Hail the Dukes
Fagen, McDonald, Scaggs create a new sound with Rhythm Revue.
By Jim Beal Jr.
Updated 02:21 p.m., Wednesday, July 11, 2012
When the trio of frontmen, on the road for the second time as the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, add blues, R&B, soul and classic rock ‘n’ roll songs to the mix, the hard part becomes not what to put in, but what to leave out. That’s a good problem to have, and one the Dukes will solve Wednesday when the revue rolls into the Majestic Theatre.
Fagen (of Steely Dan fame), McDonald (Doobie Brothers) and Scaggs will be backed by one of the best bands in the world — Jon Herington (guitar), Freddie Washington (bass), Shannon Forest (drums), Michael Leonhart, Walt Weiskopf and Jay Collins (horns), Jim Beard (organ) and vocalists Carolyn Leonhart and Catherine Russell.
In late May, Scaggs and McDonald teamed for a teleconference.
Q: Do you each come in with songs you want to sing? Talk a little bit about putting a set list together.
McDonald: We communicate usually by email in the beginning. And we just kind of throw songs into the hat, the three of us. And try to figure out just anything that we think might work, with the idea that it will all get boiled down to a two-hour show. And so we go through songs that would probably be more like a four-hour show until we kind of boil it all down.
It’s a great chance for us to kind of just sit and fantasize any songs we would like to do. And then I guess we kind of leave a bit up to Donald to kind of decipher through that as the (music director).
Scaggs: Yes, I’d say that we try to balance it out. Mike had mentioned earlier we each do our own songs. 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.
Q: How do the three of you make up a different flow to the show?
Scaggs: Donald has got great arrangement skills, a unique voice and a particular slant on life, on music, and particularly on the kind of material we’re doing here. Michael’s unique voice and arrangement, you know, we’re all pretty different. I don’t know — I’m the token Okie, so I don’t know exactly what I’m doing in the mix. But I can certainly point to a number of characteristics of Donald and Michael.
The key is I think that the sort of synthesis of what happens when we do it together. We pitch our own personalities and styles into each other. Whatever I do is going to be influenced by whoever’s playing on that song. And Donald’s out front, Mike’s out front, I’m out front. We get to solo. We get to duet with each other. And I think it’s those kinds of twists that come about that sort of make it interesting for us.
McDonald: 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.
Q: What are the particular challenges you face with this tour as opposed to when you tour with your regular band?
Scaggs: The challenge is working with material that’s well outside my realm. In that regard, I get to play a guitar style that I wouldn’t get to play otherwise. The setting is just different and unique. This band has a style. And the variety of the material means that I’m stepping into roles that I would never step into in any other musical context. It is very challenging.
You’ll hear some vocal work by Michael and with the background vocals. Michael does some duets — well, each of us do. You’ll hear some of the best playing out of Donald, for instance, that you have ever heard out of him. Last time he played acoustic piano and some melodica. He does styles that he doesn’t do in any other context. He’s a wonderful blues pianist. It sort of brings out sides of us that you’ll probably not hear — and probably haven’t heard before and won’t hear again in each of our styles.
McDonald: I think we’re out of our comfort zones. In this realm, we’re playing songs that we’ve never done before or we haven’t done since we were kids. It’s kind of terrifying at first, but it’s a lot of fun in the end. It does a lot for I think the three of our spirits just as musicians and getting a chance to do this. It’s really a kind of a rejuvenating experience.
And there was a bonus answer with San Antonio content, when Scaggs talked about what he was working on.
Scaggs: I’m working on an album. 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 — Texas musician Doug Sahm. Many people do know 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.