Boz Scaggs on ‘Memphis’ Sessions, Singing Jack Nicholson
Almost four decades after his album “Silk Degrees” occupied the charts for 115 weeks, Boz Scaggs is on the road again, supporting his first solo album in five years.
He recorded “Memphis,” a compilation of covers, in three days at the Tennessee city’s historic Royal Studios, one of the oldest in the world.
Scaggs, 69, is on a brief hiatus from the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, his blues super-group with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald.
Grant: How did the “Memphis” sessions come together?
Scaggs: I sifted through a number of songs and assembled a rhythm section. The difference from other records was that I didn’t want to produce; I wanted to just be a singer. I also wanted to work with drummer Steve Jordan (Eric Clapton, John Mayer) as producer.
Grant: Al Green’s “So Good to Be Here” was an interesting choice. Was that meant as a homage to Willie Mitchell’s legacy at Royal?
Scaggs: Steve presented it to me as a song he hadn’t heard anyone else do. It was new to me, and I loved it.
Grant: Is there a song on “Memphis” that you interpret differently in your life today than when you first came across it?
Scaggs: It happens a lot. A year or so ago, a good friend of mine died. In trying to find some material that would apply for that memorial situation, Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” came into my head and I just picked up the guitar. The mood of the song seemed to be fitting for that occasion.
When the song came up as a choice in the studio, it was very, very late, the first night -- two or three in the morning. When we played it that night, it held significance for us. That happens a lot in looking for songs in my collaboration with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald.
Grant: Did you consider bringing Fagen or McDonald with you on the “Memphis” tour?
Scaggs: Well, they have extensive solo careers and Donald also tours with Steely Dan. We worked together quite a bit last year, and now we’ve got our individual stuff going on. The plan is to reconvene at the end of this year and get back on the road soon.
Grant: I’m amazed at how well “Lido” has held up over time. Do you remember the sessions?
Scaggs: Well, I would get together with David Paich (Toto, Michael Jackson), who was a keyboard player, and sketch out the arrangement ideas before the session itself.
The only song that I recall that really we felt something extraordinary for was “Lowdown.”
I don’t recall feeling that about “Lido.” I do remember, after the record came out and it was a hit, I was playing at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Randy Newman and Jack Nicholson came backstage to say hi to me. I’d never met either of them, and Jack Nicholson starting singing “Lido” and really, really loved it and told me about the energy of the song. And of course that’s an image that I always have now.
It’s had that effect and still does in concert. I often close the main part of the set with it. It just never fails to get people up and singing along. It’s a strange bird.
Grant: “Silk Degrees” was a gold mine. It was also your seventh album. Did that feel late to you?
Scaggs: I’ve thought about it over the years and I think there are some real reasons for it. It goes back to the right time and the right place.
It was a time when urban R&B connected with mainstream. Radio and general music were sort of crossing over and a lot of R&B trends were combining with pop music and the album was able to connect to both sides of the radio dial.
(Sarah Grant works for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)