The first stop on Boz Scaggs’ October–through–November key-market concert sweep of the US and Canada is a chill, dilapidated university ice hockey arena on the outskirts of mile-high Denver. The five-piece Scaggs road band has a sound-check session scheduled there for late afternoon, and arriving at the hall just before dusk with the other members of the group in a Hertz station wagon that’s freighted to the headliner with bulky black instrument cases, Scaggs points with a pleased grin to a hand-lettered sign posted outside the stage entrance announcing “Tickets Sold Out.”
“Hey, nice, huh?” he murmurs to Larry Garrett, the band’s road manager. “First gig out, we’re home free, looks like.”
“Looks purty good,” Garrett agrees, maneuvering the car into a parking stall and getting out to unlock the tailgate. Like Scaggs, Garrett is lanky and boyish-looking and has a Southern-fried Dallas accent that’s smoother than the $1.10 spread.
One by one, the musicians get out of the car, gather up their instruments, and straggle into the dank, echoing arena, where a sound crew is laying out snake-like skeins of electrical conduits across the stained planking that’s been laid down across the ice rink. Standing on the apron of the three-foot-high stage, Scaggs surveys the far reaches of the hall for a minute, then kneels down to uncase his gleaming Les Paul-model Gibson.
“How many people’s this place hold?” he calls out to Garrett. “Um, lessee–6,300, I b’lieve it was,” Garrett estimates. “Right on,” Joachim Young drawls.
The group’s keyboard man, Young takes a seat at the clavinet and presses down a lingering cobra-charmer chord that sounds eerily like a woman’s voice. From the rear of the stage, Jack Shroer, the horn player, responds by honking the scales in accelerating tempo on electric tenor. Ear bent to an amp, his below-the-shoulder blond hair obscuring his face, David Brown thumbs a thunk-thunk-thunk riff on bass that calls forth a breakneck brace of para-diddles from the drummer, Rick Shlosser. Swaying back and forth in time with the free-form cacophony, Young, who wears his hair “corn-rolled” (aka French-plaited), grins and winks at a magazine writer who’s traveling with the group: “This is the kind of gig, man, acoustically speaking, that prepares you for the really good gigs. You know, like Carnegie Hall, man.”
“One-two, one-two,” a soundman drones from the console adjacent to the bandstand. “Uh, listen, I’m sorry, fellows, but this may take a few minutes–Boz’ mike is the only one I’ve got rigged through a monitor so far.” Larry Garrett smiles and shrugs philosophically: “First time these particular sound cats have worked a gig with us, so we’ve got to show ’em where everything plugs in.” Adjusting the shoulder strap of his guitar, Boz cocks his head at a monitor check on the piano.
“Sounds a little thin to me,” he mutters, frowning and tugging at the mini-goatee under his lower lip. “Right, yeah, right,” the soundman agrees nervously, twiddling his dials.
While the connection’s being adjusted, Joachim Young offers around a box of gold-banded European cigarettes and describes a movie he’s just seen called The Doberman Gang. “You mean some cat trains these Doberman dogs to hold up banks?” Scaggs asks, intrigued. “Yeah, man,” Young nods emphatically. “Those dogs trained to kill, man. That’s their whole trip.”
At a signal from the soundman, the band launches into “We Were Always Sweethearts,” with Scaggs shuffling blithely around the mike like a derby roller as he sings. Next up comes a frenetic instrumental jump number, hot and crisp and punctuated with lots of wah-wah-Donald-Duck-quacking exchanges between Scaggs and Jack Shroer’s tenor horn and Joachim Young’s Arp synthesizer.
Young, along with the bassist, David Brown, has played with Scaggs off and on for almost three years, but Shroer and the drummer, Rick Shlosser, both veterans of the Van Morrison band, have only recently joined the group. Looking flushed and pleased with the pounding ensemble sound, Scaggs calls a temporary halt to the music and motions to the soundman: “Uh, listen, let’s try the clavinet over the monitors again, okay? It’s just comin’ through this little bitty amp back here right now.”
By this time, the music has drawn a throng of students and passers-by into a hand-clapping semicircle in front of the stage. Standing among them, a good head taller than most, is a handsome, nattily dressed black man from San Francisco named Lester.
