BOZ SCAGGS-MIDDLE MAN AND OTHER ROADS.
Boz Scaggs-Middle Man and Other Roads.
Label: BGO Records.
As the seventies gave to the eighties, American singer, songwriter and guitarist Boz Scaggs had released eight solo albums, and was enjoying the most successful period of his career. His last three albums had sold in excess of 6.5 million copies, transforming Boz Scaggs’ career.
Until the release of his sixth album Slow Dancer in March 1974, Boz Scaggs’ previous albums had failed to reach the top hundred in the US Billboard 200. That all changed with Slow Dancer, which reached eighty-one in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. This was just a taste of what was to come for Boz Scaggs.
Two years later, he returned in March 1976 with Silk Degrees, where future members of Toto accompanied Boz Scaggs, on what was essentially an album of white soul tinged with humour. When Silk Degrees was released, it was to widespread critical acclaim, with critics hailing the album as Boz Scaggs finest hour. Silk Degrees reached number two in the US Billboard 200 and six in the US R&B charts, and was certified platinum five tine over. Things got even better for Boz Scaggs when Lowdown, one of four singles released from Silk Degrees, won a Grammy Award for the best R&B Song at the 1977 Grammy Awards.
By then, Boz Scaggs had embarked upon a sellout world tour, where he toured his career-defining opus Silk Degrees. When the tour ended, Boz Scaggs began work on the followup to Silk Degrees. He knew that the pressure was on him to replicate the success of Silk Degrees.
That wasn’t going to be easy, and even Boz Scaggs must have known that it was going to be virtually impossible to replicate the success Silk Degrees, which was a career-defining album. However, Boz Scaggs went in to the studio with many of the same musicians that featured on Silk Degrees, and recorded Down Two Then Left.
When Down Two Then Left was released in November 1977, Boz Scaggs’ unique brand of white soul found favour with critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Down Two Then Left peaked at eleven in the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum. Although Down Two Then Left hadn’t come close to replicating the success of Silk Degrees, it had sold in excess of a million copies. This Boz Scaggs knew was pretty good for an artist whose albums five years ago struggling in the lower reaches of charts.
For Boz Scaggs these were changed days. He had spent nine years struggling to make a breakthrough, released five albums before making a commercial breakthrough. By the time Boz Scaggs released Down Two Then Left in 1977 it seemed he could do no wrong, and many critics expected him to return with a new album in a year or eighteen months.
Instead, it was nearly three years before Boz Scaggs returned with his ninth solo album Middle Man in April 1980. Middle Man is joined by Two Roads on BGO Records’ recently reissued and remastered two CD set. They tell the next chapter in the Boz Scaggs story.
Nearly two years passed before Boz Scaggs thoughts turned to his ninth solo album, Middle Man. The last five years had seen Boz Scaggs career and indeed life transformed. He had gone from musical contender to undisputed champion in the space of a few short years. Sometimes, it was hard to believe for Boz Scaggs to believe that by 1979 he was one of the biggest names in seventies rock. However, that was the case, and by 1979 his legion of fans eagerly awaited the followup to Down Two Then Left.
In 1979, Boz Scaggs began work on Middle Man, which was the followup to his million selling album Down Two Then Left. One of the first things that Boz Scaggs did was rehire the members of Toto who had played on 1976s Silk Degrees and 1977s Down Two Then Left as session musicians. This was a role they were happy to resume.
With members of Toto booked to play on Middle Man, Boz Scaggs also hired producer Bill Schnee, who brought onboard keyboardist David Foster. This proved to a masterstroke as Boz Scaggs and his new keyboardist David Foster formed a formidable songwriting partnership.
By the time David Foster came onboard, Boz Scaggs had already penned Do Like You Do In New York and Isn’t It Time. Soon, the Boz Scaggs and David Foster songwriting partnership had written Breakdown Dead Ahead, Simone, You Can Have Me Anytime, Middle Man and Angel You. Boz Scaggs and David Foster also wrote Jojo with David Lasley, and before long, the Ohio born troubadour’s ninth album Middle Man was taking shape. The other song on Middle Man the album closer You Got Some Imagination which Boz Scaggs wrote with Toto’s guitarist Steve Lukather and new producer Bill Schnee.
With the album written, and the personnel hired work began on Middle Man, which was recorded at three separate studios. Some sessions took place at Studio 55 in Los Angeles, with other seasons taking place at Sunset Sound and Cherokee Studios in Hollywood. Joining Boz Scaggs were the members of Toto who were augmented by backing vocalists, a string section and Larry Fast and Michael Boddicker who joined Toto’s Steve Porcaro in programming the synths that featured on Middle Man. In total, twenty-eight musicians and backing vocalists accompanied Boz Scaggs as he recorded Middle Man, which was the long-awaited band much-anticipated followup to Down Two Then Left.
When Middle Man was completed, the Columbia scheduled the release of Boz Scaggs’ ninth album for April 1980. Just like its predecessor Down Two Then Left, critics on both sides of the Atlantic were won over by Middle Man.
