Silk Degrees of Separation

Boz Scaggs turns to jazz, knows his Lightnin' Hopkins.

Gaining national fame in the '70s with the monster album Silk Degrees and a lengthy string of hit singles — "Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle," Urban Cowboy's "Look What You've Done to Me," "Jojo" — Plano-raised Boz Scaggs has been recording and touring as he pleases in more recent times, including a highly successful road jaunt with Donald Fagen of Steely Dan and ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald as "The Dukes of September."

Chatter: Your last two records,But Beautiful and Speak Low, have been covers of standards.

Boz Scaggs: A jazz musician friend of mine started just exploring songs. I had done an acoustic benefit show, and he came with a trio and backed me. And it led to a musical conversation. We went through lyrics books and listened to hundreds of songs. And it's a credit to those songs themselves that they have lasted so long, especially the melodies. We're working on a third collection now.

Boz Scaggs's new band with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald may be the smoothest supergroup ever assembled.
Boz Scaggs's new band with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald may be the smoothest supergroup ever assembled.

C: Any particular memories of Houston?

BS: I remember playing when I was in high school at St. John's Academy. I have a hazy memory of playing in the early '70s in a psychedelic club with Jimmie Vaughan, and I think Gatemouth Brown was there. One of my fondest memories was that so many of my favorite singers came from there, and Bobby "Blue" Bland and Johnnie Taylor would tell Houston stories. There was a section of Houston — I think it was called Boot Hill — that had a lot of clubs.

C: The city just unveiled a marker for Lightnin' Hopkins. Did he have much influence on you?

BS: Oh, yeah. I got to see quite a bit of him. I lived in Austin for a while in 1964 or 1965, and he was playing a lot of coffeehouses and clubs. He's just monumental to me, one of the five greats.

C: Any more dates for the Dukes?

BS: We're taping a live show for PBS, and that's going to kick off a wider tour. The high point was being onstage with each other. We got to be sidemen! As far as choosing material, we must have exchanged hundreds of e-mails.

The biggest surprise I got is that we were looking at material from the Philadelphia Sound era, and we settled on "Love Train." I thought it would be a good song for Michael, but he and Donald pointed at me and said, "No, you're gonna sing it" (laughs). It was nice to be challenged.

C: I felt that Dig was one of your very best records and very underrated.

BS: Thanks. That record meant a lot to me. But it came out on September 11, 2001, and all the advertising went down the drain. And all [music] coverage stopped, of course. So there was some momentum lost. I still play half a dozen songs sometimes off that record, and maybe it will eventually see the light in its own time. It's the best work that I've done beyond Silk Degrees.

See more with Boz Scaggs on our Rocks Off music blog: blogs/houstonpress.com/rocks.
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NEWS FEED

Last week, the Houston International Festival announced its lineup for the 2011 festival, scheduled for the weekends of April 30-May 1 and May 7-8 in the area around City Hall, Tranquility Park and Sam Houston Park downtown. This year's headliners include bluesmen Jimmie Vaughan (April 30), Keb Mo and Robert Cray (both May 1); Bay Area hip-hop/reggae crew Michael Franti & Spearhead (May 7); Americana queen Lucinda Williams and Texas rockers the Joe Ely Band (both May 8). San Francisco avant-garde chamber group Kronos Quartet will play a special preview concert with Afghani musician Homayun Sakhi on Friday, April 29 (tickets sold separately), and iFest's smaller stages will feature music, dance and other cultural exhibitions from the countries making up this year's theme, "The Silk Road: Journey Across Asia," including China, India and the Middle East. See a complete schedule and ticket information at www.ifest.org.

In other festival news, Free Press Houston and Pegstar announced the artists appearing at this year's Free Press Summer Fest, set for June 4 and 5 at Eleanor Tinsley Park, Monday night. The announcement took place too late for the print edition, but you can see the full lineup at blogs.houstonpress.com/rocks/this_just_in.

 
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