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The ROYAL SCAM
Timing usually seems to be an integral part of the success of any venture. With that being said, Let’s Rock America debut’s The Royal Scam, one of the most proficient and enduring Steely Dan tribute bands ever. What does that have to do with timing…well, we spotlight the Scam on the very day of Donald Fagan’s latest release. So there!

Mike Caputo and Gino Amato, natives of Newark, New Jersey co founded The Royal scam in 1992 after having played musically in various duo’s and trios locally. Over the passed 14 years, The Scam have had a number of personnel changes. One of the more noted contributors to the bands ageless success would be Bob Heinink who played with the band as Walter Becker for a number of years. Bob actually was sanctioned with the blessing of Donald Fagan and Walter Becker to write a book of Steely Dan guitar transpositions.

The Royal Scam’s current lineup includes Mike Caputo (lead vocals), Gino Amato (keyboards, sequencing, programming, and arranging), Tom Boettger (Drums), Keith McGee (Guitars and Vocals), Joe Montini (Sax), Wendy Gordy (vocals), and Carla Culkin (vocals).

Let’s Rock America recently caught a Royal Scam show at Orphan Annie’s in Stirling, New Jersey. LRA is not claiming in any way to be professional music critics. There is something to be said, however, about a band that makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. If you are familiar with the music of Steely Dan, we defy you to close your eyes momentarily at one of their live shows and experience sounds so eerily true to the real deal it‘s mesmerizing. If you get a chance to talk to a very approachable Mike Caputo during a break or after the show…don’t be surprised if you catch yourself calling him Donald. If you are NOT familiar with Steely Dan’s music, we equally defy you to close your eyes momentarily during the show so you can mentally kick yourself for all of the wasted years you spent not being familiar with Steely Dan’s music.

As The Royal Scam continues to “reel in the years”, side projects ranging from a Gino Vannelli tribute and original music has kept this band busy. Check their schedule at their website http://www.royalscam.com/ and hear the phenomenal music for yourself. If The Scam are playing at a venue near you, LRA highly recommends you attend.

Let’s Rock America had the opportunity to talk to some of the individual members.

The Exclusive Let's Rock America Q&A with The Royal Scam:

LET’S ROCK AMERICA: Sometimes it’s easier for a band to do originals because interpretation live can vary from recorded material. The Royal Scam, however, seem to pose an incredible challenge for themselves by undertaking the difficult task of emulating…note for note…one of the most complex Rock/Jazz Fusion bands of all time! Why Steely Dan?

MIKE CAPUTO: Steely Dan was the obvious choice for me because of the overall quality of the music, vocals, and lyrics. There are no bad Steely Dan songs. Each song is a masterpiece and timeless. I also had emotional ties to the music and I could relate to the jazz influences, since that was the type of music I was raised on. Since I am the lead vocalist, I have to choose material that stimulates me emotionally as well as musically.

GINO AMATO: We chose Steely Dan because the music, on its own, is very interesting. It's always
about the music. I couldn't do this for more than 10 years if I was bored.

WENDY GORDY: Infectious songs with lots of background vocals, complex harmonies, intriguing lyrics and rhythms that groove.

LRA: Although somewhat popular, I wouldn’t categorize Steely Dan as one of the most popular bands in America. With that being said, how is it that The Royal Scam can pack houses night after night. Do you think you have a cult like following or am I wrong in assuming that the audience is there merited on the sophistication of Steely Dan’s music? To be God honest with you, I am a big fan of Steely Dan but sometimes go to your shows just to take in the fact that I could close my eyes and think a Steely Dan recording is playing right in front of me.

MIKE CAPUTO: We have always tried to recreate a Steely Dan recording, often note for note, because that is what Steely Dan fans want to hear. We don’t rewrite the arrangements for our own personal taste. Besides, you can’t improve on perfection. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker make perfect records. We are not about to change what is historically perfect. I love what they do and love performing these songs exactly as they were recorded. We have the best fans and like us, these people support our show to keep great music and the spirit of Steely Dan alive and well. They want to hear the songs the way they were recorded as well. We do 3 hours of music and our fans are always satisfied. In this day and age there isn’t a heck of a lot of great music out there to inspire. So, after a long work week, people can come out, have dinner and a few drinks, and hear what they want to hear.

GINO AMATO: You are absolutely correct when you say the audience is merited on the sophistication of the Dans' music. The Dan has a great mix of being esoteric and "down and dirty" R&R. Our entire aim was to reproduce the music as you originally heard it on the records. Thankfully people appreciate that and we retain our following.

WENDY GORDY: Cult? I see familiar faces but the music draws the crowds then our performance keeps them coming back to hear it again and again.

LRA: The Royal Scam has been doing this since 1992. You guys are still so energetic after all these years. Don’t you guys ever get tired of it? What keeps you going?

MIKE CAPUTO: I have been playing music all my life. It is something that is in my blood. I don’t tire of music that is interesting, challenging, and of course sounds incredible. We have some excellent musicians and singers in the band, so having that camaraderie on stage every night we perform is enough fuel for me. As for the support we get from fans, it is quite amazing. After all, we are not Steely Dan, and we don’t claim to be, but we do love this music and we can feel that same enthusiasm from fans of all ages.

GINO AMATO: Again, what keeps us going is the music. The experience of making the music and having pass by my ears in a live situation is beautiful thing.

