Dukes of September bring Rock history to Toledo ZooWritten by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
During the 2010 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 of the tour’s backing group during an early June 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 tour hits the road, the two singers agreed. The supergroup will play at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15.
“In the first round, 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, a lot of old soul tunes and things. If we learned anything, 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 the first time around was that the tour was highly enjoyable.
“One of the most fun things about this tour for us is we get to play a lot of these old songs that we love with one of the best bands we could ever hope to put together,” McDonald said. “It’s been a lot of fun to do it, and I think that kind of translates for the audience too.”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work involved, too, beginning with deciding which songs to play.
Choosing a set list for the tour isn’t a quick or easy process. It starts with all three artists sending song suggestions to each other. That list then gets whittled down, with Fagen, who serves as musical director for the tour, having a large hand in that process. Scaggs has a couple of objectives in mind.
“We each do our own songs,” he said. “And then I’m always looking for something I can sing with Donald or with Michael. Songs that we can duet on, or even better, songs that we all three sing on, each taking verses and, you know, choruses and I think that’s kind of one of the aims.
“We share a unique and common thread of music,” Scaggs said. “R&B is, I’d say, where we all land among our other interests. That’s our real common interest. So a lot of that material lends itself to different treatments. So we aim to balance it out so that we get to sing with each other. I’m always looking for those collaborative things.”
As much as Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs share, McDonald said he relishes the way the Dukes of September tour is different from any other show he performs. Each of the artists brings something a bit different to the package, he said.
“I guess in a pop/R&B [vein], I can cover some of that stuff,” McDonald said. “And I think Boz brings more a traditional blues and kind of a deeper R&B knowledge, too, with his guitar playing and songs that he chooses to do. And Donald, of course, has the kind of arrangement and jazz background that really brings an interesting flavor to a lot of the arrangements. Even the blues stuff is different than we would do it otherwise because of some of the arrangements Donald comes up with, especially in the horn section and stuff like that.”
The quality Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs achieve as the Dukes of September raises the obvious question of whether they might film a DVD of this summer’s tour. McDonald and Scaggs, however, said there are no plans to do so at this point.
“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 ever hear live again.”
A venture into the studio to make original music together, though, might be another matter.
“That would be fun,” McDonald said. “What competes with that is our own individual interests in exploring something new from our own tastes and standpoint and recording.”
All three have studio projects under way. Fagen has been working on a solo album since before the original 2010 tour. Scaggs, who rose to fame behind his 1976 album “Silk Degrees,” 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 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.
“I’m doing a project right now with Robben Ford that we’re both starting to think will maybe last another 20 years if we’re not careful,” McDonald said enthusiastically. “But it’s fun and it’s been something different.”
A father-son project might also become a reality for McDonald, whose solo career gained new life with the release of the covers albums “Motown” in 2003 and “Motown Two” in 2004.
“I’m doing a project with my son, Dylan, which 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.”