Thursday, February 28, 2008


Michael McDonald
We keep forgettin’ to give the husky-voiced crooner his due—so here he is!
By John Sellers
  • Illustration: Rob Kelly
    Maybe it’s his stint with the Doobie Brothers. Or those famous team-ups with soft-rock relics Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross. Or the prematurely gray hair. Whatever the reason, Michael McDonald has been catnip for comedians for more than a quarter of a century now. And his career certainly has been parodied—on SCTV, in the South Park movie and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and, most recently, via the Internet serial Yacht Rock. But the 56-year-old singer and keyboardist has survived the (mostly good-natured) ribbing with surprising grace: “It’s think it’s kind of great,” he says from his home in Nashville. “A lot of it is really funny.” This week at the Blue Note, McDonald will perform his maddeningly catchy classics as well as those from his latest album, Soul Speak, which features covers of songs by such non–Yacht Rock–y artists as Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen and Bob Marley.
  • You should know going into this that I’ve had “I Keep Forgettin’ ” stuck in my head for 25 years now. I think I’m technically insane.
    Well, that’s good to hear.
  • That “Regulate” song by Warren G and Nate Dogg? Didn’t help.
    It’s funny. To my kids, that’s the good version of the song. They say, “Why couldn’t you have written it that way?” They love that record—but not because of anything I did.

    As a guy with prematurely graying hair myself, I want to thank you for being a role model.
    I wish I had a choice in that one, but yeah, you’re welcome.You wore it proudly—like Steve Martin! I wish I could say that I was that way from the beginning. It was only after two or three humiliating episodes where the record company told me, “We’re not going to shoot a video unless you dye your hair,” and I looked like Mr. Chocolate Kiss from Clairol. It had to get really ugly before I decided that I would never dye it again.
  • Have you ever owned a yacht?
    No, but I thought Yacht Rock was hilarious. And uncannily, you know, those things always have a little bit of truth to them. It’s kind of like when you get a letter from a stalker who’s never met you. They somehow hit on something, and you have to admit they’re pretty intuitive.
  • Have you at least lived near a marina?
    No, I never did. Although a couple summers ago, when I opened for Steely Dan, I’d do the encore with them and come out in a little captain’s hat, like Alan Hale Jr. We all wore them onstage.

    And not one of you owns a yacht?
    Not that I know of. Well, David Crosby owns a sailboat. But I’m not sure he counts.

    Okay. So what’s the craziest thing you ever did with Kenny Loggins?
    We mostly worked a lot when we would get together. Kenny, he’s one of those guys who was a more serious artist; I was just a schlub. He was like, “C’mon, let’s get this right,” and I was like, “Got any beer?”

    I’m thinking that your tenure in the Doobie Brothers probably wasn’t drug-free.
    Not exactly, no. Not everybody had the same problems that I had, but there was a few of us who did the dust.

    Did fans almost expect that kind of stuff from you?
    I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging about smoking pot, but there was a time when that was a big part of our day. Smoking in the morning was normal. But a lot of things became normal to me. Seizures, pissing my pants, waking up in a hotel room with the New York City police at the foot of my bed became normal. It’s not like I’m proud of it.

    Speaking of bad trips, I recently read that Skunk Baxter, the beret-wearing Doobie guitarist, is now a consultant for the Department of Defense.
    Yeah. That’s about as good a reason to store food and hoard cash as I can come up with.

    Michael McDonald plays the Blue Note Tue 4 and Wed 5. Soul Speak is out Tue 4.

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