When Boz Scaggs released Silk Degrees back in 1976, I was probably too young to have a girlfriend. But I did have one, briefly at least. For some reason she picked me, and I was over the moon. You never forget your first love, and I will never forget the artist who provided the soundtrack for it either. With The Essential Boz Scaggs, Columbia Legacy pays tribute to the long career of this multi-talented musician.
The two-CD set contains 32 songs, presented in chronological order. The opening “I’ll Be Long Gone” is from his 1969 Atlantic Records debut, Boz Scaggs. The album is notable for a couple of reasons. The presence of Duane Allman on the scorching 11-minute blues track “Loan Me A Dime” is certainly one. There is also the matter of the co-producer, Mr. Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone. Cynics might point to this as being the reason Boz Scaggs was voted #496 in the Rolling Stone Top 500 albums of all time. I think it is a great record no matter what, and any album that includes “Loan Me A Dime” is worth owning.
When Boz Scaggs failed to catch fire, Scaggs moved over to Columbia Records, where he saw his greatest success. Silk Degrees is such a perfect album that it is easy to overlook what preceded it. But there were some gems released in the years 1970-1975, including the songs “We Were Always Sweethearts,” “Dinah Flo,” and “Slow Dancer,” all of which are included here.
My guess is that the Columbia executives were floored when they first heard Silk Degrees. It is one of those rare recordings in which nearly every song was either a hit, or should have been. Reflecting its nature as Scaggs’ most celebrated outing, The Essential features six tracks from this classic. I wish the powers that be had included “Georgia,” but six of Silk Degrees’ ten songs is still a lot.
Scaggs followed Silk Degrees with Down Two, Then Left in 1977. Maybe the expectations were too high, but it was only a moderate seller. Down Two is represented here by “Hard Times.” For Middle Man (1979) Scaggs returned to the formula that made Silk Degrees so successful. One of the secret ingredients of Silk was the studio musicians, some of whom went on to form Toto. They returned for Middle Man, along with guests such as Carlos Santana, Ray Parker Jr., and Joe Vitale.
For the 1980 Hits! set, Scaggs recorded “Look What You’ve Done to Me,” which would be his last big radio hit. As Anthony DeCurtis explains in the liner notes to Essential, Scaggs then took some time off. Eight years off, as it turned out. He returned in 1988 with Other Roads, then disappeared again until Some Change in 1994.
One of the best tracks of the later era is “As the Years Go Passing By,” in which Scaggs is joined by Booker T. & The MG’s. By 2001, Scaggs was recording for the small Grey Cat label, which released Dig. This is an album that I was previously unfamiliar with, but based on the three tracks included here, it may be worth investigating. Many of the former Toto musicians have returned, and Scaggs’ voice remains in fine form. The closing “Gone Baby Gone” is from Memphis (2013), on 429 Records. It bodes well for that album as well.
The romantic interlude I mentioned earlier ended with the summer, but my fondness for the music of Boz Scaggs lives on. Songs such as “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” virtually define the term “blue-eyed soul,” and still sound great all these years later. Whether the music inspires fond memories or not, this collection truly is essential.