Boz Scaggs & Jann S. Wenner Revisit Singer-Songwriter’s 1969 LP
Fifty years ago, a handful of landmark albums set the tone for rock for the next decade. Crosby, Stills & Nash initiated a new approach to harmonies and looser group names; the Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled debut album laid the groundwork for 70s southern rock. And setting the scene for white soul-pop that would explode with people like Hall and Oates was Boz scaggseponymous album, which Atlantic Records released that day in August 1969.
Technically, Boz scaggs was not a start; Scaggs had been with the Steve Miller Band and recorded an acoustic folk-blues album, Boz, released in Sweden in 1966. Co-produced by Scaggs, engineer Marlin Greene, and Jann S. Wenner, founder and editorial director of Rolling stone, Boz scaggs was the proper and comprehensive introduction of the San Francisco singer-songwriter as a solo artist, and it set the stage for the success Scaggs would have over the next decade, particularly the million-dollar sales at multiple successes Silk degrees.
Back in the Bay Area after various trips, Scaggs was writing material and looking for more focused direction when he met Wenner, who lived across the street. With Wenner’s encouragement, he began recording demos, one of which, with Wenner’s help, ended with Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler. With the idea of recording in the South, Scaggs decided to visit some famous studios in Memphis; Muscle Shoals, Alabama; and Macon, Georgia.
In what he now calls with a chuckle a “lame idea,” Scaggs toured the studios posing as a RS journalist. Scaggs had actually written a few reviews for the magazine, but this time he used that connection – and a magazine business card – to step out and soak up the atmosphere and ask questions like he was a reporter. .
“Everyone was cowardly and welcoming,” he said, even though they were on top of him too. At the new Muscle Shoals Sound, one of the musicians asked, “So you’re a Rolling stone journalist, is that you? I really like your work with the group you were in. Have you given up on music? Scaggs remembers, “I was arrested. They were on me as soon as I walked through the door. I felt embarrassed. But it broke the ice and I told them the truth about what I was doing there. “
During his visit to the Macon studio, Scaggs met another potential contributor to the album, guitarist Duane Allman. Thanks to Wexler, Scaggs and Wenner had Allman in mind for the project, especially in light of Allman’s work with Wilson Pickett. Scaggs attended an early rehearsal for the Allman Brothers Band and, with the approval of Allmans manager Phil Walden, was able to coax Allman into Muscle Shoals for a week to contribute to Scaggs’ album. Scaggs recalls that Allman stood out from the Southern pack – “he had a west coast look, with long hair, pearls and boots” – but says Allman was also “humble and funny, not frank. nor requiring attention “.
Eventually, Scaggs and Wenner settled into the Muscle Shoals studio, which would pair Scaggs with some of the South’s most popular session players: keyboardist Barry Beckett, drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, and guitarists Jimmy Johnson and Eddie. Hinton. (One of the backing vocals, talented local Donna Thatcher, would later join the Grateful Dead; she had then married pianist Keith Godchaux.) “I knew the guys at Muscle Shoals were never used to stretching.” , says Wenner. “I thought we should make a rock & roll record that would showcase them as much as Boz. We were listening to Clarence Carter and Nashville skyline, and this album was a combination of those.
Over the course of six focused days, Scaggs and the musicians traversed American music, cutting through minor blues (“I’ll Be Long Gone”), a cover of a song by country founding father Jimmie Rodgers (“Waiting for a Train “), R&B shuffles (” I’m Easy “) and country vampy (” Now You’re Gone “). Scaggs’ mellow voice suited each song perfectly. “There was no great premeditation about it,” says Scaggs. “I had songs written that were easily performed by this rhythm section. I didn’t know how well they would retain some of these things that I wrote. But with Duane there, anything was possible with these guys. They could have gone anywhere you could have wanted to go.
On “Waiting for a Train”, Scaggs even yoded. “I’ve never yoded a syllable in my life,” he says, “but it’s not as difficult as it sounds. When a violin was needed for the track, someone noticed the violin hanging on the wall in the barber shop below the studio. Luckily, one of the barbers, Al Lester, played the instrument and came in between barber appointments to contribute to the song.
On the last day of the sessions, while the brass section was packing their bags, everyone realized that there was still time to cut one more track if they wanted to. Scaggs recalled a song he had heard guitarist Elvin Bishop and his band play at a Massachusetts club a few months before, a sorry blues by Fenton Robinson called “Loan Me a Dime.” Deciding to give it a go, Scaggs called Jo Baker, Bishop’s lead singer, who recited the lyrics over the phone as Scaggs scribbled them down. With the musicians scattered throughout the studio – Allman in a powder room, sitting on the tank with his amp at his feet – they started recording.
A little more halfway, as Allman and the Horns locked, Wenner was caught in the moment. “I was in love with what I was hearing, and I ran into the studio and waved my arms and said, ‘Keep going, keep going!’ He remembers. “And they picked up the beat and Duane got into that main line mimicking the horn parts.” As Scaggs recalls, “And the rest is history.” With Allman’s prickly bee guitar pushing the musicians and song to frantic heights, “Loan Me a Dime” became a standard on the new wave of rock FM stations that were open to playing longer songs and more experimental. “The San Francisco DJs got it first,” says Scaggs. “It was a song that sounded good to them and they could do something else for 12 or 13 minutes.” (Coincidentally, that same Allman guitar, a Gibson Les Paul, was auctioned off for $ 1.25 million earlier this month.)
Boz scaggs was not the business success he and everyone had hoped for, but the lessons learned from its inception have persisted with Scaggs for years. “It was a great starting point,” says Scaggs. “The energy that I had, the thrill of experiencing music like that, seeing it come together and go back to the control room and listen to takes – it was so gratifying to know what was possible. It has stuck with me throughout all the years. I always work with the right players depending on my mood. It’s a feeling I’ve probably recreated since doing those sessions at Muscle Shoals.