Like this summer's highly successful Carole King and James Taylor tour, the 22-date Dukes of September outing that launches tonight will largely mine the music of the '60s and '70s, the era that directly influenced Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen.
Separately, the Dukes of September have sold tens of millions of albums, explored every major strain of popular music and commanded attention over four decades. United, they are promising to deliver a unique concert bonanza for Boomers and connoisseurs of R&B and soul.
Tonight in Danbury, Conn., Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald play the first of 22 Rhythm Revue dates during which they'll try to justify the regal, doo-wopish title they've bestowed upon themselves. It shouldn't be hard, as they offer up nuggets from their own careers, alongside tunes from jukebox heaven and the Americana attic. Tour stops include Boston (Aug. 31), Chicago (Sept. 11), Los Angeles (Sept. 29) and a finale in Las Vegas (Oct. 2).
We don't want this music to be forgotten," says Fagen, 62, during a break in rehearsals with the Dukes' nine-piece backing band, which features members from Steely Dan's touring group.
The trio is a natural fit: Guitarist/singer Scaggs' career embraces stints with the Steve Miller Blues Band, disco-inflected R&B hits and recent forays into jazz. Singer/pianist Fagen made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with jazz-popsters Steely Dan. And McDonald's voice and keyboards have been showcased with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers and in a solo career.
The three last hooked up in 1993 as part of the New York Rock and Soul Revue, which featured a cast that included Phoebe Snow, Charles Brown and members of The Rascals. This time, the focus is on the three of them and they'll all play on all of the songs, switching off lead vocals.
This is so much fun that there's the danger that the music will be like what they say about sex: We may be the only ones enjoying it," says McDonald, 58.
One phone call is all it took to get me out with these guys," says Scaggs, 66. Our audiences like each other ... and rhythm and blues from the late '60s and '70s is what I cut my teeth on."
In addition to a shared love of the music, the reunion was prompted by fortuitous timing. McDonald and Scaggs had been touring together, and when Steely Dan decided to take the summer off, that freed up Fagen.
A shared past will also result in each of the principals singing a song by The Band, a segment that's the result of Fagen's connection to former Band drummer Levon Helm. Fagen's wife, Libby Titus, used to be Helm's partner (they have a daughter, Amy), and Fagen sometimes sits in with the band for the Midnight Ramble shows that Helm stages at his barn in Woodstock, N.Y.
I have a great time playing with Levon," Fagen says. When (The Band's debut album) Music From Big Pink came out in '68, it had everything you could wantcountry, jazz, gospelin this concept of Americana that was really original with them."
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