By Ross Raihala
September 02, 2010
About a decade after Steely Dan disbanded the first time, Donald Fagen founded the New York Rock and Soul Revue, a group tour featuring Fagen and friends playing party tunes, from old R&B hits to familiar Steely Dan tracks.
Now, Fagen has reteamed with two Rock and Soul vets, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, to mount a similar road show to celebrate what Fagen calls "tunes that were popular when we were growing up, when we decided to become musicians."
The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue pulls into the Twin Cities on Monday to play the final night of the Minnesota State Fair. During a recent conference call with reporters, the trio described what fans can expect at the show.
ON REVIVING THE REVUE CONCEPT
Fagen: "In a way, it's the most fun kind of show to do because it gives the audience a lot of variety, so it never gets boring. And I think there's a great tradition in it. Like, in New York, everyone always talks about these great shows at the Paramount where they used to see the Motown and soul revues. You'd get to see Otis Redding and Sam Cooke and all these great acts, all on one stage with one band."
McDonald: "Boz and I had been touring, and to find out Donald was even interested in doing this was just something that was exciting, and it was a no-brainer for Boz and I to do. From our standpoint, it's a musical event, and it's something that we know would be fun for us ... and if it's fun for us, we can make it fun for the audience pretty easily."
ON CHOOSING THE DUKES OF SEPTEMBER NAME
Fagen: "We had a little trouble finding a name. We went through a few. I think we started out with the Sea Hunt Rhythm Revue, but that didn't get universal acclaim. So, the Dukes of September. Aside from the fact that we'll be touring in September, I think it's kind of an allusion to our collective ages. The Kurt Weill song, 'September Song,' also uses September as a metaphor in that sense."
ON WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE SET LIST
Fagen: "R&B from the late '50s through folk material, Motown material, going right into things like the Beach Boys. I think it's just based on musical quality. I think it gives us a break from our usual material that we do every summer, and that gives it the kind of spontaneity that should make it a lot of fun."
Scaggs: "Each of us submitted lists of (songs) that we thought might apply to this band. It's really fun to see the list come in from each of the partners. We've kicked around some various formats and various types of songs, and the list has grown from a rather long one to a shorter one."
McDonald: "It's almost self-indulgent for us (because) we probably enjoy (the old songs) even more than playing our own stuff. We have to be careful that we don't get too obscure. We want to pick the songs that not only we enjoy, but that the audience will enjoy. It's kind of like sex. You have to be careful you're not the only one enjoying it, you know?"
ON WHAT THEY'LL PLAY FROM THEIR OWN REPERTOIRES
McDonald: "It's kind of a tricky thing. You want to do something that they don't always hear, but you feel a little sheepish if you don't do 'What a Fool Believes.' You're afraid people might feel like they got shortchanged or something if you don't do some of the big hits."
Fagen: "It's always nice to send people home hearing some stuff that they're used to hearing you play. It's kind of a tradeoff. You want to play some material they're not used to hearing, and there's obviously some part of the audience that's going to feel cheated if somehow they don't hear something that they've come to hear."
ON THE TRIO'S BACKING BAND
Fagen: "Well, there's a little cross talk with the Steely Dan band. We've got Freddie Washington playing. He has been playing with Steely Dan for a few years. On drums, we have a guy named Michael White who I've played with in the studio before. We've got a great horn section: Jay Collins, Walt Weiskopf and Michael Leonhart on trumpet. Catherine Russell and (Carolyn Leonhart) as backup
Boz Scaggs vocalists, who are both great jazz singers in their own right. Jim Beard is going to be playing the organ. Boz Scaggs will play the electric guitar, and Jon Herington will also be playing the electric guitar and things like that. There were a couple of musicians who were busy, but basically, all of these guys were first picks."
ON THE FRIENDSHIP AMONG THE THREE
Fagen: "We just get along real well. I think I've known Mike since, golly, '73 or '74, and Boz since '93. Basically, we see things, musically, the same way."
McDonald: "Donald and I and Boz for that matter we all came up during the '70s and the record business in L.A. The thought that we're all still kind of working together and taking the stage together after all these years is in itself a lot of fun."
ON WHAT FILLS THE IPODS OF THE DUKES OF SEPTEMBER
McDonald: "Lately, I've been listening to some older female artists. One song I've been caught on recently, and I just did a little recording of it for fun on ukulele and piano, was Ketty Lester's song called 'Love Letters.' It's a record that Lincoln Majorca played that kind of famous piano part on. It's just a great, great all-time record. You can hear it 100 times."
Scaggs: "I'm listening to Ry Cooder. There's an album called 'I, Flathead' that I've been listening to."
Fagen: "For this project, I've been listening to a lot of R&B and soul, just to look for material. But generally speaking, I listen to a lot of jazz from the '50s and '60s and actually going back to the '20s. That was sort of my first love growing up, and I still love listening to Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, (John) Coltrane, that kind of thing."
What: The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue with Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, 1265 N. Snelling Ave., Falcon Heights