues style into a smoother, less rootsy sound. The transformation can be heard on the albums Boz Scaggs and Band, My Time, and Slow Dancer. In 1976, Scaggs finally achieved the success he’d so long desired when his album Silk Degreessold over five million copies and produced the Number One single “Lowdown.”
Rea described Silk Degrees as “a precise, passionate synthesis of rock, soul, and disco that was the epitome of blue-eyed soul.” Goldberg noted that the album also “cemented Boz’s uptown image. Scaggs had traded in his blue jeans and funky shirts for a designer wardrobe and a blow-dried look that made him a sex symbol the world over.” The singer followed his breakthrough album with two more that sold millions of copies: Down Two Then Left and Middle Man. In 1980 alone, he had four Top 20 singles, and his concerts were sellouts across the nation.
Legions of Scaggs fans were stunned when, at the peak of his success, the singer announced plans to take an indefinite hiatus from the music business.
Personal difficulties, including a divorce and bitter child-custody battle, figured in his decision. Scaggs also admitted to feeling lost in the image that had taken him to superstardom and overwhelmed by the pressures that celebrity had thrust upon him. “Fortune and fame aren’t what they appear to be,” he told Rolling Stone.”The demands that are created by a career on that level were more than I wanted to continue at that time. I wanted to step outside it.”
At the time, Scaggs expected his break to last for a year or so, but in fact it stretched to nearly eight years, during which time he played only occasionally at jam sessions in bars, or in benefit concerts for the inmates of San Quentin Prison.
Scaggs began work on a comeback album in the spring of 1985. He put nearly three years of painstaking effort into the project, only to be told by top executives at Columbia Records that it would have to be almost completely redone. The final product, 1988’s Other Roads, was a mixture of his trademark ballads (including “Heart of Mine,” which became a minor hit), danceable music, and a harder-edged sound than he had produced in years. Scaggs confided to Goldberg that despite initial conflicts with Columbia over the changes, “I enjoy listening to this album more than any other album I’ve ever made.” Despite his satisfaction, the album floundered. It would be another six years before the public again heard from Scaggs.
After devoting most of the 1980s to operations at his San Francisco restaurant, the Blue Light Cafe, Scaggs was lured back to the studio by Virgin records, which felt the time was right for a Scaggs comeback. The singer agreed. “I just wanted to get away from the music side of the business,” he told Melinda Newman of Billboard.”I didn’t realize it would be such a long break.”
Some Change was released in April 1994. Penned entirely by Scaggs, who also handled keyboard and guitar duties, the album was hailed as a dazzling display of the singer’s versatility. The songs range from the cajun/country, “Fly Like a Bird” and the bluesy title track to the “Lowdown”-like “I’ll Be the One.” Though Some Change was less slick than previous Scaggs albums, Paul Evans of Rolling Stone noted “the insinuating ballads that slowly build into lush set pieces, vocals that simmer and then soar,” and concluded that Some Change brings Boz Scaggs back, “lit by the fire at the heart of cool.” Though he seldom performed concerts, even at the pinnacle of his success, Scaggs told Billboard that he wasn’t opposed to touring to promote Some Change.”If there is a demand for me to perform.... I want to play,” he asserted.
Boz, Polydor, 1965 (originally released in Europe by Karusell).
Boz Scaggs, Atlantic, 1969.
Moments, Columbia, 1971.
Boz Scaggs and Band, Columbia, 1971.
My Time, Columbia, 1972.
Slow Dancer, Columbia, 1974.
Silk Degrees, Columbia, 1976.
Down Two Then Left, Columbia, 1977.
Middleman, Columbia, 1980.
Hits, Columbia, 1980.
Other Roads, Columbia, 1988.
Some Change, Virgin, 1994.
Billboard, February 26, 1994.
Harper’s, May 1989.
High Fidelity, June 1980; August 1988.
Pulse!, June 1992.
Request, May 1994.
Rolling Stone, June 16,1988; July 14,1988; March 19,1992; May 5, 1994; May 19, 1994. Stereo Review, August 1980.
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