Boz Scaggs Lets It Flow

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Boz Scaggs knows what he likes, and he likes who he makes records with—which made the sessions for his latest album, A Fool to Care [429 Records], an exercise in smooth confidence. And fun. Who wouldn’t have a blast tracking mostly live with drummer Steve Jordan (who also produced the record), bassist Willie Weeks, guitarist Ray Parker, Jr., and keyboardist Jim Cox? Recorded in just four days at Blackbird Studio in Nashville, the album explores the love that Scaggs and Jordan have for classic R&B, soul, and rock, and it features a guest spot by Bonnie Raitt—which Scaggs called, “one of the highlights of my career.”

Your guitar parts are so in the pocket on this record. Do you work them out, or just play by feel?

I’m a feel player. I’m not trying to get this kind of sound, or that kind of sound. I have my own style of hearing the material, and my own style of playing it. Working with Steve Jordan and the rhythm section, the whole story is right there. All I have to do is fill in the blanks. I’ll try a few passes, and the tone will tell me what to do. The vocal is already on the track—either a finished vocal or a rough—and that informs me what to step around with the guitar. There’s no plan—it just works when it works.

What about your vocals?

On some of the songs, I worked out my vocal approach. I’d pick a key, and use a little rhythm box to make a very cursory demo to send to Jordan—just so we had an idea where the vocal would fit in. Tempo is extremely important—more important than most people give it credit for.

What was the main gear you used for A Fool to Care?

My standard, go-to guitar for the studio is a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster, but I’ve always wanted a onepickup jazz guitar, and I found a Gibson Custom Shop Herb Ellis model about five years ago. I promised myself when I got the time, I would get it set up, and I used it on just about everything on the new record. It plays like a dream, and it has a really wild tone when you put it through a little distorted amp. I also used my “home guitar”—a ’51 or ’52 Martin D-28 that’s difficult to record because it has such a big sound. But it worked out just fine. Then, there’s my Gibson J-45 that always records beautifully. Blackbird Studio brought me a beautiful, vintage plexi Marshall that I used for the live tracks. The plexi will go anywhere you want it to go. You can get the richest clear and warm sounds out of it, or you can push it. I guess it’s my favorite amp in the world. I also have a Suhr amp—an 18-watt, with a 1x12 cab—that I’ve been using at home in my studio for about ten years now. I use it live, too. It has a punchy, Marshall-like sound.

I know a lot of care and work went into the album, but it seems like the sessions were almost effortless.

Yes, it’s all very easy and natural. You want it right, but you also want to have fun. Steve likes to hear his drums a certain way, and I like to hear his drums any way he likes to play them. It’s all about the music, and all about the way the musicians interpret it. We’re veterans. We’re not trying to put anything in there that’s not us. We’ve been around, we know what we want, and we know what we like.

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