The Steve Miller Band is the headline act on the evening’s bill, and Lester is Miller’s road manager and all-around main man, which gives him more than a passing acquaintance with the Scaggs group. When the band kicks off again with “I’m Easy,” Lester flashes a sunburst smile at the young girl in lemon-tinted granny glasses beside him in the crush who’s squealing her delight at the top of her lungs. “You think those dudes sound good up there, girl?” he asks her teasingly. “Sheeit, lemme tell you all about it, sister–they sound ready.”
David Blue, an L.A.-based folkie-minstrel, is scheduled to open the program at eight o’clock sharp, but since the concert’s promoters aren’t certain just before curtain time whether Blue has arrived in town or not, Scaggs and his group are summoned back to the arena early after a hurried snack at their hotel watching Sonny and Cher on color TV.
Backstage a few minutes before eight, Scaggs, wearing black bellbottoms and a blue velour jacket-waist, unsheaths his Gibson and looks eager to get it on. “Cat like whatzisname.” he muses to Larry Garrett, “Blue–he might show up ten seconds before the gig, get his bread, and play his ass off. Then again, he might not. You never can tell.” Garrett nods and glances at his watch: “Well, we’ll soon find out, I guess. Time is gonna be a hassle tonight anyway you slice it. Those stage cats forgot to set the overhead lights for you, so we’ll have to give ’em five minutes between sets. And the show’s gotta be over no later than 11:30–University of Denver rules.”
Kenny Greenberg, an advance promo man for Stoneground, has been listening to the conversation, and he laughs shortly: “Well, you can’t exactly confuse this kind of deal with a Bill Graham production, can you?”
Out front, the bleachers are filled to the far walls, and the floor is solidly packed with seated spectators. Under the Home-Visitors Scoreboard, in what would be the goal area if this were an ice hockey match, a couple of freaks wing a frisbee back and forth. On the bandstand, a stagehand steps up to the mike and stammers: “Can a maintenance man come up here right away? Somebody just vomited, and it’s getting our cables wet.”
David Blue shows to tepid applause at 8:15. In the Scaggs group’s dressing room, there’s a garbage can filled with iced beer and pop, and just outside the door, a table is loaded with sandwich makings. A frizzy-haired groupie helps herself to a lukewarm can of beer. “Ooo, it foamed at me,” she trills for the benefit of a roadie she’s mistaken for one of the musicians. “Well, foam right back at it, honey,” the roadie growls, lighting up a corncob pipe which he offers around to the members of the band. Politely, they all decline it.
Sipping from a soft-drink can, Rick Shlosser beats out a tricky one-handed tattoo on a drum practice pad while Jack Shroer tootles comical little runs on his alto.
After his set is finished, David Blue wanders into the dressing room, humming nasally and whanging away at his guitar, but Scaggs is in the process of tuning up, and no one pays him any particular notice. Scratching his feathery beard and sniffling as if he has a chronic cold, Blue flops into a chair next to his gaudily painted solid-state guitar case, which resembles a psychedelic baby coffin.
Upstairs in his own dressing room, Steve Miller is thumbing idle chords on his 12-string Martin and grinning ruefully: “Yesterday was my 29th birthday, man, and you know what happened? I woke up this mornin’ in the fuckin’ Dallas County jail, that’s what happened. What went down, see, was I went over to this doctor friend’s house for a visit, and I ended up drinkin’ two whole bottles of wine. A birthday celebration, right? Any cat’s entitled to that. Then I got into some scotch at a place called Mother Blues. Then the cops picked me up in Highland Park and charged me with bein’ drunk in a public place and prowlin’. Prowlin‘, man. So I woke up at 4 a.m. today in the drunk tank in a jazzy Italian rock & roll suit with all these droolin’, swishy creeps lookin’ me over and sayin’ things like, ‘Bruth will fixth your wagon, thweetie.’ Jesus, thank god for lawyers.”
Down on the stage, Scaggs counts off his set with “We Were Always Sweethearts,” played at a faster tempo than last year’s Top 40 single version. Out in the audience, a strikingly pretty girl whose auburn hair falls below the hem of her hot pants lustily yodels her approval. Frantically, she waves at each member of the band, but when nobody notices, she looks happy, anyway. Lying beside her beaded handbag on the floor, there’s an empty half-pint bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila.
