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American Routes Shortcuts: Boz Scaggs

Boz Scaggs
American Routes
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Boz Scaggs is best known for his 1976 multi-platinum record Silk Degrees featuring hits like “Lido Shuffle” and “Lowdown.” But Boz has lived many lives before and since. He busked his way across the world and back, played guitar and sang with the Steve Miller band, then recorded a solo record with Duane Allman, produced by Jann Wenner at Muscle Shoals in 1969. Recently he completed a trilogy of albums devoted to his favorite roots music. Boz Scaggs spoke to us from the road about his wanderlust and love of music, which took root growing up in what he calls Nowhere, Texas.

Boz Scaggs: The blues was certainly something more immediate with me. It was something that I could actually hear and get my hands on. I remember the time and place when I was listening to late night radio coming from Dallas, and I heard an instrumental by T-Bone Walker, called “Blues for Mary Lee,” and it was one of those moments that just stopped time for me and gave me a little direction for my idea of where I might want to go with the guitar. I was lucky to have that on the radio dial. We has a station in Dallas that was almost a college course in basic roots blues, the music that came out of the delta and New Orleans. It was just there every night.

Nick Spitzer: Maybe you could say a bit about transitioning from all those things you heard or were into, to actually getting up and performing.

BS: Well that happened in high school in Dallas. I made friends with these guys that had a band that were playing fraternity parties and playing rock and roll. Steve Miller was the leader of that band, and we became sort of best friends. He was a year older than I, and went to Madison, Wisconsin when he graduated from high school. I went up to visit him in Madison and it was just a great awakening for me and in the summers we worked around Wisconsin, Northern Illinois playing shows seven nights a week.

NS: At some point I know you went to Europe, busking your way around, that takes a little bit of courage.

BS: Well it was sort of a romantic vision. Mainly I got by playing in clubs with my guitar. I guess it was my ticket to ride so to speak.

NS: Well tell me a little about going out to San Francisco when you come back to the states. What is it that drew you originally to San Francisco?

BS: There was something in the zeitgeist about San Francisco and the beatniks. California itself had a particular charm to me, the hot rod cars and beach life, the golden youthfulness of it all. I got the invitation from—it was the Steve Miller Blues Band at the time. Steve Miller had been in California for a couple of years and was pretty well established on the scene. One of the guitar players fell out of the band, and I got a tickets and some dough to take the guitar player’s place.

NS: You know over the years, you listen to somebody who’s making records in the ‘60s and now here we are in 2018 and it seems to me that your voice has taken on the gravitas of being a wide ranging performer over these many years, what are you looking for in your voice when you perform?

BS: Well it’s everything that I’ve ever listened to, it’s those early records that I used to play in my parents’ house, whether it be Nat Cole or Frank Sinatra or Fats Domino or Elvis or Chuck Berry. My voice has been my ticket to relive that music.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 7 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.