Boz Scaggs calls the trio of albums he has released beginning with 2013’s “Memphis” a trilogy. These releases, which also include 2015’s “A Fool To Care” and his current album, “Out of the Blues,” have found him covering songs by artists that impacted him as he was growing up near Dallas, Texas, absorbing blues, soul, New Orleans music and early rock ’n’ roll while beginning his path into his music career.
They may sound like the kind of albums done by countless veteran artists where they record their versions of songs by artists that have influenced them.
Scaggs, though, says his trilogy is not the typical tribute. Yes, he has recorded songs by artists that influenced and inspired him – Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jimmy Reed, Curtis Mayfield and Al Green — but he didn’t include a number of artists that he would consider essential if he made an album devoted to his influences.
“There are way too many influences, and important ones, that I would include in a tribute-style production,” says Scaggs, who comes to Ocean Casino Resort’s Ovation Hall on Friday, Aug. 5. “To me, I’m thinking Ray Charles would have to be in there. But I can’t sing … I’ve never been able to take a Ray Charles song into my own realm. And there are a number of people — Smokey Robinson — there are any number of players that I would include in that compilation.”
Instead, when Scaggs got together for the “Memphis” album with producer/drummer Steve Jordan, the aim was simple.
“Steve Jordan and I moved into the first record in quite a wonderful and natural way. We had been wanting to work together for a long time, and the slot came up, and it was as if we were of one mind, really,” Scaggs says. “We just put our collective experience and interests together and landed very quickly on a group of musicians to work with and on the studio in Memphis. That record, we cut the rhythm tracks in three days, and the only criteria was to explore stuff that we had a little joy about, had a really strong interest in, in terms of grooves and harmonic content and just what we like to do.”
Scaggs and Jordan took a similar approach to “A Fool To Care,” this time recording in Nashville and drawing from that city’s pool of musicians for the recording sessions.
For “Out of the Blues,” Scaggs decided to handle the production duties himself, bringing in ace session drummer Jim Keltner (instead of Jordan) to pair with bassist Willie Weeks. And with several selections bringing a Texas flavor to the proceedings, Scaggs recruited guitarists Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton — two of the Lone Star State’s top six-string specialists — to help add some authenticity to those songs.
If there’s one quality that unites the three albums of impeccably chosen covers (supplemented by several originals from Scaggs’ songwriting collaborator and friend, Jack Walroth), Scaggs says, it’s his voice, which has long been considered a strong point in his artistry.
Yet Scaggs said only in recent years has he started to feel like he’s coming into his own as a vocalist.
So while Scaggs drew his share of accolades for his supple and soulful tone on hit songs like “Look What You’ve Done To Me,” “Lowdown” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” which propelled him to major stardom during the late 1970s and early ’80s, he doesn’t rave about his vocal work, especially during those early years of his career.
“Let me put it like this. This is very frank and honest about this,” Scaggs explains. “I hear other singers, let’s just talk about singers who were fully formed at an early point in their musical careers, shall we say. You hear a young Van Morrison or you hear (John) Lennon or (Paul) McCartney. You hear a style that was developed when these cats were 17, 18, 19 years old. And still, it was whole and it was a defined style. I listen to my early stuff and I can hear that I had certain inflections and certain ideas of a style and a certain voice to do it, but I don’t really necessarily like what I hear when I listen back to that at all. I had the idea, but I couldn’t do it.”
Scaggs feels he started to turn the corner as a vocalist when he began testing the waters in the early 2000s on recording some music from the Great American Songbook with pianist/arranger Paul Nagel.
“He played piano and I sang, and we went through songs just for hours,” Scaggs says. “Over a period of several years, I put together enough material that I did some shows with him and we did a record (2003’s ‘But Beautiful’). It was the most challenging thing, that record of standards, it was the most challenging thing that I’ve ever put myself to.
“Doing the kind of music that I’d been doing, there was a certain form and certain aspects from it that I could draw from my own experience,” he elaborates. “But this was a completely different area in which you have to express your own style and the vocals have to be precise. You’re just another instrument. There are no background vocals or things; you have to create your own. I think my voice and my consciousness about what I was trying to do with my voice was expanded in doing that with him (Nagel). It still challenges me more than anything. I did another standards record (2008’s ‘Speak Low’), and I have about 40 or 50 songs now in a repertoire now that I work with when I’m off duty. And I’m just more aware of what I want to do and what I’m able to do, and I can do that now in a way that I couldn’t have done at any other time in my life. So I’m getting someplace with my voice that really satisfies me.”
Scaggs’ singing has indeed been a highlight on his acclaimed current trilogy of albums. On “Out of the Blues,” his singing stands out from the opening notes of the Walroth original “Rock And Stick,” where Scaggs stretches certain words, letting his voice flutter up to a falsetto and flow back down to a soft fade before accenting other lines with considerable assertiveness. That sort of range, control and command is evident on other songs, such as Bland’s smoky ballad “I’ve Just Got To Forget You,” the crisply swinging Jimmy Reed tune “Down In Virginia” and the gritty and rocking Texas shuffle of the Scaggs/Walroth co-write “Little Miss Night and Day.”
The breadth of the music Scaggs can now perform is reflected in his concerts, in which he and his versatile band can tailor his set lists to suit the venue he’s playing.
“We might be doing a symphony one night, with which I actually do some standards,” Scaggs says. “Then we might be doing a casino where they want 60 minutes of burning hits. We might be doing a comfortable performing arts center where we get to stretch out and do some acoustic things and some more complex music. So it’s a complicated repertoire. It requires the musicians to go from jazz to rockabilly to New Orleans, from a whisper to a scream. So they’re really fine musicians, and they have to be very, very professional.”