Boz Scaggs & Charles Bradley: Soulful Men

Boz Scaggs and Charles Bradley: Soulful Men

Boz Scaggs

Born William Royce Scaggs in Ohio on June 8, 1944, Boz Scaggs was raised in Oklahoma and Texas. He was soon swept away by music—“It seemed there weren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with that first wave of rock and roll,” he said—and by age 13, he’d taken up the guitar. Not long after, at a prep school in Dallas, he met Steve Miller, and their musical journey together began when Scaggs joined Miller’s group, the Marksmen, in 1959. Over the next few years, journeying across the Atlantic and back, Scaggs played in a variety of bands (some with Miller) before landing in San Francisco and reuniting with Miller in 1967.

After appearing on the fledgling Steve Miller Band’s first two albums, Scaggs went solo again with 1969’s Boz Scaggs, which featured especially noteworthy assistance from Duane Allman. A string of critically successful albums followed before Scaggs’ commercial breakthrough with 1976’s Silk Degrees. Though his next few albums stayed near the top of the charts, Scaggs ceased recording between 1980 and 1988, focusing largely on his San Francisco nightclub. “I just didn’t have any music in me,” he later said.

By the ’90s, Scaggs found himself reinvigorated and embarked on a high-profi le tour with Donald Fagen’s New York Rock and Soul Revue and also released a string of albums of originals, covers and standards. Recently, in another high-profi le collaboration, Scaggs toured with Fagen and Michael McDonald as the Dukes of September, and has just released a new solo album, Memphis. Recorded at Willie Mitchell’s famed Royal Studios in Memphis, TN and produced by Steve Jordan (drummer with the John Mayer Trio, Blues Brothers, Booker T. & the MG’s), Scaggs’ new album is deeply steeped in the soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll of the American South, the music that first swept Scaggs away years ago.

Charles Bradley

Born November 5, 1948 in Gainesville, FL, Charles Bradley knew from the time he was 14—after seeing James Brown perform at the Apollo Theater—that he wanted to be a soul singer. Unfortunately, Bradley’s dreams were put on the back burner as his life steered down the paths of desolation and homelessness. After signing up with Job Corps as a teenager, Bradley’s work took him back and forth across the country, from Maine to California to Alaska and back to New York (where he had lived as a boy) in 1996.

Back in Job Corps, Bradley was constantly told how much he looked like James Brown, and then finally, was asked if he could sing, and he did. The only problem was that instead of becoming Charles Bradley, Screaming Eagle of Soul, he, upon his return to New York years later, fell into a job impersonating James Brown in Brooklyn nightclubs. Luckily, one night, Daptone’s Gabriel Roth happened to be in the audience, and the real Charles Bradley finally stepped into the spotlight.

His 2011 debut, No Time for Dreaming, became one of Rolling Stone’s “Best Albums of the Year.” As a result of the album’s success, Bradley performed at major music festivals including SXSW, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Newport Folk Fest and Outside Lands, while also serving as the subject of the 2012 documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America. His 2013 follow-up, Victim of Love, came out this April to widespread critical acclaim. At 64, with plenty to be thankful for, he says, “When you’re coming out of the darkness and into the flowers, you feel a lot of goodness around sometimes you didn’t know was there.”


What are you listening to right now?

Boz Scaggs: I just downloaded Eric Clapton’s album last night to see what he was up to. Mostly I listen to piano jazz.

Charles Bradley: I still like the oldies but goodies. That’s why I still play Barry White, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin. I listen to a little bit of today’s music, but a lot of today’s music just doesn’t fit my soul.

What was the first record you ever bought?

BS: A Fats Domino 78. It could have been “Blueberry Hill.”

CB: James Brown, Live at the Apollo. I was about 14 years old.

Where do you buy your music?

BS: I download it off iTunes. I have a pretty good record collection of my own, but I haven’t been to a record store in a while.

CB: I have to do it the old-fashioned way: go to the stores and buy it at the record shops. I buy the vinyl and the CDs. At a lot of record stores, I just go in and start looking, and I end up coming out with four or five records. My brother had over 1,500 albums, and when he passed away, I got them all.

What was the first instrument you played?

BS: The first one I actually took lessons on was the cello. My father was in the military for a while and we moved around a lot and happened to land in Dallas, Texas, when I was in the third or fourth grade. They had a youth symphony, and they offered lessons with classical instruments. I’m not exactly sure whether I chose the cello or whether it was suggested that I play it.

CB: The first thing I played was the keyboard. My late brother was taking piano lessons, and I was too young to leave at home, so he had to take me with him. I was observing off from the side. And I’m the one that learned the fundamentals of it; he never learned it.

What brought you to the instrument you now play?

BS: Mostly I play guitar, number one, because I love the instrument. I was a child of the ’50s and radio music. The guitar was a featured instrument from the beginning, with rockabilly and Chuck Berry. I grew up in north Texas, where there was a lot of blues, so I heard a lot of the music coming out of the South, out of New Orleans, out of the Delta, out of Texas: Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Reed and that kind of stuff. But I also loved anything guitar, including classical guitar, or Chet Atkins out of Nashville, or a whole line of jazz guitar players—George Van Eps and Barney Kessel—and the folk phase with the Kingston Trio, the Limeliters, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. There was a lot of guitar around. In Texas, you could buy a guitar for ten dollars, usually made in some border town in Mexico, and that was, in fact, my first instrument.