WENDY GORDY: After all this time we're like family. Of all the musicians I have worked with in the past I feel these guys are the best around and I'm sure I only get to see and hear a part of what they are capable of.

LRA: Let’s hear from each of the band members individually. What instrument do you play? What are your musical (or non musical) influences, who have you played with before and anything else that the folks out there might want to know about you.

MIKE CAPUTO: I listened to a lot of Dave Brubeck as a child. I was also influenced by a lot of the cool jazz from the late 50’s. Then groups like the Four Seasons, Beatles, and solo artists like Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli. I was a professional drummer for over 20 years and played every type of music imaginable. I switched over to keyboards a while back for writing purposes, had 3 songs published, had a record deal when I was 16, and then other record offers in my early 30’s. I had done a few tours of the south with cover bands as a drummer. I also backed up some of the oldies bands. I hooked up with my partner, Gino Amato, about 18 years ago. We struggled writing songs and learning the ins and outs, (pardon the pun), of MIDI. Then we decided to do the Steely Dan tribute. People said it would last 6 months, but we are now on our 12th year as a band. It took Gino one year to write the charts and do the MIDI sequencing necessary to keep the show’s budget intact. Then we auditioned players and rehearsed for about a year. We produced our first debut concert on April 2, 1994, but did a sneak preview at Kenny’s Castaways in February of 94, and we’re still here.

GINO AMATO: My instrument is piano/keyboards. I've done all the sequencing (recording of all the extraneous parts into a computer that we can't play live). I teach music during the day and also work as an arranger/producer. Some of my recent arrangements have just been released on "Steve Tyrell-The Disney Standards."

WENDY GORDY: Vocals, Percussion. My father was a Jazz buff with a large album collection and my mom played a mean honky-tonk piano w/o reading a note of music. Piano lessons bored me until I started learning top 40 and singing. Carly Simon, Carole King & Stevie Wonder were early favorites as well as classic rock thru the seventies (hated disco). Solo piano bar gigs and club dates with numerous agencies kept me working as a musician thru the eighties in NY & NJ. I also recorded several of my original songs during that time. Raising a family has since taken precedence but I was fortunate enough to meet Gino and Michael and audition for a background vocal spot in the Royal Scam, almost twelve years ago. No matter where we are or how long it's been, I still step up on that stage like it's the first show, feeling right at home.

CARLA CULKIN: I have always hade a great influence from my parents. They exposed me to various types of music. I have been singing, dancing, and acting since the age of 5. We as a family performed in many plays and musicals. Singing in the chorus not only taught me how to be a team player but to also learn how to sing in harmony, which I enjoy very much. I have become extremely versatile and have been given the opportunity to sing many types of music. I have been involved in many original projects, recording and touring and accept as many recording offers as possible. I have been singing lead for my own band "Double Tap" for the past 5 years working with amazing players. We cover classic rock tunes including some "Steely Dan" and work within the local circuit. I have been working with "Royal Scam" for the past 3 years. Everyone is extremely talented and easy to work with.

LRA: The Royal Scam has played mostly in the New York Tri-State area. Are there any plans to expand your reach? What was your favorite gig or venue?

MIKE CAPUTO: We’ve had a few offers in Montreal, Boston, Florida, etc., but nothing has panned out yet. I’d love to do some weekend shows outside the tri-state area. We get emails all the time from people who want us to come to their state, but the logistics don’t work out. As for a favorite venue, it is hard to say. As long as I am on stage and/or performing with good musicians I can even enjoy myself at a rehearsal.

GINO AMATO: Because everyone doesn't do this for a living, we do stay in the Tri-state/PA area. My favorite gig was to play at Trump Marina in Atlantic City, the crowd was great.

WENDY GORDY: Trump Marina was exciting/River St. Jazz Cafe' loves us.

LRA: I understand that there are some side projects involving band members and also some original material. Would anyone care to elaborate?

MIKE CAPUTO: I have another show with our drummer, Tom Boetgger, and our sax player, Joe Montini, called Crazy Life. It started out being a tribute to Gino Vannelli, but then we added some original material, some songs from Sting’s, Ten Summoner’s Tales, a few Steely Dan tunes we don’t perform with the Royal Scam, and a really cool version of Weather Report’s, Teen Town. Gino and I do separate projects, but we often end up helping each other with them. He has helped me produce the Crazy Life show, and I did some vocals and demo mixes for his Latin project, as well as for the Steve Tyrell CD. I also continue to write and record at home. I have a small project studio here and when the muse hits me I lay down some tracks. Royal Scam sometimes performs one of the last two songs I completed, Dead Back Wheel, at our shows. It has been received rather well.

GINO AMATO: As I mentioned before, my most recent project was the "Steve Tyrell" CD. I have other
projects/arrangements on the burner, but none released as yet.


LRA: The world would like to know where The Royal Scam goes from here! How can we get more info about the band?

MIKE CAPUTO: You can always go to our website at: http://www.royalscam.com/ to find out where we are appearing, or what is going on with the band. We hope that people will stop by and listen to some of our “live” clips, as well as sign our guest book, or explore some of the many links we have there.

GINO AMATO: Visit our website www.royalscam.com and that will keep you updated on our calendar. Hopefully we'll be back in AC and playing some of the bigger venues in NYC.

 

This dialogue was reported by Rich Kubicz for http://www.letsrockamerica.com/

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