Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald team up
By Alan Sculley
Having come together in 2010 for a first edition of the Dukes Of September Rhythm Revue tour, Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan), Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs reached a pleasing conclusion about the venture. The concept of the tour – three established singers performing their hits and plenty of covers of soul songs, mixed with material from other ends of the pop/rock genre – works.
A second thing the trio learned was that the backing group allows for a welcome degree of variety in the show.
“It’s Donald’s band – the Steely Dan band,” Scaggs said, mentioning the tour’s backing group during a teleconference interview (with McDonald). “He was used to working with them. But Mike and I got a good chance to fit in. And I think what we gained from it was a sense of confidence that we can kind of go where we want to go with these guys.”
That’s going to have an effect on what fans see and hear this summer as the second edition of the Dukes Of September Rhythm Revue hits the road, the two singers agreed during the teleconference interview.
“In the first round, I think with this tour, we were wondering how obscure we could get with some of the material,” McDonald said. “We did everything from Grateful Dead to Beach Boys to the Band, you know, a lot of old soul tunes and things. I think if we learned anything (from the first tour) it’s really only that maybe this time we can push the envelope a little bit more with some of the material.”
What Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs also discovered first time around was that the tour was highly enjoyable.
“It’s been a lot of fun to do it,” he said. “And I think that kind of translates for the audience too.”
What McDonald also noticed is what happens musically during a Dukes Of September show is different than what he experiences in any other live situation – from his own shows to tours he has done recently with Scaggs.
“It’s really more about what happens when we three get together,” McDonald said. “It’s even different than what Boz and I have done when we go out and play. We’ve been around the globe in the last two years together, just touring together, most recently with one band. But we do more two separate shows, and we do get together and do like a third act. But it’s uncanny how different that show is even then just by adding the element of Donald into it. And with the three of us, it just becomes a whole other thing.”
The unique music Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs create as the Dukes Of September raises the obvious question of whether they might film a DVD of this summer’s tour. McDonald and Scaggs, though, said there are no plans to do so at this point.
“I think in some ways, we all three kind of feel like that would be a diversion from what it is, at its best,” McDonald said. “And what it is at its best is – it’s a great live show with a lot of material that you may not even hear live again.”
A venture into the studio to make original music together, though, might be another matter.
“I think that would be fun,” McDonald said. “I think what competes with that is our own individual interests in exploring something new from our own tastes and standpoint and recording.”
Indeed, all three have studio projects under way. Fagen has been working on a solo album since before the original 2010 tour. Scaggs has a pair of projects in the works, beginning with a CD that will mix original material and covers.
“I’m writing it, assembling it,” he said. “I’ll go into the studio in September and I hope to be out and have something new for the spring. I (also) have a live project in the works as well that doesn’t involve my work, but a tribute to another musician – a Texas musician Doug Sahm. Many people do know (of him) and many people don’t. But I’m going to spend some time with Doug’s style and some of his music and produce a live show.”
McDonald, meanwhile is working with acclaimed guitarist Robben Ford on a CD and may also release an album with his son, Dylan.
“(It) really started off as a lark,” McDonald said. “We were just doing kind of a little charity project. But we started picking songs for each other. And kind of joking around, he picked a Radiohead song for me. And I picked something equally as ridiculous for him, which – by the way – I love the Radiohead song. It actually turned out to be kind of fun.
“And we started to see that maybe this is the whole concept for the record – a father and son who normally can’t even get along in the studio picking songs for each other,” he said. “That’s got to be hilarious.”
The Duke of September Rhythm Revue comes to Fraze Pavilion on Thursday, Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m. Lawn/terrace tickets are $40 and Side Orchestra (sections A&D) are $50. Visit www.fraze.com/tickets/ticket-information/ or call (800) 514-3849 for more information.
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.