Boz Scaggs will release MEMPHIS, his first album of new studio material in five years, on March 5th. Between touring and his work with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald in the Dukes Of September in recent years, Scaggs hasn’t had much time in the studio, hence the gap between albums. Thankfully, the multi-platinum singer-songwriter found his new album, MEMPHIS, to be perhaps the most natural collection of his four-decade plus career.
“It’s one of the easiest projects I’ve ever had. I sang songs that feel entirely comfortable to me,” he told Rolling Stone. “We recorded the 13 tracks to this record in three days. It just sort of fell out easily in the nicest way.”
The album was recorded in Memphis at the legendary Royal Studios, where the late Willie Mitchell crafted the sound during Al Green’s heyday. For Scaggs, who worked with producer Steve Jordan (John Mayer) and a stellar group of musicians, the studio and its history were very much a part of the recording process.
“That sound is iconic. The sound that comes into that room and the music that came out of the Willie Mitchell reign down there is one of the basic soundtracks of my life,” he said. “The aura is so tangible around that studio.”
It wasn’t only the studio, but the musicians (Jordan in particular) as well, that led to Scagg’s ease and the feeling that he was on the right path. “I had sketched out a few different scenarios for recording these tracks and there was one that had me working in San Francisco with a certain group of players and that had me in New York with a certain group and I was thinking about Memphis, about Royal Studios,” he said. “And in one of conversations about what we might do, Steve just said, ‘Let’s go to Memphis, let’s go to Royal.’ It was like reading each other’s minds from thousands of miles away.”
It was clearly the right call, as the aura Scaggs speaks of is evident throughout the diverse collection, from the gorgeous covers of “Rainy Night In Georgia” and “Corinna Corinna” to the album’s first single, “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl.”
“Mixed Up Shook Up Girl,” premiered here, finds Scaggs’ deep, soulful vocals highlighted by a soft beat that brings to mind another soul icon, the Drifters. Originally recorded by Willy Deville in 1977, “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” is one of those tracks Scaggs had wanted to do for some time. “That’s one that sort of had been running around my head for years, but until I actually sang it, I didn’t really know,” he said. “But it clicked, it felt like it belonged and it was exciting. It felt new to me.”
For Scaggs, finding tunes he could make his own is the key to what he looks for in selecting covers. “I just start going through and seeing which ones I can really make my voice fit into or the ones that I can find that I think I can give a fresh delivery to. So that is really the telling tale to me,” he said.
Scaggs, who will hit the road in March in support of MEMPHIS, can look at his own impressive catalog to find how songs will evolve over time. “A good song will stand up to various interpretations,” he said. And he cites one of his own biggest hits as proof of how songs can be pliable enough to fit in any situation. “‘Lowdown’ I’ve performed with a lot of different ensembles and in a lot of different situations – with jazz musicians, in small clubs, in stadiums, in all sorts of different environments. The song fits me like a glove and the song itself is a song I think can take so many different treatments,” he said. “So a lot of the material I reach for time and again does work because it stands up in time.”