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Stage Buzz: Deacon Blues, January 21 at Arcada Theatre • St. Charles

| January 14, 2023

Deacon Blues

Deacon Blues
Saturday, January 21
The Arcada Theatre
St. Charles, IL

If you missed the acclaimed Chicago-based Steely Dan tribute Deacon Blues at Arcada Theatre over the holidays in December, their annual show was delayed because of scheduling conflicts. The band has targeted Saturday, January 21, to treat fans to its celebration of all things Steely Dan. With a great setlist of Becker & Fagan classics (“FM,” “Deacon Blues,” “Hey Nineteen, “I Got The News,” Reelin’ In The Years”) and classic Dan deep-cuts (“Pretzel Logic,” “Show Biz Kids,” “Home at Last”), founder Steven Kikoen and his all-star band (Thomas Linsk–piano & voice, Steven Kikoen–guitar & voice, Richard Patterson–bass, Paul Wertico–drums, Ben Lewis–keyboards, Jon Hey–keyboards, Cash Michael–saxophone, Tim Bales–trumpet, flugelhorn, Rich Lapka–trombone, Megan Thomas–percussion, Suzanne Cross–voice, Ebonie Taylor–voice, Jessica Hornsten–voice, Cecy Santana–voice) promise to make this delayed “Holiday Show” extra special.

We had a chance to catch up with Kikoen at rehearsal as the band prepared for their Arcada show.

IE: The band just celebrated its 10th anniversary, which is quite a feat. How has the band changed over the years? I know you’ve expanded the set list to include bands that were in the “coaching tree” of Steely Dan.

SK: Thank you for your kind words regarding this milestone of an anniversary. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade! To answer your question on how the band has changed over the years – if you would permit me a (very) little history, it will make more sense.

Since my college days at both Northern Illinois and Northwestern, the worst-kept secret in the Schools of Music at both Universities generally, and the Jazz Departments specifically, were the fact that seemingly the entire academic jazz communities there – students as well as faculty – were closet Steely Dan fans. But because Steely Dan was pigeonholed solidly in the rock music category –far be it from the jazzers on campus to admit allegiance to a rock band!

This conundrum stayed with me long into my own teaching career as Director of Music and Theatre in the public school system. I found myself constantly encountering a new generation of teenagers who had also jumped onto the ‘Dan’ bandwagon, which was certainly a risky thing to do as they shunned their deference to punk, new wave, heavy metal, rap, and whatever else seemed to be the ‘genre of the week” during the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond.

Fast forward to 2012, when I decided it was time to form an ensemble that would not be your run-of-the-mill tribute band. Now a long-in-the-tooth Steely Dan fan, it was common knowledge to my musical colleagues and me that Donald Fagen & Walter Becker were basically jazz musicians masquerading as rock musicians, writing incredible jazz-rock masterpieces along with the most interesting of chord progressions with melodies, harmonies, and the type of acerbic lyrics and storytelling that seemed to form a new sort of hybrid-genre altogether.

Their unique and extraordinary songwriting smacked of influences as diverse as Duke Ellington, The Andrews Sisters, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Ray Charles, Keith Jarrett, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, and Dire Straits – just to name a few.

What caught my attention the most was their later period of albums, such as The Royal ScamAja, and Gaucho, as they had morphed into a songwriting duo that – not unlike The Beatles – had stopped touring in favor of embracing the studio itself as an instrument. And as a nod to their legendary perfectionism, they jettisoned most of their “band” and began hiring the absolute creme-de-la-creme of the studio musician rosters from both The East and West Coasts. I thought that if I could take their philosophy of surrounding myself with the absolute finest Chicago studio cats and put them on stage, it would be exactly what Don & Walt did in the studio, but we would be able to share this with audiences far and wide. The idea worked. Today we have the apex of Chicago musical talent in the group, along with 11 Grammy winners and nominees that play with us as featured soloists, some of which are permanent members of the group. So we started in 2012 as 11 of the best of the best Chicago-area studio and stage musicians, and over these ten years, we have grown to 13 musicians, which includes 7-Time Grammy winner Paul Wertico (Pat Metheny; Wertico, Kikoen, Lewis, & Patterson), International vibraphone virtuoso Thaddeus Tukes, legendary Chicago bassist Richard Patterson (Miles Davis; Michael McDonald; Boz Scaggs; Wertico, Kikoen, Lewis, & Patterson), International keyboard player Ben Lewis (Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band, Wertico, Kikoen, Lewis, & Patterson), Charles “Rick” Heath IV (Ramsey Lewis), Thomas Linsk (Mulberry Street), and yours truly.

Over the years, I also thought it would be a great idea to pay homage to that rare club of studio musicians who didn’t end up on Becker & Fagen’s significant cutting room floor but actually made the grade (and the records)! Many of them have gone on to very successful careers in their own right, such as Dan drummer Bernard “Pretty Purdie” (who has appeared with Deacon Blues on several occasions), Jeff Porcaro (TOTO), Michael McDonald (The Doobie Brothers), Howard Levy (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones), and several others. By incorporating songs by TOTO and The Doobie Brothers, for example, we are honoring a member or members of those bands that have a direct Steely Dan connection. By offering a little variety to the audiences, we embrace the “coaching tree” of Steely Dan.

IE: I know you bring in some prominent Chicago musicians to perform at Deacon Blues shows, including Grammy-winning and nominated players. Your band is actually full of all-star musicians. Who can we expect to see at the show on the 21st?

SK: On January 21, The Deacons will be appearing at the legendary Arcada Theatre at 8:30 PM in St. Charles, IL. We will be featuring award-winning musicians, including Vibraphonist Thaddeus Tukes, Bassist Richard Patterson, Drummer Charles “Rick” Heath IV, and Keyboardist Ben Lewis, all under the direction of my “partner in time,” Thomas Linsk (the closest thing to Donald Fagen this side of Passaic, New Jersey), and myself. I’d like to give a special shout-out to the “Brothers Onesti” (grand impresario Ron Onesti and production guru Rich Onesti) from Onesti Entertainment for supporting us year in and year out and believing in our Deacon Productions All-Star groups by having us regularly at their magnificent Arcada and Des Plaines Theatres – and Libby Brickson and all at City Winery Chicago for equally embracing our six All-Star Tribute groups. Both of these exemplary organizations are models for the music industry.

And a final shout-out to the unsung heroes – our Stage Techs and Crew. Under the auspicious leadership of our Emmy-winning sound engineer Ron Cook, we also need to thank the ubiquitous Mike Kaye, Chris Edwards, and Grant Niebergall for all that they do behind the scenes in providing an environment that allows all of our stellar musicians to shine!

Good seats are still available for this celebration of Steely Dan, tickets are available at the link below.

– David Gedge

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