Rex Rutkoski Interview

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For The Love Of The Music-- The Royal Scam





by Rex Rutkoski
September 19, 2000


Michael Caputo still remembers the feeling. Cruising down the highway, windows down, radio blasting Steely Dan.

"Reelin' In The Years"!

Turn it up!

The song carries off into the wind.

A smile of remembrance washes across the New Jersey resident's face.

That's exactly the feeling he wants to recreate and share now founding member of The Royal Scam, the Steely Dan tribute band even has won praise from members of Steely Dan's band. Accomplished musicians in their own right, they make the Dan magic happen.

"I want to share some of the music I loved driving around as a young man. We offer people a place they can go and take their friends," lead singer Caputo says. "They don't have to worry about anything being off color. It's a clean show that is well rehearsed. People will hear the music note-for-note exactly as they hear it on record. It's a very entertaining night of Steely Dan music."

Steely Dan's music has touched so many people, he feels, because it is groove-oriented. "It's very urban, has a lot of urban appeal, a touch of R&B with a little bit of funk thrown in. It has that jazz tinge too, which is the reason why I love them so much.

"The harmonies and vocals are just astounding. Donald Fagen doesn't have to go out with smoke bombs and glitter costumes. Everything is just all in his head."

In addition to Caputo, The Royal Scam is: Gino Amato, keyboards and programming; Joe Montini, saxophone; Bob Heinink, guitar; Jay Dittamo and Phil Long, who alternate on drums; and a revolving line-up of vocalists that include Wendi Gordy, Pam Frye and Deb DeLuca. Jim Cotugno is manager.

Dittamo has played with many major names. He auditioned for the late Frank Zappa and played in his band after his death.

The Royal Scam, formed 6 1/2 years ago, is not an exercise in trying to feed some type of fantasy, Caputo says. "The music speaks for itself. We didn't write it, we just love it. You never get bored doing this stuff. It's just so good. I just go up and sing my heart out and we've got excellent background vocalists.

"We pay homage to this music and Steely Dan's incredible genius. People don't realize how hard it is to write music like that until you sit down and try to do it. They have a whole formula. When you buy one of their CDs, you definitely get your money's worth."

Caputo says The Royal Scam feels pretty good about being able to take some of the more obscure Dan material and blend it with the popular songs. "We play some songs live that Steely Dan still hasn't played live."

Caputo and Amato were playing in a trio when they conceived the idea for The Royal Scam during breaks in their sets. "We started trying to figure out Steely Dan songs on break. We said, 'Why don't we start working on this and try to do a tribute to Steely Dan?"

It took a year to do all the sequencing and another year to find people and rehearse. "Our first gig, we actually produced our own little concert and sold tickets ourselves," Caputo says. "From there we just got the interest. We started to gain fans. People liked the music and the way we did it. We certainly always left people satisfied. It's a good solid night of entertainment."

The Royal Scam comes to play. Audiences can expect at least two hours of music and nearly 40 songs. The audience ranges from college kids to middle age baby boomers -- "just about anybody who has heard Steely Dan and even people who have not heard of them" Caputo says. "They can identify when they hear 'Reelin' In The Years' or 'Hey 19.' ''

Sometimes musicians in tribute bands admit frustration to themselves because they are not doing their own material. They feel they are living through other artists.

Caputo is not one of them. "I don't feel that way," he says. "When I was riding around all those years, listening to that music in my car and knowing I could sound like Donald, I just enjoyed it so much, just to be able to blend in with the music.

My fantasy is to be on stage in a nice club with nice people and be part of that music. It had nothing to do with me wanting to feel special. As long as I could be part of that music, some small part of it made me feel alive."

Caputo has had three of his own songs published and has had his own original band. "The frustration comes in for me, a person who looks up to people like Donald and Brian Wilson and Gino Vannelli, who are very, very special artists on this planet.

"When you compare yourself to those people you realize how special they are. How many Donald Fagens are there? Only one. These artists are gifted. If you listen to their records you realize how gifted they are."

Last March, Caputo debuted a second project, a Gino Vannelli tribute called "Crazy Life." "We do some of his more complex stuff," says Caputo, who sings lead and plays keyboards. It is the same band as Royal Scam, minus the rhythm section and the backup vocalists.

"Maybe some of these classic artists, like Gino, will start to come back," he says.

Though Caputo is a major fan of Steely Dan's music, he has only seen the band live twice, and he has never met Fagen or Walter Becker.

"They know we are out there," says Caputo. "When we first started, we sent them a tape and some of the musicians in the band were very, very, impressed with it. They said, 'You didn't slack off or take the easy way out. You didn't fudge it.' "


Rex Rutkoski

Rex Rutkoski is a veteran regional and national writer on a variety of subjects ranging from fitness to family and music to religion. He is one of the most active music interviewers in the nation, regularly conducting interviews with musicians of national and international stature, as well as newcomers to the fields of rock, pop, jazz, country, urban, rap-hip/hop, Gospel, classical, folk and other genres.





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