Boz Scaggs Processes The Past And Rebuilds For The Future

Jul 29, 2018
Originally published on August 1, 2018 4:08 pm

Boz Scaggs is likely best known for his affiliation with the Steve Miller Band or 1976 songs like "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown." But through the years, he's also been crafting jazz and blues albums in homage to his earliest influences. His new album Out of the Blues, due out July 27, is a continuation of that practice, capping off an unofficial trilogy of albums that channel his upbringing in Oklahoma and Texas while listening to blues and early rock and roll.

Scaggs said he started playing the blues because it was a basic and simple form of guitar, but by now, he's steeped in its history. He recounts the way the blues spread to and across the United States ā€” coming first from the Caribbean and up through Cuba, into New Orleans and up the river to the Mississippi Delta, then to cities, radio and clubs.

"As it evolved, it picked up subtleties from every stop and from everyone who used the form," he says. "If you really get back to some of the roots of it, there's a great deal of nuance and that nuance is very important to someone who listens to the blues."

Out of the Blues includes covers of songs by Bobby "Blue" Bland, Jimmy Reed and Samuel "Magic Sam" Maghett, as well as a cover of Neil Young's "On the Beach." The Young song deals with loss and despair, which Scaggs faced directly when his house and all its contents burned in the Napa, Calif., wildfires last year. "It simply all is gone," he says. "It has you reaching for all sorts of answers and conclusions and ways to take it in."

In the fire, Scaggs lost every handwritten lyric he'd ever written ā€” lyrics on books, legal pads and cocktail napkins from across his 50-year music career. "Some songs take a couple of pages to write, and some songs take 15 or 20 pages to write. And they're all there, all the ideas, and you can feel everything that went into that song," he says. "I regret having lost those papers, specifically."

Writing the album was one of the ways to help process this loss, he says. "It's really a part of the healing process and the coming-to-terms-with-it-all process."

Web intern Emily Abshire contributed to this story.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Boz Scaggs is out with a new album called "Out Of The Blues." No surprise - over 50 years of making music, he's wandered into R&B, rock ā€™nā€™ roll and even some smooth disco. But always, always, his passion for the blues has shone through the music. He joined us from San Francisco.

BOZ SCAGGS: The blues comes along very quickly and very naturally if you're living in a small town in Texas or Oklahoma and you want to play guitar because it's a very basic and simple form. It comes from a complex emotional place. And as it evolved, it picked up subtleties from every stop and from every one who used the form. And that nuance is very important to someone who listens to the blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIATOR 110")

SCAGGS: (Singing) Every time I see you walking, I get a temperature of 110. Every time I see you walking, I get a temperature of 110. When you catch yourself cooling down, you heat right up again. I know you've been to college...

If you're digging into it, the notes have to fall right. There's a authentic way to do it.

MONTAGNE: When you talk about authenticity and how the notes have to fall, how does that apply to a different, somewhat more recent passion of yours, which is winemaking?

SCAGGS: Well, I'm not a winemaker. And I'm not a - my wife and I bought a little bare piece of land between Napa and Sonoma. We had no intention of growing grapes or producing wine. But a friend of ours who lived nearby, he says, I happen to have some grape vines here left over from a job. Would you like me to stick them in the ground for you? It was months later, after I was coming home from a tour, and I came down my driveway and it was - there was a full moon. And as I was rounding the corner of the road, I looked out into the field and there were something growing that I hadn't noticed before. And I went out in the field. And it was the grape vines. And they had energy, and bigger and stature like unlike anything else that we'd planted. And I developed some fascination for these vines. And then, in time, you taste the grapes and you - one thing leads to another. And the next thing you know, you're wondering what it would be like if you took the grapes and made some wine out of it. And we found that we're not very good at selling the wine. It's essentially family and friends. And it's a thing that sort of binds us to where we are.

MONTAGNE: Sadly that land was caught up in the deadly wildfires last fall north of San Francisco. And Scaggs' winery was not spared. They lost...

SCAGGS: ...Everything.

MONTAGNE: Consumed by flames.

SCAGGS: Yeah. Everything. It's a mind-blower in any way you turn it. But it's simply, all is gone.

MONTAGNE: And this, in a way, connects to your music - I mean, tapes and various things like that?

SCAGGS: Yeah. The books and the odd pieces of paper where I'd written the lyrics to everything I've ever done. And that was in some way especially hard for me to come to terms with.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Could I ask, do you handwrite? I mean, is that what they are?

SCAGGS: Yeah, I write by hand. I just use legal pads. And cocktail napkins are a very popular place to get some of the best lines. You know, all sorts of things with little notes, and scribbles and so forth.

MONTAGNE: For me, one of the blues songs on this album seemed to speak to a certain amount of pain and disorientation of great loss, such as you've had. It's a Neil Young song. It's called "On The Beach." We're going to play some of it. But is there something to say about that?

SCAGGS: Well, let's take a line from that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE BEACH")

SCAGGS: (Singing) Though my problems are meaningless, that don't make them go away.

That's one - it sort of answers a quest that a lot of, let's say, our spiritual seekers are confronted with - the meaningless and the nothingness of it all, really, in an ultimate sense. But it don't make the pain go away, to put it in a vernacular.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE BEACH")

MONTAGNE: But you are rebuilding, right? Is that how you process it?

SCAGGS: Mm-hmm. That's one way we do it. We're replanting the vineyards as we speak. It's really a part of the coming-to-terms-with-it-all process.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE BEACH")

MONTAGNE: Boz Scaggs, his new album "Out Of The Blues" is out now. Thank you very much.

SCAGGS: Thanks, Renee, nice being with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE BEACH")

SCAGGS: (Singing) When I needed you to stand by my side, all you did was...

MONTAGNE: BJ Leiderman writes our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.