by Kevin Burton
My friend Todd once called “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits a “perfect” song.
I don’t know what calculations you use to measure a perfect song, but leaving that all undefined, I will play along and nominate “Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs as perfect.
The song is way up at the top of my favorites (probably top 20) and today is Boz Scaggs’ birthday. There you have it, two great reasons to talk about Lido Shuffle.
The song is off-the-charts cool, from the driving shuffle beat, to the shady character and story it introduces, to that instrumental bridge that builds upon itself and explodes back up into the chorus.
One of Billy Joel’s songwriting tips is to include elongated vowel sounds. Lido Shuffle has plenty of that with the woah-ohs.
And Scaggs has the perfect voice for the tune. It’s maybe not a first call voice. It’s maybe first cousin to the voice of Kermit the Frog. But it’s undeniably cool.
Scaggs is so cool, that in later years he twice toured with Donald Fagen, according to Wikipedia. Rock and roll doesn’t get any cooler than Donald Fagen.
Scaggs was born in Canton, Ohio. He is 78 today. His name is William Royce Scaggs. A Classmate nicknamed him Boswell, that was shortened to Boz.
Scaggs met singer/songwriter Steve Miller while both attended the private St. Mark’s School in Dallas. He was a bandmate of Miller’s twice, appearing on the Steve Miller Band’s first two albums.
Silk Degrees, the album that produced “Lido Shuffle” and “Lowdown,” rose to number two on the album chart and was nominated for Album of the Year in 1976. Lowdown won the Grammy for best R&B Song, but Lido Shuffle has always been my clear favorite.
Now I learn the song owes a debt to the great Fats Domino.
“’Lido’ was a song that I’d been banging around. And I kind of stole… well, I didn’t steal anything. I just took the idea of the shuffle,” Scaggs recalls, quoted in Songfacts.
“There was a song that Fats Domino did called ‘The Fat Man’ that had a kind of driving shuffle beat that I used to play on the piano, and I just started kind of singing along with it. Then I showed it to (Co-writer David) Paich and he helped me fill it out. It ended up being ‘Lido Shuffle.’”
Paich played keyboard of the track, Scaggs played guitar, David Hungate played bass and Jeff Porcaro played Drums. Paich, Hungate and Porcaro would later form the band Toto.
Lido Shuffle, the fourth single released from Silk Degrees, hit its peak of number 11 in May of 1977.
This song introduced me to the concept of a “handle” but I may have had the idea wrong all these years.
“At a tombstone bar in a juke joint car he made a stop, just long enough to grab a handle off the top” is the lyric.
Songmeanings.com says “This is a reference to the old style cash registers which used large manual handles for opening/closing the til. He grabbed the handle, opened the til, and stole the cash, while probably pointing a gun at the bartender.”
Back in the day, I was told that a “handle” was the portion of money you skim off the top as your fee for transporting illicit cash from one place to another.
An example from my law-abiding household would be, my wife tells me to take the container of cookies and put it in the fridge in the garage. The three cookies I take off the top would be my “handle” for doing the job.
But really it’s better that there is some ambiguity to it. It would not be good if I totally understood Lido’s world. It’s a place I want to visit by playing the song two or three times in a row, but not a place I want to live in.
Though Silk Degrees was the zenith for Scagg’s career, he did hit the top 20 four times in 1980 with “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” “Jojo,” the superb “Look What You’ve Done To Me” and “Miss Sun.”
If you look around the internet for Boz Scaggs concerts and check out some of his songs you’re maybe not familiar with, you will not be sorry.