That came as no surprise as Middle which was a slick, sophisticated and accomplished album that featured nine carefully crafted songs. They saw Boz Scaggs draw inspiration from the sound of his biggest selling album Silk Degrees, but also embrace new technology and production values. It was an album that looked to and referenced the triumvirate of albums that Boz Scaggs released between 1974 and 1977, but also hinted at the direction music would take during the eighties. Middle Man was also an album that showed different sides of Boz Scaggs and was full of highlights aplenty.
Middle Man opens with the funky sounding Jojo, where strings sweep and swirl and harmonies coo and play their part in this slick cinematic sounding track. It sets the bar high for the rest of the album. Breakdown Dead Ahead features an urgent and rocky sound on this cinematic slice of white soul where Boz Scaggs tells the story of a former lover who rides to the rescue of the one he once loved. Quite different is Simone, which has a smooth, soulful and jazz-tinged sound as Boz Scaggs paints pictures of the woman he’s fallen for. Sadly, it’s a case of un requited love as she can’t express or her reciprocate her feelings. You Can Have Me Anytime is a beautiful, hopeful piano lead ballad, which features lush strings and later, a guitar solo from Carlos Santana. It’s one of the highlights of the album.
As the tension builds on Middle Man, one of the rockiest songs on the album unfolds. Accompanying Boz Scaggs’ urgent vocal are backing vocalists, before searing guitars drums, and piano play their part in this rocky epic. The tempo drops on Do Like You Do In New York, but there’s still a rocky sound as Boz Scaggs sings about trying to keep up appearances when things are going wrong. It’s followed by the upbeat pop rock of Angel You, which gives way to another beautiful ballad Isn’t It Time? Closing Middle Man is the pulsating You Got Some Imagination where Boz Scaggs swaggers his way through the lyrics delivering a vocal powerhouse. This ensures Middle Man ends on high.
When Middle Man was released in April 1980, the album reached eight on the US Billboard 200 and thirty-six on the US R&B charts. This resulted in Boz Scaggs second platinum album. Two singles were released from Middle Man, with Breakdown Dead Ahead reaching fifteen in the US Billboard 100, with Jojo then reaching seventeen in the US Billboard 100. Little did anyone realise that this was the last single Boz Scaggs would release for another eight years.
Later in 1980, Boz Scaggs released Hits! which focused on material he had released between 1976 and 1980. Hits! reached twenty-four and was certified platinum. This meant that Boz Scaggs last five albums had released 8.5 million copies. It was no surprise that Boz Scaggs decided to take some time out.
Nobody, especially executives at Columbia expected Boz Scaggs to spend eight years away from the recording studio. This was almost unheard of, given Boz Scaggs had been enjoying the most successful period of his career. Between 1974 and 1980 Boz Scaggs was one the finest purveyors of white soul, and a titan of rock who looked as if he was going enjoy the same success during the rest of the eighties. Sadly, it wasn’t to be and Boz Scaggs didn’t return with his tenth album Other Roads until 1988.
By then, music had changed and so had the way that music was made. Technology was playing a bigger part in the music-making process, and this was something that Boz Scaggs had to deal with on Other Roads. Having been away so long, many of the musicians and songwriting partners that Boz Scaggs had worked with had moved on, and in many ways, he was forced to start over again.
When Boz Scaggs began work on Other Roads, he had already decided to target the lucrative adult contemporary market. This meant he had to surround himself with songwriters and musicians with experience in this genre.
For Other Roads, Boz Scaggs collaborated with a number of songwriting partners, including Marcus Miller. They penned Funny, and wrote What’s Number One with J.C. Carroll, who penned Right Out of My Head and Crimes Of Passion with D. Tyler Huff. He wrote Right Out of My Head with Boz Scaggs, who teamed up with Larry Williams to write Claudia. No longer was Boz Scaggs writing with just one or two songwriting partners.
The nascent Boz Scaggs and David Williams songwriting partnership wrote Mental Shakedown with Guy Allison Stein, and Cool Running with Patrick Leonard. Boz Scaggs then wrote The Night Of Van Gogh with Peter Wolf Bobby Caldwell, who in turn wrote Heart Of Mine with Dennis Matkosky and Jason Scheff. These were the ten songs that Boz Scaggs recorded for his long-awaited tenth album Other Roads.
Recording of Other Roads took place at two studios in Los Angeles, Schnee Studio & Ocean Way Recording. Just like his last three albums, Boz Scaggs was joined by several members of Toto who had now sold twenty-million albums and won six Grammy Awards. The members of Toto were augmented by a vast cast of musicians and backing vocalists, including guitarist David Williams, keyboardist Marcus Williams, bassist Freddie Washington, percussionist Paulinho da Costa and vocalist James Ingram. Columbia were willing to back to Boz Scaggs on his comeback album Other Roads. It was the first that Boz Scaggs co-produced.
