There was a time when the Bay Area rock radio station KFOG was easy listening, playing what they called “beautiful music.” That all changed in 1982 when they turned off the Muzak and appropriately kicked things off with The Stray Cats Rock This Town. So began a very rich history in not only rock radio, but in the region’s rock scene.
One area where the station set themselves apart was in hosting live concerts. These would typically be built against big name acts. The shows were recorded for a collection they would later call “Live From The Archives,” the station’s own vault. From this they decided to press and sell around 35,000 copies per archive volume, donating the proceeds of the record sales to Bay Area food banks. This led to the creation of a variety of on air programming that featured live performances, and later to the decision in 2002 to be the first station in the nation to put these recordings up for sale on iTunes.
Over the years the music that has become available in this format is extraordinary. There you’ll find a fantastic set by Toots and The Maytals that’s simply can’t miss. Another from Stereophonic proves that the collection only improves as you thumb through it more deeply.
This week I purchased an unopened, crisp and new vinyl copy of one of their releases at a record store in Cincinnati called Everybody’s Records. In some ways it’s a musical landmark of its own, but most important is the non-pretentious nature of the staff and the variety of music that’s available for sale. When I got home slicing open the wrapping and putting this record on for a spin was literally the first thing I did after walking through the front door. From there the listening experience was one that delivered a sense of time travel and inclusion – I felt like I was sitting right there as the record was being cut.
The session in question was from 1994 and recorded at the legendary Plant studios in Sausalito, CA. The artist? Boz Scaggs, out in market to support his then recent release Some Change. With Boz (who handled guitar duties) was Scott Plunkett on keys. The recording offers six tracks, which was likely the entire set that morning in late June. The session opens with a brief Q&A, hosted by Rosalie Howarth, who long hosted a variety of shows on the station, most notably Acoustic Sunrise. After a quick chat about the rich history of The Plant, Boz jumps into a Some Change track called "Sierra." It’s the kind of ballad that kind of envelops his vocals like a frame draws focus to a picture. The song wonderfully translates to this forum and it casts a hypnotic and trancelike mood to a room that has just about finished breakfast. ‘No better way to open the show!'
Boz follows it up with the title track to the new album. What this song (and later his classic "Loan Me ADime") proves is that an acoustic forum allows for his guitar chops to really shine. It’s easy to forget when he is surrounded in studio by guys from Toto or Steely Dan, how good a musician Boz actually is. Let’s remember, this is someone who was Steve Miller’s lead guitarist. While his music might have moved in a different direction after leaving the SMB, and those responsibilities might have similarly moved into the hands of others, it’s right here where we learn that Scaggs’ talents never diminished, they only grew.
Side one introduces the room to some new material. It’s with side two where Boz gives everyone what they came for, a brief look back. It opens with a remarkable version of "Lowdown." While sparse, this cut is no less funky. In fact, the acoustic version (anchored by the great key work of Plunkett) enjoys more separation and in turn a more pronounced back beat.
The album closes with We’re All Alone, a clever choice given the setting and then the subsequent broadcast (and recording). It wraps up a brief but powerful musical moment that reminded everyone then (and should now) that while Boz’s most commercial days were ten years behind him, he was not only creating great new music - Scaggs was reimaging his best known songs and delivering them in a manner that would make people reconnect to the past in a way that was fresh, dynamic, and new.
Credit KFOG for all of this. They built an enterprise that outlasted the competition. As rock stations continued to fold KFOG held on. In the end, they couldn’t entirely ignore the seismic changes that have occurred in the world of radio. Two years ago the station went “jockless” and with that lost all of the great names associated with their programming. Listeners, long called “Fogheads” may have since grown tolerant of the changes to what they hear when they tune in, but nothing replaces the magic that live, human moments like the one caught on tape here can deliver. Thankfully, someone had the good sense to record them AND make them available for sale. Probably was a live, in studio jock…