Category: 50 Songs to Hear
SONG: Painted Bells
ARTIST: Boz Scaggs
SONGWRITER: W.R. Scaggs
YEAR/LABEL: 1971, Columbia
Boz Scaggs is like sex and rock and roll: when he's good, he's great; when he's bad, he's not all that bad.
(Opening line of Rolling Stone magazine review of Down Two Then Left, 1977)
While still a teenager William "Boz" Scaggs played guitar and sang in a band at his high school, St. Mark's, in Dallas. Named the Marksmen, the combo featured another guitarist by the name of Steve Miller. After graduation, Scaggs went to Scandinavia and Miller went to the University of Wisconsin.
The two reunited in San Francisco in 1967. Scaggs played and sang on the first two Steve Miller Band albums, Children of the Future and Sailor, before parting company again. Scaggs recorded an album for Atlantic in 1969 (which featured what many consider to be Duane Allman's best guitar work, "Loan Me a Dime") before snagging a deal with Columbia Records. His debut on Columbia, Moments, featured a true classic: "Painted Bells."
Scaggs' recording career is filled with songs that showcase his lovely, soulful voice. "Painted Bells" is the first and one of the best. The song's story puts Scaggs in a cafe during an evening shower. His lyrics are as beautifully descriptive as the vocals he delivers them with. "I fall with the evening rain," Scaggs sings in the opening verse. He is just getting warmed up. He describes a rainy night perfectly, referencing "steam rising off the road" and people stepping carefully "to see that they don't get wet" while his cafe seat is under a tree. He sits there, content to "let the drops fall all over me and watch the city lights flick on."
Amid this rainy scene where "the crowds collide just out of my reach," the narrator's thoughts are on an old love, in his memory so fresh that he believes she is sharing the "wet cafe" table with him.
The "string of tiny painted bells" that give the song its title jolt Scaggs back to reality as he realizes the dream is like the passing shower: "the rain will go, and you will too."
Scaggs shot from cult status to Grammy-winning stardom with the 1976 album Silk Degrees, featuring his two best-known hits, "Lowdown" and "Lido Suffle." His greatest song, however, lies buried on an album that has yet to be released on CD in the United States.
OTHER BOZ SCAGGS MUSIC TO INVESTIGATE:
The entire Moments album -- no "sophomore jinx" here. This album blew the debut out of the water and set the tone for what was to come.
The entire Silk Degrees album -- yes, it is the successful Boz Scaggs album, and there is a very good reason for it.
The entire Middle Man album -- Boz wanders through pimps ("Jojo"), hookers ("Simone") and everything in between on an exceptional album that showcases his range from ballads ("You Can Have Me Anytime") to full-tilt rockers ("You've Got Some Imagination").
"Pain of Love" (from Slow Dancer) -- Creem magazine once said they wanted to present Scaggs with a Hostess snowball for Christmas that was "white on the outside and black inside, for obvious reasons." This exceptional blue-eyed soul tune is probably what gave them the idea for that joke.
"Runnin' Blue" (from Boz Scaggs & Band) -- Boz delivered this exceptional blues tune on an album with a large band that hid the fact that Scaggs is actually a rather good guitar player.
"Full-Lock Power Slide" (from My Time) -- strap in and hold on as Scaggs burns down the house with a straight-ahead rock and roll song that proves he is far from just a blue-eyed soul singer.
Not That I Care
Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
My Book of Memories
Lost to a Stranger
A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Out to Sea
One More Song
New Delhi Freight Train
Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)