Boz Scaggs and Charles Bradley: Soulful MenCB: I love playing the keyboard. I just want to know where I’m at on the keyboard—that’s what I’ve got to learn. But I can play keyboard, and I can make it sound good.

“I saw Ray Charles live when I was about maybe 14 years old at a concert in Dallas. That concert changed my life. I saw one of the most powerful musicians of our time at a time when he was at his most powerful, in a place that was pure energy, and it was electric. Something changed in me when I saw him.”
— B O Z S C A G G S

Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?

BS: I collaborate with a couple of people on music and then I go off and write words by myself. It’s a very private pursuit for me. I find that I’m more nervous about being around somebody who I don’t know very well than I am thinking about spilling out my guts in a song. I’m collaborating now with Mike McDonald and Donald Fagen. We have a band called the Dukes of September, and we go out and tour, performing music from our own repertoires. As a part of that, we’re considering writing some original material together.

CB: I would like to write a song by myself. When I started really getting into writing, [Menahan Street Band founder] Tom [Brenneck] played the fundamentals of some music, and I liked what he played, so I said, “Tom, keep that up, right there, keep that right there.” And I may grab a microphone and start singing and the words come out of me. What Tom does is he tapes it; then we’ll go back to it and listen to it. Then the next minute, we’ve got a song. If you put something in front of me right now, instrumental or something that I like, the lyrics will come right to me. Just around the top of my head—it just comes out. If I hear music that my soul loves, music will come right out of me.

What musician influenced you most?

BS: The musician who had the most impact on me early on was Ray Charles. I loved Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent and Fats Domino and Little Richard. Jimmy Reed remains one of my greatest heroes. Bobby “Blue” Bland is one of my top three favorite singers, and Elvis had one of the smoothest, most beautiful voices of our time. There’s a song on my latest release called “Cadillac Walk,” which is a Willy DeVille song. I lean toward the Nat King Cole or the Bobby Bland style because that’s what my voice will do. I wish I could sing like Ray Charles, but I don’t have that element in my voice. It’s so soulful and I love it.

CB: Well, I love Barry White’s orchestra, but James Brown is my favorite. Our life stories are about the same. I didn’t do a lot of crazy stuff, but his family, stuff he’d been through, being homeless…it’s like our lives are the same.

What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?

BS: I saw Ray Charles live when I was about maybe 14 years old at a concert in Dallas. That concert changed my life. I saw one of the most powerful musicians of our time at a time when he was at his most powerful, in a place that was pure energy, and it was electric. Something changed in me when I saw him. I didn’t know that I was going to be a musician, but I had never been so deeply…it was almost a religious experience.

I’m not by nature a screaming extrovert, but something turns you around when you play in front of people. There’s an exchange going on that’s practically indefinable that extends the experience. You’re sort of sharing the energy, and you’re the source of the energy. That’s a real turn-on, and I think every musician or every artist remembers the first days of it, and also the first time that you ever play and somebody pays you for it. It’s kind of like, “What!? You mean I can do this and get paid for it?” I remember vividly the first night at a hotel near the airport in Dallas, Texas, on New Year’s Eve when I got paid $15 or $25 to play bass for a band that I was sitting in with. It’s a powerful combination.

CB: At the age of 14. When I went to see James Brown at the Apollo, I said, “This is what I want to do.” When I went to Job Corps and they met me and they said, “This guy looks just like James Brown.” At that time, I had my hair long and permed and all that stuff, but I wasn’t wearing my hair like that because of James Brown; I wore it like that because I was hanging around with a lot of Spanish guys, who at that time were wearing their hair like that. So at the Job Corps, they said, “Can you sing?” and I said, “Yeah, I could do James Brown.” So one day, they invited me over to the gym, and they had a band in the gym that was rehearsing and I thought for a second—and ever since then, I’ve never put a mic down.

Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?

BS: Probably the same people that I use today, the same people who are on this record: Steve Jordan on drums, Willie Weeks on bass, Jim Cox, who plays keyboards.

CB:  The J.B.’s—I’d like to get something out of them. I’d like to get something out of the musicians of Barry White’s orchestra. I like to mix ’em up. I would have a lot of guitarists come to me, give them interviews, watch them play, and then I would pick them.

Would you have Ray Charles in your band?

BS: If you’re in the room with Ray Charles, you let Ray Charles do what Ray Charles wants to do. If I was in the room with him, I’d be terribly intimidated.

CB: I wish I had the keys that Ray Charles had. Ray Charles is very good, but I’d like to be my own keyboard player, or my friend, Jimmy Hill. I’ve been doing James Brown with him a long time, and he is blind, but he is a good keyboard player.

What’s your desert island album?

BS: Probably the same one that most other people would listen to: Kind of Blue. I think that’s everybody’s top five record.

CB: I’ll tell you what I’ve loved since I was little kid and I still love it today: James Brown At the Apollo. When I was a kid, I would play it over and over again.

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