As he performs, Scaggs heels-and-toes his way gradually, steadily toward the rear of the stage, as if the raw force of the music–right now, it’s “I’m Easy”–and the audience’s intense reaction to it combine to force him backwards, almost against his will. He doesn’t strut or wiggle his ass–there’s nothing coy or contrived about his stage posture–but he doesn’t resist his body’s logical extensions either.
“Ain’t No Way Around It” lifts the crowd to its feet. The people up front press forward against the lip of the stage, and there’s loud clapping, a passionate passing of joints and dangerous surging from the center of the hall. “Somebody Loan Me a Dime” draws a blood-curdling Apache whoop of gratification from somebody up in the gallery, and when the band revs the song’s closing choruses up to freeway tempo, it’s truly risky to be anywhere on the floor.
The university’s arbitrary time limit precludes an encore, and “Dinah Flo,” Scaggs’ latest single release, closes out the set to heated applause and foot-stamping. Back in the dressing room, Scaggs mops his damp hair and temples with a paper towel and lets his free hand be wrung by a young male admirer from Boulder who’s wearing Gatsby-style pumps and trousers that look to’ve been tailored out of old theater carpeting. “Well, I dunno,” Scaggs mumbles to the kid shyly. “How was it? How’d it sound out front?” “Great, really far out, just too fuckin’ great and heavy and far out, man,” the kid gushes.
Suppressing a smile, Scaggs lobs the paper towel into a wastecan and turns to David Brown, the bassist: “I dunno, though–what’d you think, Dave? I couldn’t hear all that much of it, myself. But, hmn–well, seems like it didn’t quite have that hot sound I like to get, you know? And I was out of tune for what musta been half the set.” “It was one of the heaviest sets I’ve ever heard, man,” the kid declares solemnly. Boz grins, but looks skeptical: “Yeah? Well, you learn somethin’ new every night, I guess. For tomorrow night’s gig, maybe I’ll get really fucked-up–drop 3500 mics, tune up out of tune, shoot the works.” “Far out, man,” the kid mouth-boogies, “far-fantastic-fucking-out.”
On the bandstand, Steve Miller is doing some boogieing of his own, and the clapping, swaying audience is gorging itself on his blues with a feeling. Halfway through Miller’s set, Larry Garrett tells the magazine writer that Scaggs plans to join Miller for a couple of closing songs, time permitting. If that happens, it’ll constitute a three-fifths rump reunion of the original Steve Miller Band, with Scaggs, Miller, and Lonnie Taylor, Miller’s bassist, onstage simultaneously.
At 11:17, with the de facto curfew fast approaching, Miller darts a glance backstage and raises his arms in announcement: “I’d like to call my old partner out–Mr. Boz Scaggs! And while he’s hookin’ up, I’ll start one I know he knows–’Livin’ in the USA.’ And say, looky here, I b’lieve I’ll blow my harp!”
When Scaggs joins in, the din of guitars and applause is deafening. At the close of the song, Miller does a little shuffle-step and again raises his arms: “I guess Boz and me better have a little meetin’ and talk this thing over.” The two huddle together for a minute, then Miller turns back to the mike. “We decided to fire the drummer,” he guffaws. After the laughter dies down, Miller and Scaggs close the set trading choruses of “Stepping Stone,” and the ear-ringing ovation lasts for almost five minutes.
Afterwards, in the backstage corridor, Miller, trailed by a stunning red-haired ladyfriend, slips an arm around Scaggs’ shoulder. Looking weary but elated, Miller laughs aloud and indicates the arena with a jerk of his thumb: “Hot damn, that was a good audience out there tonight, son. What I hate about tourin’ is the nights you don’t work, you know? That’s when you start committin’ crimes in hotel rooms. But Denver always has been a good rock & roll town. First time I ever played here, there were 13 chicks waitin’ for me after the gig with a key of truly wicked weed. I just took one look at ’em and all that dope and went whoosh.”
Dabbing at his nose with a crumpled wad of kleenex, David Blue approaches and taps Miller on the arm: “Hey, man, you remember me, don’t you?”
Blue’s voice is close to pleading, and Miller studies his face for a minute before breaking into a broad grin: “Why, hey, sure, man. It was Chicago, right? And you were one crazy motherfucker that night, too, man.”
“Naw, man,” Blue says, ducking his head, “you were the crazy motherfucker.”
