September 2, 2010

Fagen, McDonald, Scaggs bring talents to Fox Theatre

SUSAN WHITALL
Detroit News Music Writer

Most musicians were drawn to their trade after first falling in love with the music of others.

When they get to revisit that early love, it's a good reminder for them, and us, of why they got into music in the first place.

The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue -- Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs -- perform a show Wednesday at the Fox Theatre that's a fun change of pace for both players and fans.

Scaggs says they know many fans don't have "extra coin" to spend on shows right now. "The reality is hitting those big-ticket artists who are doing the huge, mega-venues," Scaggs said. "But we're doing OK. We're not performing in super-big places, and we're doing it for the love of doing it."

The tour, which started last month in Connecticut, was conceived by Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs as a tribute to the music that first inspired them -- much of which is vintage R&B.

Fagen had some time this summer while on break from Steely Dan, the jazz-pop group he and Walter Becker have fronted since the '70s. His friendship with singer McDonald goes back to when the latter sang backup and played keyboards for the group. McDonald went on to join the Doobie Brothers, then went solo. Scaggs hit in the '70s as well, with a sly, sophisticated jazzy-pop sound on his album "Silk Degrees" and hits like "Lowdown."

With a late summer window of time open, the three decided to take the leap.

It's a concept Fagen first visited back in the '90s when he launched the New York Rock and Soul Revue with a variety of acts, including Phoebe Snow, Eddie Brigati of the Rascals, McDonald and Scaggs.

This time, they dumped the "New York Rock and Soul" name -- after all, only Fagen is from the greater New York area (McDonald grew up in St. Louis and Scaggs in Oklahoma and Texas).

Breaking from the "revue" format, the three singer/musicians will stay on stage together for the entire show.

"We're playing each other's songs and singing vocals for the other ones," Scaggs says, "so it's more like a band that three guys are fronting. We are taking the idea of the Rock and Soul Revue in terms of the breadth and scope of the music we're doing. But it's an update."

The three have tried to keep their set list a surprise.

"We started out with an impossibly large list, and are down to an impossibly small list," Scaggs says. Among the soul and R&B classics they've rehearsed: The O'Jays' "Love Train," Little Anthony & The Imperials' "Hurts So Bad" and McDonald's "What a Fool Believes." At least one song by their great idol Ray Charles is probable. Other songs rehearsed: Steely Dan's "I.G.Y.," a funky Grateful Dead song called "Shakedown Street," and a selection of songs by The Band.

"Among musicians, The Band have a special status," Scaggs says.

In fact, while classic R&B remains one of their favorite genres, all three men have been making forays into bluegrass and country lately: Fagen has been jamming with The Band's Levon Helm up in Woodstock, N.Y.; McDonald has been playing the banjo a lot; and Scaggs has become involved with a San Francisco roots music festival called the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

"It's given me a chance to hook up with them and explore American roots music that I haven't done before," he says. "And The Band sort of comes out of that vein, an Appalachia meets Acadia meets New Orleans kind of thing."

OK, but what about that Grateful Dead song?

"The Grateful Dead surprised me," Scaggs says, laughing. "But Donald's found a song of theirs from the disco era with a kind of progressive rhythm and really interesting lyrics, and he wants to give that a try. If you had played it to me blindfolded, I wouldn't have guessed it in a million years."

Some Detroit-related possibilities include Stevie Wonder's "Til You Come Back to Me," David Ruffin's "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" and Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad," although Scaggs at first wanted to do that singer's "Leave My Kitten Alone." Fagen was pushing for "Need Your Love."

"And Marvin Gaye has come up, he's kind of a mainstay for the three of us," Scaggs says. "You can't keep Detroit out of the mix when you're talking R&B classics."


© Copyright 2010 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

>Site Map >INTERVIEWS >2010 Interviews >2010 - Detroit News