The Musician and the Brand


This is a tale of two artists: a rock legend and a musician who has probably been off your radar screen for years. The legend wants your money. The musician wants your ear.

First, consider the musician: Boz Scaggs. Remember Boz Scaggs? You know — the guy who gave us radio-friendly hits like “Lowdown” in the 1970s? He’s not the most high-profile musician in history. Although he’s been a critic’s darling for years, he’s never been a massive star. After enjoying commercial success with hits like “Lido Shuffle” in the 1970s, he went into semi-retirement (co-owning a nightclub) before re-emerging in 1988 with a series of critically acclaimed albums. Last month, at age 68, Boz Scaggs released Memphis, a gorgeous set of soul music as good as anything he recorded when at the height of his fame in his early 30s.

Memphis has earned a positive reception, with Rolling Stone giving the album a three-and-a-half-star rating and All Music proclaiming, “This set is a stunner.” You can download Memphis from Amazon for $5, and for about $50-60 you can buy a ticket to see him in concert.

And now, the legend: the Rolling Stones, whose history is so well known that I’ll stick to the recent past. At about the time Boz Scaggs was at the height of his fame in 1976, the Stones were muddling through a creative trough before re-establishing themselves with Some Girls in 1978. The Stones continued to release new music after Some Girls, but since 2000, the band’s creative output has practically come to a halt with the exception of the album A Bigger Bang in 2005. The band’s latest album, Grrr!, consists of yet another greatest hits collection (the band’s 11th) with nothing new to offer but two songs that I’ll bet you will forget.


A download of Grrr! will set you back $22 (yes, the album contains more songs, but seriously, don’t you own these already?). You can also opt for a 5-disc super deluxe box set with some merchandise tossed in if you don’t mind paying $140. Oh, and seeing the Stones will typically cost anywhere from $150 to $600 a ticket (unless you very lucky and snag the limited-run $85 tickets), which means if you take a date, pay for parking, and indulge in some merchandise, you’re making a serious financial decision.

Two artists of the same generation: one producing vibrant new music receiving positive notice and the other resting on its laurels. But you’ll pay a heavy premium for the Stones. Why? Simple:

  • Boz Scaggs is a musician. The Rolling Stones are a brand.
  • Boz Scaggs tours to support new music. The Rolling Stones take care of business — period.
  • Boz Scaggs explores new sounds instead of coasting on his hits from yesteryear. The Rolling Stones sell living history.

Has Boz Scaggs ever recorded anything as breathtaking as the best music the Stones created during their glory years? No. There’s just no comparing their legacies. But Boz Scaggs is creating great new music that stands up to any soul and R&B on the market today. The Stones are not.

You can really sense the difference between the two artists in the way they talk about their music now. Check out Scaggs’s interview with Mike Ragogna of The Huffington Post, which is an informative examination of his music — his influences, how he chooses material, and how he records. Now read Mick Jagger’s conversation with Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune, which is all about the business of touring, including the cost of tickets. On the topic of recording new music, the best Jagger can offer is, “I have a lot of songs and I’d love to do some more recording with the band. But we’re going to get through the tour first and then see what happens.”

If you want to see living legends, enjoy the Rolling Stones if you have the budget. The band puts on an excellent show. My wife and I would have wanted to give our 11-year-old daughter a chance to see them had we been able to afford the tickets (which we can’t). But if you have $5 to spare, please reward the musician.