Scaggs throws his head back and laughs, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. “If that’s the same night I’m thinkin’ about,” he drawls, “y’all were both crazy motherfuckers.” Deadpan, Miller winks at his ladyfriend. “Yep,” he nods, “that was the night, all right.”
The next afternoon, after an early flight out of Denver, Scaggs spots Kenny Loggins of Loggins and Messina in the jostling hubbub near the United counter in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The two bandleaders exchange handshakes and destinations, and Loggins says in a plaintive voice that his group has a week left to go on the road.
Scaggs punches him lightly on the arm: “Aw, hey, boy, you’re in the homestretch. We got seven weeks ahead of us yet.”
“Maybe more,” Larry Garrett puts in gloomily. “Our bookin’s are still open, and we keep gettin’ offers we can’t refuse. Looks like we won’t get home till after Thanks-givin’.”
Loggins rolls his eyes in commiseration: “Well, I’ll be glad as hell when we’re done with it and finished. Christ, man, we had a five-day layover in Oberlin, Ohio.”
Scaggs grins wryly: “Nice little college town, huh?”
Loggins puts on a long face: “Yeah, you bet, if you don’t try to eat dinner after seven o’clock at night.”
Laughing and waving Loggins on his way, Scaggs strides off toward United’s Two Hundred Thousand Mile Club to while away the two-and-a-half-hour wait before the group’s flight to Syracuse, New York. In the club’s stuffily posh TV lounge, Scaggs sips a Carlsberg ale and watches while Joachim Young fiddles with the color set, finally tuning in an ancient Abbott and Costello comedy.
A MacDonald’s commercial flashes on the TV screen. “Americans are really getting strung out on a hamburger trip,” Jack Shroer, the quietest of the group, observes mildly. Lumbering to his feet to change channels, Young snorts: “Hah! Are you kiddin’, man? Americans are just gettin’ strung out, man. Pee-riod. That’s it.” Shroer shrugs philosophically: “Yeah, I guess so, man.”
Boarding the flight to Syracuse and taking a seat alongside Scaggs as the 707 Astrojet lifts over Lake Michigan into clouds that look like sculpted ice, the magazine writer is reminded, as someone has told him earlier, that Scaggs’ parents still address their son in letters as “Billy Royce.” It is easy to understand why. Onstage and off, the singer is wholesome and clean-cut as mom’s apple grave, the Compleat and Quintessential Good Ol’ Boy from Dixie. A little shy at first because of the writer’s whirring cassette recorder, Scaggs, who is 28 but looks about 19, gradually relaxes as the plane leaves the American heartland behind, and talks easily and openly about his life and, thus far, pretty good times:
“Nothin’ much happened to me to speak of till my folks–my dad was a travelin’ salesman–moved from Oklahoma to Texas in the mid-Fifties. It was just an ordinary, small-town boyhood situation until I got a scholarship to go to a private school in Dallas called St. Marks when I was about 15. A lot of Southwestern bankers and oil people, various rich folks, sent their kids to St. Marks, which was sort of an Eastern-type prep school. It was a very important, very influential time for me. I’d never really seen anything of the cosmopolitan life or big-city action before, so Dallas came as quite a jolt and flash at that point.
“I met Steve Miller at St. Marks, and that was maybe the most important thing that’d happened to me until then. Steve’d had various bands since he was 12, and he and I became good friends. I’d always listened to a lot of music–T-Bone Walker, Ray Charles, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bobby Bland, Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, mostly fellas from Texas–but I’d never played an instrument before. I bought a guitar when I was 16, and started tryin’ to learn a few licks.
“Even before that, though, I’d been doin’ weekend gigs with Steve’s band, the Marksmen. We’d play fraternity parties, high-school sock-hops, various functions like that around town and around the state. At first, I just sang with Steve and played tambourine, and I mostly went along for a good time. Steve taught me some guitar, though, and I was learnin’ as fast as I could to get into the band as a real musician.
“Then Steve–he was a year ahead of me in grades–he got kicked out of St. Marks in the middle of his senior year.” Scaggs laughs shortly. “For his ‘negative attitude,’ you know? But we kept in touch through our playin’ on through the summer of ’61, until Steve passed his college boards and went off to the University of Wisconsin. When I graduated a year later, I went up there, too, and we picked it up right where we’d left off.
