Before moving to Fort Wayne a couple years ago, Joe Savino was living in Las Vegas and had found success with a Journey tribute band. That experience had been rewarding for Savino, and it was something he realized he wanted to experience again.
As he began working with more of the dense musician pool in this city, he decided to try the tribute band route again and this time with a different band.
“Our keyboard player reminds me of Donald Fagan, actually,” Savino said. “So I talked to Jim about what I was doing in Vegas and that I’d love to do something like that again, and it just clicked. I’d been in a really good instrumental band, and we were already doing some Steely Dan songs.”
Part Tribute Band, Part Supergroup
That’s when FM – A Tribute to Steely Dan was born, and the keyboard player, Jim Steele, is just one of 10 musicians who have each earned fans in various bands around the area. Joining Savino on bass and Steele on keyboards are Tony Didier on lead vocals, Sunny Taylor and Eliza Toth on background vocals, Greg Hough and Jon Durnell on guitar, Al Parr on trumpet, Farrell Vernon on sax, and Jeff Minard on drums.
Part tribute band, part supergroup, FM already has a plan in place for more than just playing around Fort Wayne. The road to this point, where FM makes its debut at C2G on April 6, hasn’t been easy, but the effort is about to pay off.
“It’s taken eight months to get to this point,” Savino said. “It’s very challenging because you have to find people who are talented enough to do the music, and a tribute band isn’t the same as a cover band or whatever. I had to handpick the people who would be able to do this.
“A tribute band is recreating the music note for note, and there are storylines in the show. It’s not just going to a bar and playing for a couple of hours. It’s more theatrical and requires more of an effort.”
Keeping ten Musicians on the same page
Savino and Didier are collaborating on the production of the show itself, and FM is already getting interest from outside of Fort Wayne including Las Vegas and Florida. Getting musicians, who are already juggling a variety of professional and family responsibilities, to commit to the schedule is challenging, but getting 10 of them to make that leap?
“Well, that was a whole thing, too,” said Savino, laughing. “We just had to make sure everybody understood the importance of that and that we’re all a team. Without even one of us the show falls apart a little bit. But a couple of the guys have been in this situation before and have been in tribute bands and miss all of that. You get to play in better rooms, and the audience is there to see you, to see a show, and you want to give them a good show.”
Jon Durnell, who already performs regularly in solo and duo shows along with his own band, was attracted to the project primarily because of the music.
“Everything about this project appealed to me,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of the Steely Dan catalog. I also knew that the other musicians involved were top-notch. I was excited to play music on that level of complexity with excellent musicians and I knew that the project would push me to become a better musician. I’m most looking forward to bringing these songs to life in a way that honors them and accentuates their brilliance. I also look forward to traveling with the band and sharing new experiences with new people.”
Durnell, like the others in FM, understands that the balancing act might be tricky, but he is willing to do what it takes for the sake of the band.
“Balancing all of my projects is definitely a concern,” he said. “However, all of the members are doing many things musically. We will have a lot of notice for the gigs we book with FM and we’ll prioritize those shows in our schedules. We have all committed to making this work.”
Sticking to the hits
Savino plans to feature all the best known and most loved Steely Dan songs, knowing that that’s what the audience wants to hear.
“We’ll mostly do all of the hits because they have to have a familiarity for the audience,” Savino said. “If you start doing a bunch of deep cuts, they aren’t going to be as interested. And we’ll definitely keep it upbeat for the most part. Some of the songs are more jazzy and laid back, and we want to do songs with more grooves so that the audience is excited.”
Savino said that Steely Dan tributes are less plentiful than others, adding that when he was playing in Vegas his was one of six Journey tribute bands performing there. But while that marketing aspect is advantageous, what really inspires Savino and his large band of musicians is capturing the renowned Steely Dan sound in the best way the can.
“We all have a dedication to this music,” he said. “They played a blend of jazz, blues, and rock and blended it all together. We’re looking forward to working together to capture that sound.”
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