Back in the 1970s, there weren’t many musicians any cooler than Boz Scaggs.
His ultra-slick disco-rock album “Silk Degrees” dominated radio playlists and dance floors all over America for years, and hits like “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” were big favorites on college campuses. Boz was huge back then.
That was nearly four decades ago. Nowadays, 68-year-old Boz is so soft-spoken and laid-back, you’d never, ever mistake him for a rock star.
But he still is cool. Very cool.
Scaggs is a blues, jazz and soul veteran these days, a very good one. The 95-minute show he put on at UB’s Center for the Arts Tuesday night gave clear evidence of that.
Scaggs is a guy who rarely plays Buffalo, and I’ll bet that a lot of the folks in attendance, like me, were seeing him for the first time. He showed that his gentle, lilting voice has mellowed in a very nice way over the years. His guitar work was tasteful, understated and very solid.
Riding the tide of his excellent new album, simply called “Memphis,” Scaggs and his six-piece band put on a show that featured great blues jams, gorgeous ballads and sweet soul songs. And just to prove that he hasn’t forgotten the songs that made him famous, he threw in a healthy dose of anthemic numbers that first appeared on “Silk Degrees” in 1975.
It was a thoroughly entertaining show, from start to finish, but there were two absolute killer songs that surely won’t be forgotten by the fans who filled most of the music hall.
The first was his simple but stunning version of “Rainy Night in Georgia,” the moody ballad that was written by Tony Joe White and turned into a huge hit by the late Brook Benton back in 1970. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Scaggs made the song his own. It was one of those sublime moments where you sit there at a concert and thank the good Lord that you’re lucky enough to be there.
The other truly amazing moment came at the very end, as Scaggs and his band poured everything they had into an extended version of “Loan Me A Dime,” the classic blues song that Scaggs recorded with the late Duane Allman in 1969. Scaggs’ vocal was heartfelt, and the solos by Scaggs, fellow guitarist Drew Zingg and organist Mike Logan were brilliant.
There were other highlights, including five delightful Silk Degrees songs – “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” “Georgia,” “What Can I Say” and “Harbor Lights.” The latter song started as a sweet ballad and finished with an excursion into Latin jazz that gave every band member a chance to shine.
Blues numbers from the new “Memphis” album, especially the stark, funky “Dry Spell,” were very well received.
Scaggs is no Bruce Springsteen when it comes to showmanship. He doesn’t dance around the stage and try to jump-start his audience. But he has a very nice way about him, taking time to explain how and why certain songs were recorded.
He mentioned that this show was special to him, because his wife, Dominique, is related to Buffalo’s famous and well-heeled Gioia family. And indeed, many of the Gioias were in the audience.
Born in Canton, Ohio, Scaggs was raised in small towns in Oklahoma and Texas. He was a youngster living near Dallas when he started jamming on guitar with his buddy, Steve Miller, who was on his way to rock stardom. Scaggs spent years playing in Miller’s band before going solo in the late ’60s.
He recorded several fine albums, which got good reviews but mediocre record sales, before hitting the jackpot with “Silk Degrees.” After that, his career has had its ups and downs. In recent years, he has transformed himself into a first-rate bluesman. He also recorded some jazz standards and went on a superb concert tour with two of his music buddies, soul singer Michael McDonald and Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen. (We’d love to see some enterprising promoter bring that one to Buffalo.)
It would be a mistake not to mention the rest of Scaggs’ fine band. Rich Patterson is an energetic bass player and band leader. Versatile horn and keyboard player Eric Crystal and drummer Lamar Carter are first-rate. Backup singer Monet “Ms. Monet” Owens was an absolute dynamo, especially when she took lead vocal on the rollicking old Sam & Dave hit, “I Thank You.”
A good time was had by all. Only one complaint about this show – it was over too soon.