“By the time I got to Madison, Steve had already formed another band and established himself as a fairly popular name on campus, and we’d play two, sometimes three weekends a month durin’ the school year. Then, durin’ the summers, we worked as sort of a small-time tourin’ band around Wisconsin and northern Illinois. One-nighters, generally–five, six, seven nights a week.
Sometimes we called ourselves the Ardells, sometimes the Night Train, and there must’ve been other names we went under, too. We wore gold lame vests and did little dance steps and all that shit, sort of as a put-on for our own weird sense of humor. But we were learnin’ a lot, too, because playin’ under those more or less backwoods conditions is the best dues you can pay for actually gettin’ proficient on your instrument.
“Still and all, I can’t truthfully say that I took any of it all that seriously at the time. Music was mostly a diversion for me, and I never really thought of it back then as a career. I mean, once a musician, always a musician, in a way. Once you’re bit, you’re kind of spoiled to any other way, you know? So by the time I got to Madison, I just took it for granted that I could bop out on a weekend and pick up a few bucks anywhere I played, and I wasn’t worried about it and I wasn’t thinkin’ about it. I was takin’ a varied B.A. plan in science at the university, and I hadn’t even seriously considered what kind of career I was goin’ to lead. All of that came a lot later.”
A stewardess approaches, offering a choice of soft drinks or cocktails. “Have y’all got any plain old soda water?” Scaggs asks politely, “I’m gettin’ sort of dry, talkin’ so much.”
Smiling and nodding, the stewardess fetches the soda. Scaggs thanks her, takes a thirsty swallow, and touches the ice-tinkling glass lightly to his temples.
“Then, what happened was, I got kicked out of school. Well, not really, I guess–I failed three courses in my second semester at the university, and they put me on a year’s probation. In sort of a half-assed move to continue my education, I enrolled in night school at the University of Texas down in Austin. Well, naturally, right off, I got a band together called the Wigs, and pretty soon that meant the end of my schoolin’ for good and all. Winged me right out of it. Just like when I was with Steve, we mostly played fraternity parties and little bars on weekends.
“The rest of the time, we just hung out and jammed at various places around town, havin’ a ball. There was a lot goin’ on musically in Austin in ’63. Janis was around back then, so I’ve heard, but I didn’t know her. The 13th Floor Elevators–that was an Austin-based group that was pretty hot at the time–had a couple of hit singles and toured nationally and so forth. Mostly, though, the bunch of us played in sessions at the little black R&B clubs.
There was Ira Littlefield’s place called the I.L. Club, and right near that, Charlie’s Playhouse and another joint across town called the Chicken Shack. There were other places, too, that had maybe ‘Blue Mondays’ or Wednesday open-jams or whatever. It was fun and we learned a lot.
“Right around then, the big English invasion was comin’ down, the Stones and the Beatles and all those English cats playin’ R&B. Well, we were a good R&B band, and we got the bright idea that if we went to London, we might, you know, grab an ear here and there. So three of us in the band, John Andrews and Bob Arthur and me, we decided to beg, borrow or steal our way to London.
“We got there in January ’64, and it was a very exciting, a very healthy scene. The major names at that time were Georgie Fame and Graham Bond and Alexis Koerner and John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers band and Allen Price and Eric Burdon and the Animals and Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker–all the names that later emerged were playin’ every night in a club or pub someplace. Basically, it was an R&B sort of thing, and it was the cleanest, most proficient R&B I’d ever heard white cats gettin’ into. They were really deep into it, amazing blues artists. They’d studied it, gotten down every chop and lick, and then they started in on their own style.
“I remember walkin’ into a club called the Flamingo one of the first nights we were in town, and there was this band, Chris Farlow and the Thunderbirds. They were doin’ Bobby Bland’s arrangement of ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ to a tee, horns, beautiful organ, just wailin’. Knocked me right out, man–it was like walkin’ into some little black dive in Houston or someplace.
“The fellows I was with had some money. I didn’t have any at all, but we sort of agreed that when we struck it rich, I’d pay ’em back. Some guy was gonna be our manager and get us gigs and work permits and a record session, but the whole thing got very dragged out and nothin’ ever came of it. I worked in restaurants at night–washin’ dishes and choppin’ food–and did a few odd jobs durin’ the day, gave some guitar lessons. Finally, I got discouraged with it all and decided to go travel around the Continent some. I left my guitar with the guys in the band as collateral for the money I owed ’em.
