Live Wire One on One

By Andy Argyrakis
Publicity photos
Soulful rockers Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs reconnect via the "Dukes of September Rhythm Revue"

August 30, 2010Long before Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs were famous, they were listening to the lauded likes of Motown soul and golden oldies. Though all of their work has interjected those influences to a certain extent, Fagen's time in Steely Dan, McDonald's backing of that same band followed by time in the Doobie Brothers and Scaggs' solo career have also embraced jazz, pop and good old fashioned rock n' roll. On the aptly titled "Dukes of September Rhythm Revue" tour, the esteemed trio (who could easily be individual headliners any given night) will split the set between personal hits and choice covers from all of the above genres, as hinted during a recent teleconference conversation.

Can you talk a little about what you'll be playing?

Donald Fagen: Well, this is similar to a show we did back in the '90s, it was called "The New York Rock & Soul Revue." We toured together one summer. And basically, it's an opportunity for us to do some of the material from our own personal repertoires. And also do some cover material, just basically tunes that each of us chooses among tunes that were popular when we were growing up, when we decided to become musicians. And ranging from R&B from the late '50s through folk material, Motown material, and we may be doing some material by the band that's come up. And also going right into things like the Beach Boys...things like that. I think it's just based on musical quality. Basically we all sort of keep things the same way I think, as far as that goes. But 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.

You've made this very clear to fans that this isn't [a regular solo tour], but when you're looking at your solo material, does that make you feel obligated to perform some of the bigger hits or does it give you more of an impetus to pull out some rarities of your own?

Donald Fagen: Well, I know for myself, that I think it's an opportunity for me. Instead of playing a lot of Steely Dan material, as far as personal repertoire goes, I think that it gives me a chance to do some of the stuff from my own solo albums. So I wouldn't be surprised if I stick with some of the stuff I have in my list like "IGY" and things like that.

Michael McDonald: I think it'll be a combination of things that people certainly would want to hear, and might feel like we've passed by something that they might want to hear. So it's kind of a tricky thing, you want to do something that they don't always hear, like maybe in my case "Yamo" or something. But you feel a little sheepish if you don't do "What a Fool Believes," because first of all, this band would play it well and play it great. But also you're afraid people might feel like they got shortchanged or something if you don't do some of the big hits.

What would you consider the plusses and minuses of performing live as opposed to in the studio?

Boz Scaggs: Well, one is performing and one is sort of more exploratory. Speaking for myself, the studio is just for me a chance to try things out and explore things with a certain lineup of players and just work out some ideas. Whereas performance is something that you can then refine, it's all there, the picture's already painted. Then you go out and explore various ways of performing. And that's just a different kind of release. I remember when I was recording more frequently and touring more frequently, when I was on the road I was sort of at a point to be eager to get back to the studio, and the same with when I was in the studio, I wanted to go out and play. So they're really just two different elements to me.

Donald Fagen: Yes, I agree. There's always that point if you've been on the road for a few months, the thing you somehow want to do the most is sort of gather your thoughts and get some sleep for a month. You want to see where you are, and then start developing ideas that you've been having. And then the other thing, if you're a couple months into making a record, it's like I'm tired of this nail biting routine, and trying to figure out this puzzle of how to make a record, and I'd rather just be out on stage. It's really like two pulls of the same thing, but it's very different, very different.

Michael McDonald: Yes, I would agree with that. I think sometimes for me, I feel like it's easier to be on the road. I enjoy singing live more than I do in the studio for one thing. In the studio, I always feel like I have to kind of get a run up to it when I'm singing...

Do you guys think that your original material has seen a resurgence in the past five years, especially with Mike's music?

Michael McDonald: I don't really know, to be honest with you. I've had some pretty good fortune in the last couple years. One of the things that I've had the most fun doing, and it had turned out to have been kind of resurgence as an artist for me, was the Motown records, which I have to give all credit to those songs. And the fact that it was so much fun to do, it was hardly like work. I think going back and doing a solo record of original material for me would be, in some degrees, like going back to work. But I'm almost amazed I think, and the other guys would probably agree with me, that after all these years, I don't know that any of us really expected to be still out touring in these venues and playing for audiences like this. And it's something we're all pretty grateful for the opportunity to do.

You folks seem to have quite a bit of camaraderie with one another and always have. But at any point did you ever feel a spirit of competition, even if it was just in fun or in the spirit of healthy competition?

Donald Fagen: Not really. You're always competing with yourself as far as performance goes. But I don't know, I guess having come of age in the '60s, maybe it's something about our generation but I don't know, I'm speaking for myself, I'm certainly not into competition as far as music goes. It's like all about collaboration and listening to the other guy and trying to make the other guy look good, and trying to read the other guy's mind when you're on stage. Anyway that's the fun of it, is locking in with the other players you know.

Michael McDonald: Yes, I think Donald is right, in the sense that I think music by nature is so uncompetitive really. And for us, the reason for getting together on stage is just that. And it's really all about, you kind of pride yourself on being one of the guys who can listen and be a part of it, not whether it's always going to be better than any one person up there.

Donald Fagen: I have a feeling, correct me if I'm wrong, but each of us probably enjoys being a sideman as much as being a front man.

Boz Scaggs: Yes, we're working with material that is challenging, and it's going to be really fun to perform background vocals or to take a guitar part of it, take a synth part. And I'm talking about the material of the other two guys as well as the cover material we're going to do. This is fun, challenging, and the stuff the music's all about.

The "Dukes of September Rhythm Revue" visits the Chicago Theatre on Saturday, September 11. For additional details, visit or

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