After appearing on the first two albums by The Steve Miller Band, singer-songwriter-guitarist William Royce “Boz” Scaggs sensed that it was time to strike out on his own once more. In 1968, he inked a deal with Atlantic Records to record his second solo album; his first, 1965’s Boz, was a Swedish release that to this day hasn’t seen a reissue. So Scaggs and his co-producers Marlin Greene and Jann Wenner (yes, that Jann Wenner) headed down to Muscle Shoals’ Alabama’s most famous address, 3614 Jackson Highway. There, they joined the famous rhythm section, supported by future legend Duane “Skydog” Allman on guitar, slide and dobro, plus a hot horn section, to create the self-titled Boz Scaggs album of 1969.
A funky gospel-country-soul swamp brew, Boz Scaggs gives little hint of the slick, blue-eyed soulster to come on Silk Degrees, Scaggs’ smooth 1976 breakthrough LP which spawned hits including “Lido Shuffle,” “We’re All Alone” and “Lowdown.” It doesn’t quite feel like a singer-songwriter record, either, despite Scaggs’ credits on five of its nine tracks. What Boz Scaggs is, however, is an all-too-unknown R&B gem. Following the success of Silk Degrees, Atlantic reissued the LP, originally mixed by Terry Manning, in a new mix by Tom Perry. Edsel has recently brought the two distinct versions of the album together in one 2-CD package for the first time.
The Muscle Shoals cats – including Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson on guitars, Barry Beckett on keyboards, David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums and Al Lester on fiddle, plus background singers Jeannie Green, Mary Holiday and Donna Thatcher, gave Scaggs ample support to craft this southern soul LP. The brassy and rambunctious opener “I’m Easy,” co-written by Scaggs and Beckett, set the tone for a funky, spirited romp. The Scaggs/Beckett team bookends the LP with “Sweet Release,” the gospel-infused closing track which isn’t too far-removed from the sound Van Morrison was cultivating during the same period.
Scaggs solely composed four tracks on the set. “I’ll Be Long Gone,” with its cascading organ lines, impassioned background vocals and a saxophone solo, finds the singer at his most raw and deeply soulful as he bids farewell to an ex. “Another Day (Another Letter)” is a fine slice of slow-burning R&B, but Scaggs veers off in happily intriguing directions for “Now You’re Gone” and “Finding Her.” The amiable shuffle of the twangy “Now You’re Gone” has a pleasingly old-timey vibe, with appropriately over-the-top lyrics, barroom piano, and a fiddle part, befitting this very down-home record. The hauntingly low-key “Finding Her” melds a waltz tempo (certainly unusual in R&B!) to a moody sound reminiscent of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” crossed with Johnny Rivers’ “Summer Rain,” of all things! Duane Allman contributes electric slide to both “Now You’re Gone” and “Finding Her.”
A couple of cover versions show Scaggs’ disparate influences. In Paul Myers’ excellent liner notes, Jann Wenner recalls grooving with Scaggs to Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and the music of Clarence Carter; hence the inclusion of “Look What I Got” which Carter had recorded at Atlantic in 1969. Wenner and Scaggs went even further back for a song by The Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers. “Waiting for a Train” was recorded by “Father of Country Music” Rodgers for Victor in 1928; Scaggs renders the laconic tune complete with yodels, with Allman complementing his vocal on dobro. Skydog can also be heard on the instrument on “Look What I Got.” He had actually played acoustic guitar on Clarence Carter’s original recording of the tune!
The epic blues jam “Loan Me a Dime,” clocking in at twelve-and-a-half minutes, is at the heart of Boz Scaggs. The rip-roaring track written by Fenton Robinson has taken on a life of its own thanks to its inclusion on Allman’s 1972 posthumously-released compilation An Anthology following the guitarist’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident in 1971, aged just 24. “Loan Me a Dime” showcases a stunning and lengthy Allman solo as his blazing guitar takes command of the track. Though it sears and scorches as expected, the track is a true band effort, with Scaggs and his musicians playing off each other with rawness and grit.
The original Terry Manning mix is featured on the first CD of Edsel’s set; the second disc contains the Tom Perry remix. Though the latter was undoubtedly created to capitalize on Scaggs’ newfound success at Columbia Records, there’s nothing Perry could have done to make Boz Scaggs sound like Silk Degrees. That said, the versions on the remixed disc almost all vary in length; “Loan Me a Dime” gains more than thirty seconds while the other songs gain or lose a few seconds here and there. Perry also brings Allman’s contributions into sharper focus and de-emphasizes the background vocals. Ultimately, the original mix is stronger and a bit more muscular, but it’s certainly both worthwhile and enjoyable to compare and contrast the two versions of the record.
Edsel has repackaged Boz Scaggs in typically classy fashion, housing the jewel case in a slipcase. The 20-page color booklet includes Paul Myers’ notes, based on a new interview with Jann Wenner, as well as full credits and lyrics for each track. Peter Rynston has remastered both discs. Boz Scaggs has continued to grow as an artist since the released of his sole Atlantic album more than 45 years ago; his latest album, A Fool to Care, arrived just last month with one new composition surrounded by soul and R&B covers from varied sources like The Band and The Spinners. Edsel’s reissue of Boz Scaggs is a snapshot in time of his embryonic style, and one to be savored.
CD 1 (Terry Manning Mix) / CD 2 (Tom Perry Mix)
- I’m Easy
- I’ll Be Long Gone
- Another Day (Another Letter)
- Now You’re Gone
- Finding Her
- Look What I Got
- Waiting for a Train
- Loan Me a Dime
- Sweet Release
CD 1 originally released as Atlantic SD 8239, 1969
CD 2 originally released as Atlantic SD 19166, 1978