Boz Scaggs is a singer and guitar player who achieved great commercial success in the second half of the 1970s. He grew up playing in bands with another famous musician, Steve Miller, who was profiled a couple weeks ago. By the late 1960s, they became part of the San Francisco music scene, and Boz contributed to two Steve Miller Band albums during that time.
Mr. Scaggs has a smooth, soulful voice, and his breakthrough album, Silk Degrees, was “standard issue”, as Mike Myers once cracked, in college my freshman year in the dormitory. Very pleasant, with several hit songs, good enough to leave spinning on the turntable for an entire side without losing interest or patience.
Here’s a vintage but slightly truncated performance of “Lowdown” from 1976:
After the breakthrough, he had four more top 20 hits. The only one I like enough to include is “Look What You’ve Done For Me”, a love ballad featured in the movie Urban Cowboy, starring Debra Winger and John Travolta. Good movie for its time.
Somebody Loan Me A Dime
Most of the remainder of this profile will be spent discussing “Loan Me A Dime” from his 1969 album Boz Scaggs. Over the years, I’ve taken mental notes about the song. I can’t easily verify these facts, so don’t hold me to them for accuracy.
Boz Scaggs signed with Atlantic Records in 1969, who promptly sent Boz down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, once referred to by Atlantic producer as the “baddest white boys” around. Previously, Atlantic had sent great soul singers like Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin down to Alabama for inspiration. In September 1968, the studio added a new session guitarist, Duane “Skydog” Allman, who was quickly gaining acclaim for performances such as his closing solo on Pickett’s rendition of “Hey Jude”.
Allman always performed standing up, and his intensity sometimes put the “fear of God” in those around him. Also, the loud, sharp tone of his guitar playing would often interfere with the sound of other musicians, and they would put Allman in a small separate room in order to avoid that cross interference. I believe this was the case for the “Loan Me A Dime” session.
In addition to the standard rhythm section, the Memphis Horns had been hired for the Boz Scaggs sessions. They were under contract for a limited amount of time, but the studio had a little bit of extra time to use the horns before they returned to Memphis. Boz Scaggs suggested they record “Loan Me A Dime”.
(“Loan Me A Dime” eventually became the subject of a lawsuit. The song was attributed to Scaggs on the original pressing. The author, Fenton Robinson, successfully sued to earn the royalties of authorship.)
The song is played slow, everything laid out very gradually. After a long introduction, Boz sings the song in a plaintive, straightforward fashion. The singing ends about six and half minutes into the piece; a long outro ensues. The finishing sequence is based on a simple horn riff, with a gradual change to a double tempo boogie for the last three minutes. I believe the song was accomplished in one take; no mistakes are made.
It’s a large band of eight or nine players, but the stars of the show are Allman and the drummer Roger Hawkins, who perform a sympathetic duet throughout the song. Allman’s solos and fills in the slow part of the song are slow and languid, with generous use of bends to accent the long notes. His tone is impossibly sharp and fierce. Hawkins is restrained, simple and powerful. As the song tempo picks up during the eighth and ninth minute, Allman and Hawkins begin to pick up the power and intensity in fits and starts, with Allman alternating choruses in the foreground and background, as they prepare for the grand finale. The transition to the double time beat is subtle and stunning in every way. Hawkins announces the full boogie with loud, powerful flourishes.
With the rhythm section and Memphis Horns in full flight, it’s time for the great young guitarist to shine. Allman uses the first chorus to establish the riff, then falls a bit into the background for the second chorus, while hinting at his intentions for the final chorus. The piano kicks the song into final gear, the the band eases off just a touch, and Allman takes the final solo above the music. The final 50 seconds of “Loan Me A Dime” are not the most melodic in history, but they are the most intense expression of musical excitement I have heard. It’s clear that Allman is lost in the moment; the band’s excitment is tangible. In a final effort to punctuate the thirteen minute epic, Allman plays 25, 30 notes in a single second, wresting everything he can from the moment. The band sails off into the sunset as the music fades after happy resolution.
After “Loan Me A Dime”, the practice of adding an extended vamp to the end of a song yielded a couple of hits by southern rock bands, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and “Green Grass And High Tides” by the Outlaws. Each pales in comparison to the original. Another notable vamp comes at the end of Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude”, another Muscle Shoals creation suggested by Allman. You could make the argument that Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” was influential in this regard.
There’s a reason why The Allman Brothers Band were perhaps America’s greatest rock band. Same reason why Layla is Eric Clapton’s greatest album. Duane Allman is not the most talented rock guitarist, but he is the greatest who ever lived, because his fire demanded greatness from those around him. He started playing guitar when he was 13 or 14, so he had only been playing about eight years when this recording was made. And he was dead before his 25th birthday, leaving a rich but incomplete picture behind. More on the great Duane Allman when we discuss the Allman Brothers.
I have another song in my collection that is very similar to the final sequence to “Loan Me A Dime”. “Runnin Wild” by Sidney Bechet features a powerful duet between Bechet on soprano saxaphone and Will Bill Davison on cornet. Similarly, Bechet is the leader, plays raw, powerful solos while Davison punctuates with loud bleats from his cornet. The song is very high tempo, with an intention to create kinetic power and intensity. The final chorus is played at the edge of coherence. Few modern listeners appreciate hot dixieland like this. But it was one of the father’s favorites, and it is one of mine. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
Boz Scaggs Song Notes:
“Waiting On A Train” and especially “I’ll Be Long Gone” are also worthwhile songs from Boz Scaggs sessions in Alabama. Most other worthy songs can be found on the fine compilation called My Time: A Boz Scaggs Compilation (1969-1997). “Harbor Lights” was a favorite of Andrea, my first longtime girlfriend. “We Were Always Sweethearts” is a favorite. Although San Francisco music from the 1960s and 1970s is most remembered for the psychdelic sound, there were many bands with full horn sections (Cold Blood and Tower of Power, for example) that originated back home. Make sure to include “As The Years Go Passing By” from this compilation, a fine live performance with Booker T. & The MGs. “Lowdown (Alt) can be found on the album Fade Into Light.
Boz Scaggs Songs:
Loan Me A Dime, Boz Scaggs ✭✭✭✭✭
As The Years Go Passing By (Live), Boz Scaggs ✭✭✭✭
I’ll Be Long Gone, Boz Scaggs ✭✭✭
We Were Always Sweethearts, Boz Scaggs ✭✭✭
Lowdown, Boz Scaggs ✭✭✭
Near You, Boz Scaggs ✭✭✭
Look What You’ve Done To Me, Boz Scaggs ✭✭✭
Runnin’ Blue, Boz Scaggs ✭✭
Dinah Flo, Boz Scaggs ✭✭
Lido Shuffle, Boz Scaggs ✭✭
We’re All Alone, Boz Scaggs ✭✭
Harbor Lights, Boz Scaggs ✭✭
Lowdown (Alt), Boz Scaggs ✭✭
Georgia, Boz Scaggs ✭
Waitin’ For A Train, Boz Scaggs ✭
Baby’s Callin’ Me Home, Steve Miller Band ✭✭✭
Steppin’ Stone, Steve Miller Band ✭✭
Loan Me A Dime, Fenton Robinson ✭
Runnin’ Wild, Sidney Bechet ✭✭✭✭✭
Runnin’ Wild (Alt), Sidney Bechet ✭✭✭
As The Years Go Passing By, Fenton Robinson ✭✭✭
As The Years Go Passing By, Albert King ✭✭✭
As The Years Go Passing By (Live), Santana ✭✭✭
Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
Green Grass And High Tides, The Outlaws ✭✭