Having been away from the recording studio for so long, wisely, Boz Scaggs surrounded himself with experienced co-producers. He was joined by Bill Schnee, Stewart Levine and David Williams, who helped Boz Scaggs walk what was very fine line between old school and new school recording and production techniques.
On Other Roads, technology was used sparingly, allowing the traditional instruments to take centre-stage in the arrangements. Things had changed since Boz Scaggs released Old Roads, and now technology dominated many albums. However, Boz Scaggs wanted to strike a happy medium where traditional drums, bass and guitars were combined with synths, sequencers, samplers and drum machines. This was a road many producers had been down before, and many had taken a wrong turning. The team of producers that worked with Boz Scaggs on Other Roads were determined not to make the same mistake.
Proof of that was the punchy, mid-tempo album opener What’s Number One? Music’s past and present are combined to create a late-eighties adult contemporary ballad that marks the welcome return on Boz Scaggs. While there was a brashness to What’s Number One?’s arrangement, Claudia has a much smoother, slicker AOR sound. It’s a similar case on the ballad Heart Of Mine, which features one of Boz Scaggs’ best and most heartfelt vocals. Right Out Of My Head features a chugging arrangement and a big, bold, late-eighties arrangement. However, unlike many tracks released during this period, it’s stood the test of time. So has I Don’t Hear You, where Boz Scaggs deploys eighties technology and uses production values on this defiant, mid-tempo track.
The tempo rises on Mental Shakedown where a bass synth and a drum machine combine, and are joined by drummer John Robinson. They provide the backdrop for Boz Scaggs’ urgent vocals. Crimes Of Passion is marriage between rock and technology that sounds as if it belongs on the soundtrack to an eighties film or television show. It’s very different to the white soul Boz Scaggs was releasing a decade earlier. Technology is to the fore on Funny, which fuses elements of funk, jazz and eighties rock. Bright and breezy, but melodic and memorable describes Cool Running, which Boz Scaggs must have hoped would find its way onto radio station playlists. So should the album closer The Night Of Van Gogh, a dreamy, sensual and romantic mid-tempo ballad that floats along, and is without doubt Boz Scaggs finest moment on Other Roads.
When Boz Scaggs’ comeback album Other Roads was released on August the ‘30th’ 1988, the album stalled at just forty-seven in the US Billboard 200. This time there was no gold or platinum disc for Boz Scaggs. However, Other Roads found favour within the adult contemporary and AOR community which was the audience that Boz Scaggs had hoped to attract. They were won over by the lead single Heart Of Mine,which reached thirty-five on the US Billboard 100. This completed Boz Scaggs comeback after eight years away.
It wasn’t until Boz Scaggs released Memphis in 2013, that the Ohio born singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer surpassed the success of Other Roads. Memphis reached seventeen in the US Billboard 200 in 2013. By then, artists no longer needed to sell 500,000 or one million albums to enjoy such a high chart placing. It was changed days indeed for Boz Scaggs, who had released his debut album Boz in 1965.
In 2015, Boz Scaggs released his nineteen studio album A Fool to Care, some fifty year after releasing his debut. The veteran singer-songwriter had enjoyed an unrivalled longevity, and continued to reinvent his music to attract a new audience. This was something that Boz Scaggs had done throughout his career.
That was the case on his ninth album Middle Man which was remastered and rereleased alongside his tenth album Other Roads as a two CD set by BGO Records. Middle Man was the start of a new era for Boz Scaggs, and saw him incorporate technology into his trademark slick, sophisticated and carefully crafted white soul sound. Middle Man marked the end of an era, and was the last album of white soul that Boz Scaggs released.
That was a great shame as Boz Scaggs was regarded as one of the finest purveyors of white soul. Some critics went further, and regarded Boz Scaggs as the finest exponent of white soul, and cite the music he released between Slow Dancer in 1974 and Middle Man is proof. It was certainly the most successful period of his career, and saw his sell in excess of 7.5 million albums in America alone.
In his post white soul years, Boz Scaggs never reached the same heights. He came closest with Other Roads, when Boz Scaggs incorporated elements of white soul past with eighties technology. Stylistically Other Roads was the start of a new era for Boz Scaggs, but it was also the end of an era.
Other Roads was the last album Boz Scaggs released for Columbia, and he released his next album Some Change on Virgin in 1994. Boz Scaggs released seven studio albums during the seventeen years he was signed to Columbia. The Columbia years began with Moments in 1971, and ended with Other Roads in 1988. During that period, Boz Scaggs recorded and released the best, and most successful music of his six decade career. This included his last million selling album Middle Man, which brought to an end a seven-year period when Boz Scaggs could do wrong.
Boz Scaggs-Middle Man and Other Roads.
- Posted in: Pop ♦ Rock
- Tagged: A Fool To Care, Bill Schnee, Boz, Boz Scaggs, Down Two Then Left, Hits!, Memphis, Middle Man, Other Roads, Silk Degrees, Slow Dancer, Toto