“I went to Copenhagen first. Then, by the summer of ’65 when the weather was gettin’ warm, I hopped over to Paris for a while, then on to Spain and back up to southern France. I managed to get along all right borrowin’ a guitar from somebody or other along the way and playin’ in the cinema queues and sidewalk cafes–you know, buskin’, playin’ and singin’ in the streets. I played things like an old Charlie and Inez Foxx tune called ‘Mockingbird,’ and the Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,’ and an old Drifters shuffle called ‘Steamboat.’ Just loud R&B stuff, mostly. I’d do that maybe twice a day, and I could gather in a couple bucks American. It was sort of hand-to-mouth, and I was livin’ pretty loose, but the weather was good and I always found a place to sleep one way or another. There were a lot of us like that, just pokin’ around.
“In Europe, they called it The Bum Scene. I mean, like in London you’d see cats hangin’ around Trafalgar Square with packs on their backs, gypsy-lookin’ characters with their hair all freaky and weird, and they’d just’ve come back from India or Morocco or some place like that. It was the same way all over the Continent, and everybody had some little means of gettin’ along, sellin’ dope or buskin’ or whatever it was. That whole scene probably came out of the Dharma Bums-Beat Generation trip, but I dug it, and it was kind of an elite thing at the time. There were all sorts of people of all ages, and a regular network of hotels and cafes where they hung out together.
“So I floated around Europe like that from ’65 to ’67, but I sort of made Stockholm my home base. There was a nice club scene in Stockholm, and I had a little followin’ goin’ for me there. Then this friend of mine who had a rock band wanted me to help out with an arrangement of the Coasters’ ‘Searchin’.’ Well, I sang the song for the people in the recordin’ studio, and the producer asked me to make an album for him. In the next couple of days, I cut the record [Boz on Polydor International], and it got around a fair amount in Sweden and Denmark, I guess. I started makin’ a little more bread, doin’ a few television shows and stuff, but it didn’t really change things all that much. I kept my bum scene goin’ on the side, hitched off on a few short trips down to southern Europe and back again.
“I took a trip to India and when I got back to Stockholm in the spring of ’67, there was a postcard waitin’ for me from Steve Miller. I’d been readin’ about his band in San Francisco, of course, and the start of the whole rock thing there. Well, Steve wondered how I was doin’ and said he’d really like for me to come and play rhythm guitar for him. I thought about it a long time and decided to do it. I’d never been to San Francisco before.
I arrived just at the tail end of the Summer of Love, and things were turnin’ to sort of mild overfamiliarity as opposed to love at that point–the scene was startin’ to thicken and age a little. I was floored by the situation, though, just outright shocked and stunned. It seemed to me like a very American social game of dressin’ up in cowboys-and-Indians costumes.
And the pot rituals just blew my mind. For two years, I’d been high on hash day in, day out, but one hit of weed fogged me totally out for hours. I mean, in Europe we’d been very serious about haulin’ our dope around. There were a lot of important, serious, intelligent people involved in the dope culture over there, and we felt like we had a task, which was not so much to turn the world on, but to keep ourselves sane and to learn more and maybe even to learn to be more. When I got to San Francisco, I couldn’t talk to anybody for six months.
“It was a fine time for the Steve Miller Band, though. The group had made a national reputation without havin’ played much of anywhere, so we did our first tour in the fall of ’67. Went to England and made the first album, Children of the Future, came back and toured extensively through the spring of ’68. There was still a pretty healthy ballroom scene goin’ on at the time, which was lots of fun. We got to see a lot of places and the band was doin’ well. We got into the second album, Sailor, that summer.
“By the fall, though, I was feelin’ a little disenchanted. Steve and I had different notions about what to record and how to record it. If I had a song, I’d go in with the rest of the band and do it, and Steve would lay out and stay home that day. Same thing if he had a song–he’d cut it and I’d stay away. We were basically doin’ a separate trip, so the only time that we showed up at the same place was on a record. I decided to leave the band. I didn’t have any real plans, but I just kind of wanted to go sit down someplace and maybe play in a little club someplace and cool it for awhile.
