Here's the lowdown: Boz Scaggs – long one of rock & roll's most soulful vocalists – returns in prime form with Dig. The smooth yet gritty album artfully merges the Seventies swagger of his classic Silk Degrees with some decidedly modern grooves. Scaggs is also going multimedia: In addition to his new album and tour, he appeared on the season premiere of Ally McBeal. Shortly after Dig's early-September release, the always-thoughtful Scaggs sat down in his homey studio near Slim's, the popular San Francisco club that he co-owns, to discuss all things Boz.
For history's sake, who dubbed thee Boz?
A schoolmate named Donald Ivert. I actually read that in a newspaper. A fellow named Lewis McAdams – a writer-screenwriter-poet who was in my classes – was being interviewed for an article about me, and he told the story. I never really knew where it originated. I was fourteen years old. I didn't think about it too much.
Have you ever rued the day you accepted your Bozness?
It's certainly not a name that I would have chosen. It is what it is, but at least it wasn't Biff or Toddy.
Your singing feels even more organic and natural and soulful these days. Do you think you're getting better?
I would say that I'm finding my voice in more ways than one. A lot of what I have always done is do other singers. I love all kinds of music. I started out playing guitar, and even in that I tried to emulate a lot of different styles and a lot of players. So I think after taking a hiatus for some years and coming back, I'm finding my voice and my place again in the world of music around me. The short answer is, yes, I think I have become a better singer.
Before your hiatus, did you lose your passion for your music?
Absolutely. I really just followed my musical instincts every step of my life. And if it's not there – if that little melody is not in my head, or if I just don't really feel like picking up the guitar – I just don't do it. I feel fortunate that I was able to step away from it when I wasn't interested. I felt that, in retrospect, there was a time in the late Seventies, after I had a string of hits and successes, as a performer and a recording artist, that I wasn't saying anything. I wasn't connected to what I was doing. I have other interests. I'm easily distracted by other things in the world around me. So I pursued those for a while, and after some time, the music really became a calling to me, just as it was when I was a kid.
Dig hearkens back to what people might think of as classic Boz Scaggs. Is that intentional?
No, there was no conscious attempt to reunite or re-create or recommit or something. I think that it can be said of a lot of artists, and myself included, that we made the same record over and over from the beginning. I'm still trying to re-create a Ray Charles concert that I heard when I was fifteen years old, and all my nerve endings were fried and transformed, and electricity shot through me. I'm still trying to get back to that, figure out what that was and find that essential stuff in my own mind.
Since the record is called Dig, who do you dig among the new artists in R&B?
There is not a lot that keeps me glued to the radio as I used to be. But when something like D'Angelo comes around, I'm curious to know what's going on. I think the women – Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu – are doing new conceptual things and using their voices to create new American music.
For the record, what's the secret of correctly executing the Lido Shuffle?
It's definitely being on your toes in a tight situation – knowing where the back door is.
So you've been a backdoor man?
I must confess, I have been a backdoor man.