20 Years Ago: Boz Scaggs Releases ‘Some Change’
Like a lot of veteran rock acts, Boz Scaggs found it difficult to fit in during the ’80s — so he spent most of them on sabbatical, surfacing only at the start of the decade (for 1980′s ‘Middle Man’) and toward its end (with 1988′s ‘Other Roads’). By the mid-’90s, some fans assumed Scaggs had basically retired.
“Some people are genuinely confused, almost angry in a way, at my nonchalance at saying I had other things to do,” Scaggs shrugged in a 1994 interview with Mojo. “They say, ‘How do you just walk off and do something else?’ I have a hard time explaining to them that I have a personal life and other interests, and I don’t feel compelled to make a record every two years to go feed this beast.”
It undoubtedly helped that he’d already done a pretty good job of feeding that beast: Scaggs’ 1976 release, ‘Silk Degrees,’ was a monster quintuple-platinum hit, and his next two records (1977′s ‘Down Two Then Left,’ followed by ‘Middle Man’) went platinum in its wake. Having established himself as a solo artist, the former Steve Miller Band sideman spent much of the ’80s traveling, and by the time he returned to the studio for ‘Other Roads,’ he found himself more distant than ever from the machinations of the modern record business.
“After I’d completed it in my usual way, I was told by the president of the company that he didn’t hear any hits, and wanted me to go into the studio again,” he recalled during his talk with Mojo. “I was quite appalled and disorientated by that, and didn’t know what to do, because I’d never really thought of my music as a commodity. I mean, I know where I am — I’m not still sitting in my bedroom plucking away at my guitar, I’m a professional musician with responsibilities — but it never occurred to me that anyone in the company could point his finger down from his throne and say he didn’t hear any hits, please go do some more. So that was my last record for CBS.”
Where ‘Roads’ found Scaggs using a small army of co-writers and session players in an awkward attempt to fit his soulful sound into an adult contemporary mode, his next effort was a for more relaxed affair. Released on April 5, 1994, ‘Some Change’ returned Scaggs to his bluesy roots — an unsurprising shift, given that he’d spent parts of the last six years sitting in at his Slim’s nightclub in San Francisco and touring with five-time Grammy winner Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen as part of the New York Rock and Soul Revue, but still a satisfying development for longtime fans who’d grown distant during his more commercially driven efforts.
Co-producing alongside noted session drummer and former Beach Boy Ricky Fataar, Scaggs presided over a small group of players for ‘Some Change,’ including Booker T. Jones and Little Feat’s Fred Tackett. If the new songs had fewer layers than Scaggs’ slicker efforts, they made up for it with more of him.
“I didn’t play guitar on those records I made in LA, because they were songs I’d co-written with some pretty high-powered players, with complex changes, and I didn’t really play that kind of thing. All I do is play blues guitar,” he explained. “We weren’t trying to create the latest blockbuster. The challenge was to keep it simple and know when it was finished — not having 75 guitar solos on one song. It was a matter of saying, ‘That original take we did eight months ago sounds okay, let’s use that.’”
Of course, Scaggs being Scaggs, ‘Some Change’ was still smooth even if the production was stripped down; in fact, as he later admitted in the same interview, it was a relatively fussed-over record. “We put in a lot of hours, in a very relaxed way in our own studio, which is the only studio I’ve ever been in which has a rocking chair. We spent as much time lying on the floor as anything else,” he recalled. “That was different from what I’d done before, which was to come to L.A. and hire the top guns and get myself into a high-pressure situation, slug my way out of it. Some of the tracks on this record are the actual demos. We tried to dress them up, but they didn’t sound as good as the originals, done on little toy tape machines, so we left them.”
Arriving in the midst of the ’90s upheaval that squeezed almost every artist of Scaggs’ generation out of rock radio playlists, ‘Some Change’ was destined to have far less of an impact on the charts than ‘Silk Degrees’ — or even ‘Other Roads’ — had enjoyed. But it brought him some of his best reviews in years, and kicked off a new era of relatively prolific output that’s seen him regularly resurfacing to release a series of new records over the last 15 years. And while other late-period efforts have attracted more attention — 2013′s ‘Memphis’ peaked inside Billboard’s Top 20 — ‘Change’ remains a pivotal moment in his career.
“I really took my time with it, and wasn’t under any pressure to do anything but make those songs complete,” he nodded years later. “If I never make another record, I’ll always find that one special in terms of the way we worked and the way it turned out.”