“By then, I had a little house on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. I hung around there a lot, playin’ piano and writin’ songs. Jann [Wenner, editor of Rolling Stone] lived across the street at that time, and we became friends and began discussin’ the possibility of him producin’ an album for me. All of my energies got channeled into that, and the next thing I knew, I was down in Macon, Georgia, talkin’ to two brothers named Phil and Alan Walden who owned a new studio down there. As it turned out, their studio wasn’t together yet, but Alan and I got to be real tight friends and Phil signed me to a management contract. The album [Boz Scaggs on Atlantic] was eventually cut in Muscle Shoals, but I’d had such a ball with my new friends in Macon that I headed back there after the sessions were over. I intended to stay just three or four days, but we were just runnin’ like crazy and havin’ such a good time that pretty soon I called up my girlfriend Carmela in San Francisco and told her to pack a bag and come on out. Alan Walden gave us the use of a cabin out in the Georgia woods. We just kind of went on and on that way for a few more weeks, and then a few more weeks after that, and it finally ended up that we stayed there for eight months. The Atlantic album had come out durin’ that time–I’m still amazed, by the way, at what a powerful influence Duane Allman had on those sessions–but I was kind of spaced-out the whole time I was in Macon, and the record was the farthest thing from my mind. That was pretty much the turnin’ point, I guess.
“What I mean is, I guess I was kind of countin’ on the album to sell or do somethin’ big. By then, I was runnin’ out of advance money from Atlantic, and I was countin’ on the record as a sort of springboard to get a band together and start tourin’ and supportin’ myself. Well, Phil Walden had the feelin’ that I wasn’t gonna do anything right then that I didn’t have to do, and he was probably right, up to a point, so I asked him to give me back my management contract. After that, we just picked up one night, Carmela and me, and drove straight back to San Francisco where I had, really, very little waitin’ for me. We got into San Francisco on a Tuesday, I got together a few musicians, and the band started workin’ together on Thursday night. That was in, lessee, January of ’70. We worked nonstop, five or six nights a week, for the next six months. I guess I’d finally realized what my career was goin’ to be, and we played all kinds of clubs–Keystone Korner, Mandrake’s, the Matrix, the Lion’s Share, the New Orleans Club–wherever there was a halfway decent gig in the Bay Area. As time went by, the quality of the engagements got better, and we started doin’ Fillmore dates and makin’ a little bit of a name for ourselves. By the fall, we’d had a number of record offers, and I talked it over, first with Steve and then with a lawyer, and decided to sign with Columbia.”
Overhead, the seat-belt lights flash on, and the captain announces that the plane will touch down in approximately five minutes. Looking weary after so much talk, Scaggs peers into his glass of soda. The ice has long since melted, but he takes a swallow anyway, wincing slightly at the taste.
“Columbia didn’t make the top money offer–there was one higher bid–but CBS seemed to be more in line with what I was lookin’ for. I mean, I’d never been all that enthusiastic about my dealin’s with Atlantic, and I’m sure that went vice versa. For one reason or another, I’d never had that personal touch with Jerry Wexler or Ahmet Ertegun or Tom Dowd, and it’s for certain they had plenty to occupy themselves with other than an inactive artist like I was while I was livin’ in Macon.
“On the other hand, I’ve gotten along real well with the people at Columbia. The first album with them, Moments, was well-publicized and well-received. I don’t know the exact figures, but everybody was tickled pink about the sales on it. Glyn Johns was the producer, and I thought he did just a fantastic job as an engineer. He’s a pretty awesome guy to work around, you know, one of the most brilliant and capable men in the business.
“Glyn also produced Boz Scaggs & Band, which got around pretty well, but not as much as the first one. I mean, the band wasn’t on the road when the record was released, and I just felt a little let down by the overall reception to it. The latest one, though, My Time, seems to be doin’ real good so far. ‘Dinah Flo’ looks like it’s gonna make it as a single, and I’ve got pretty high hopes for the album hittin’ it big.
“That’s what this tour is all about, you know–to publicize the record and that way make things more secure for recordin’ in the future. If the record sells, I can afford to spend more time in the studio next time–it’s just that simple. And that’s where my real interest lies these days. But I won’t make a nickel out of this tour itself. I’ll be lucky, in fact, to make expenses and break even.
