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Arts & Music

Dukes of September full of surprises

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:11 PM

Perhaps the most appealing part of catching the Dukes of September is the element of unpredictability.

Sure, the supergroup, which is comprised of such accomplished figures as Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, will offer some hits.

However, the element of surprise comes into effect when the Dukes — three Grammy winners — deliver an array of covers for their second tour.

When the band toured for the first time in 2010, it impressed when it came to designing its set list.

"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 the Grateful Dead to the Beach Boys to The Band. You know, a lot of old soul tunes and things. Some of the material we did I hadn't heard since I was 14."

So the aging Dukes, who are on the edge of senior citizenship, played with the enthusiasm of kids during their first run when they offered three songs in a row from The Band and such unexpected pleasures as Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell," Muddy Waters' "I Live The Life I Love" and Teddy Pendergrass' "Love TKO."

Expect the longtime friends to play with verve on their second tour.

"I think 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," McDonald said.

With no album to push, the band has leeway live. Who knows what the Dukes will render?

And how will the songs be delivered? "We can do things in different ways, and that's what makes it fun for us and the audience," Scaggs said. "I'm always looking for something I can sing with Donald or Michael. Songs that we can duet on or even better songs that we all three sing on, each taking verses and choruses. We share a unique and, let's say, a common thread of music, R&B. That's our real common interest."

But with the Dukes of September, it's not just what they do, it's how it's done.

"We want to take a different approach and make it interesting for everyone," McDonald said. "We'll talk about doing ('I Heard it Through the) Grapevine' but possibly doing the Gladys Knight version because everybody does the Marvin Gaye version. We can have one of the girls come out and sing it. That's going to be really fun for the audience to hear that version live. There's always kinds of opportunities for us to tweak things a certain way. With this band, it's kind of a dream come true to be able to do any of these songs anyway we want to with a band that's great."

The Dukes will be backed by a stellar group of musicians, including guitarist Jon Herington, bassist Freddie Washington, keyboardist Jim Beard, drummer Michael White, horn players Michael Leonhard, Walt Weiskopf and Jay Collins. Carolyn Escoffery and Catherine Russell will sing back-up.

"It's an amazing bunch of musicians," McDonald said.

Those session players will help the act play the obscurities and the familiar. There will also be a healthy dose of the hits.

During the first Dukes tour, McDonald obliged by offering "What A Fool Believes," Scaggs threw a bone with "Lowdown" and Fagen went with the Steely Dan staple "Reeling in the Years," which was the high point of the show for the collection of baby boomers in attendance.

"I think it works out for everyone," McDonald said. "I think we cover all the bases by the time we're finished."

DUKES OF SEPTEMBER

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater

Tickets: $50, $70 and $90; (727) 791-7400 and www.rutheckerdhall.com

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