“Yeah, I guess I live comfortably enough, but I’m nowhere near bein’ rich, that’s for sure. See, I work all the time, so it’s not like I’m sittin’ back fat somewhere, lappin’ up the gravy. I just splurged and bought a new Mercedes, and that was an act of sheer madness, but I hadn’t done anything crazy like that in a long, long time, and I really enjoy the car. I’ve got a nice house, because Carmela enjoys makin’ it that way. It looks sort of luxurious, I guess, but that’s because Carmela is talented that way and knows how to make a place comfortable without spendin’ a fortune doin’ it. The more comfortable I am, the better the work I do. I’m fortunate in that Carmela realizes that. When she makes things nicer and pleasanter for both of us, she’s helpin’ me in what I’m all about. She’s helpin’ me in my job, my profession.”
A bitter, driving rain is falling when the jetliner bumps down at Hancock Airport in Syracuse. While Larry Garrett races off to round up the equipment and rent a car, the members of the band mill around in the lobby.
“There comes our limo ’bout now,” Joachim Young growls, pointing to a slush-coated VW beetle in the driveway. On the way into town in a rattling Hertz wagon, everybody peers stonily out the steamed-up windows at the dismal downpour.
“Some cat back at the airport told me all the hippies in Syracuse gonna be at the gig tonight,” Young mutters under his breath, “–both of ’em.” There is general laughter, generally hollow. “I read somewhere that this is a semi-depressed area,” Jack Shroer says seriously. Rick Shlosser groans: “Oh, man, I’ve been semi-depressed ever since we landed.”
The Sheraton Syracuse Hotel, where the band is quartered, looks like a veterans’ hospital and smells like a Y. Adding to the general institutional melancholy of the place is a lobby teeming with hairy-legged representatives of the Northeast Wrestling Coachs Association. A bonus attraction is a cutesy-poo ersatz–Elizabethan restaurant (“stake and shrimp,” the menu coos) that serves frozen fish. “If you eat enough of this crud,” David Brown grumbles into his plate just before show time, “your appetite goes cringing away.”
The evening’s gig is at the War Memorial Auditorium, a high-vaulted municipal hall built in the Twenties and obviously neglected ever since. Outside, the rain is still hammering down, but when the curtain goes up at 8:15 p.m., 3500 seats are filled out of 4,000.
The opening act is Delbert and Glenn, a group of Texas funk freaks. With some little air of self-congratulation, the lead singer lights a joint on stage. The headline act is John Mayall’s latest band, featuring Blue Mitchell on trumpet. Everybody refers to the group as “laid back” except Tommy, Scaggs’ blond, moon-faced roadie.
“Screw May-all,” Tommy snorts. “Englishmen can never play the blues, no matter how many righteous spades they surround themselves with.”
In Scaggs’ upstairs dressing room, there’s a case of hot Piels Real Draft beer, a stack of limp cheese-on-white sandwiches, a muddy-puddled floor from the leaky ceiling, and a sign that sternly commands Do Not Sit On Table. In the john, a machine dispenses sanitary napkins for a nickel.
Sitting half turned away from the others, Scaggs looks a little worried. Due to a foul-up with the Hertz wagon, there’s been no time for a sound check of the hall. Moodily, he fingers a series of languorous blues figures.
Scaggs and the band go onstage at nine. “Take off your clothes,” some dingbat bawls hoarsely from the fourth or fifth row. Scaggs grins fixedly, adjusting his guitar strap. “Uh, movin’ right along now,” he murmurs, again kicking off the set with “We Were Always Sweethearts.”
The first few numbers draw respectful applause, but as in the case of the night before, it takes “I’m Easy” to spark fire in the crowd. From that point on, there’s almost constant stomping and cheering, and at the teeth-rattling close of “Loan Me a Dime,” even the geriatric-case backstage guard is tapping his brogan as the audience gives the band the better part of a standing ovation.
The magazine writer has watched the set from the wings, standing near but not speaking to a streaked-blonde teenybopper wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat and a lack of expression as fast-dried as epoxy. As the curtain falls and the band members gather up their instruments to make way for Mayall’s group, the writer turns to the girl and on impulse asks her if she would buy a Boz Scaggs record.
Taking a step backward, she eyes him narrowly: “No, but then I’m not into possessions, man.” The girl watches Scaggs stride backstage and bend over his guitar case. “I’d ball him, though,” she says heatlessly. “Like I’m heavily into balling.”