Interview with Michael McDonald on AOL

OnlineHost: The wheels of “Blink of An Eye” were set in motion when Michael McDonald teamed up with arrangers Jimmy Bralower and Jeff Bova, a duo that has worked with such musical luminaries as Steve Winwood, Cyndi Lauper, Eric Clapton and Womack and Womack. Bralower and Bova were largely responsible for the album’s rhythm and textural characteristics.

OnlineHost: McDonald’s singer-songwriter wife, Amy Holland, and their two children provided much of the inspiration that went into his new songs. “I can’t imagine what I would be doing without them,” the singer says. “They’ve boosted my self-esteem by leaps and bounds. So much of my self-image is based on being a member of this family.”

OnlineHost: Co-producer Russ Titleman (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Womack and Womack) was the other key factor in the making of “Blink of An Eye”. Titleman was an encouraging presence in the recording studio, coaxing unforgettable performances from McDonald. “One of the things that impressed me most about Russ was his ability to see the possibilities,” McDonald says.

OnlineHost: For McDonald, “Blink of An Eye” is the latest chapter in an already brilliant career. Raised in St. Louis, McDonald grew up loving the sound of rhythm and blues and the ’60s Rock ‘n Roll. Honing his singing and keyboard playing chops in St. Louis nightclubs, he moved to LA in the early ’70s to claim his musical fortune.

OnlineHost: During 1979 and 1980, McDonald was an inescapable presence on Top 40 radio. Not only could his vocals be heard on the Doobie Brothers recordings, but on hit singles like Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind” and Nicolette Larson’s “Let Me Go, Love”. “I have very fond memories of that time,” he says. Now, to learn more about the remarkable voice behind the remarkable man, meet Michael McDonald.

JackDL: Welcome to Center Stage, Michael!

M McDonld: It’s my pleasure to be here! Let’s start right in with the questions.

OnlineHost: If you have a question or comment to send to the stage, please select the “Ask a Question” or “Send a Comment” feature from your menu. Type your message then use the “send” option to send it to the stage. All items sent are received sequentially, first-sent, first-received.

Question: How long did it take you to get into the business?

M McDonld: Probably the better part of my life. I started singing with my father at around age 4, and graduated into rock and roll at age 11, 12. Or maybe I should say I regressed into rock ‘n roll at age 11 or 12! But I started playing in St. Louis with local bands at that point, starting out as garage bands, going from there to some of the more popular clubs in the St. Louis area.

M McDonld: Then I moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and started working as a studio musician, never quite really breaking into that clique. I then resorted to what I had done before, playing in different bands, and met a lot of musicians in the clubs that way. Eventually wound up landing a job with Steely Dan and went on from there to join the Doobie Bros. in 1975.

Question: How are you, Michael? What’s been going on?

M McDonld: I’m fine! Pretty much I’ve been working lately with my own band, both on the road and in the studio, and looking forward to doing another album.

Question: Do you plan on collaborating with Kenny Loggins any time soon?

M McDonld: It’s very likely that I will. We’ve talked about it even just recently. Lately I’ve played a few gigs with Kenny live, and once in a while we’ll go out and open for Kenny’s band. It’s kind of a collaborative show. Kenny’s a headliner and we kind of thread the two shows together doing some of the things we’ve done over the years. We’re on the stage at the same time.

Question: Any chance for a Doobie Brothers reunion, since the Eagles are doing it?

M McDonld: There’s always a chance for a Doobie Bros. reunion. I think we’ve only done about 35 or 40 so far!

Question: Any chance of another duet with Patti LaBelle?

M McDonld: Yeah it’s possible, although there isn’t anything immediately in the works. I would enjoy doing another one.

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Question: Do you think you appeal to the younger listeners?

M McDonld: To some I believe. It would be hard for me to say, especially after the last record. I’m not really sure what the demographics really were in terms of the last record and the audience that requested songs at the radio stations around the country. I think largely our audience is a middle-aged, largely female audience.

Question: Who would you most like to sing with?

M McDonld: Gee! I don’t know. I’ve sung with a lot of people I really admire very much. Gosh. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather sing with more than anyone else. I always feel that duets kind of have a life of their own. It’s the time and place that really make a record. Some of the best plans don’t always pan out, so I kind of take it as it comes. That is to say, I don’t really know who a good choice is till after the record’s made, almost.

Question: What have other members of the Doobies accomplished since the band dissolved?

M McDonld: Well, the Doobies are still together, as the original lineup of personnel. Jeff Baxter formerly of Steely Dan and the Doobies is now a record producer, and he’s produced a few hit records. He’s done real well. Willie Weeks is with Wynona Judd right now. Cornelius Bumpus has been playing with Steely Dan. John McPhee and Keith Knudsen had a group “Southern Pacific” for a while, that had a few top country records. They recently disbanded and are writing songs together. Bobby LaKind passed away last Christmas Eve.

Question: Didn’t you once play with Steely Dan? How was that experience?

M McDonld: I worked with Steely Dan for a few years as a side man. I had the pleasure of actually participating on some of the records as a backup vocalist. More recently I was one of the people on the Rock and Soul Review, which was an album and tour conceived by Donald Fagen who was the musical director. Walter Becker also participated, and in which a portion of the music was Steely Dan’s and tunes from Donald’s subsequent solo records.

Question: How do you get the right band together?

M McDonld: That’s always kind of a trial and error thing. You develop certain instincts over the years as to how certain musicians will interact and work together on a musical level and least important is how they interact on a personal level.

Question: What was it like working Eric Clapton?

M McDonld: I wish I could say, but I’ve never worked with him personally.

Question: Have you appeared in any TV or movies?

M McDonld: No, never have! Oh, I’m sorry, take that back. We did an appearance on the sitcom “What’s Happening”, the Doobie Bros., and it was a lot of fun. It was kind of a camp episode about bootlegging rock albums, and it was a lot of fun. The cast was a lot of fun. We spent about a week on that one episode.

Question: Do you regret any thing about going into music?

M McDonld: No, I don’t think I do. I think if I regret anything, it’s that I didn’t practice more over the years. I feel you wish you can do more as a musician than you’re ever capable of, but in my case I think there definitely is room for improvement.

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Question: What do you feel is the hardest part about song writing?

M McDonld: Getting started. I think knowing where to begin with an idea, or just finding an idea to begin with, is the hardest part of it.

Question: On a scale from 1-10 what would you rate yourself?

M McDonld: I don’t know! It depends on what you were comparing it to. I’m not sure I really have an answer to that one. If you ask my kids they would compare me to Kenny Loggins, who they think is much better than me.

Question: What was it like to perform with Patti Labelle “On My Own”?

M McDonld: It was great fun! We sang in separate parts of the world on the record. I sang to her voice on tape. But we finally were able to perform it live together a few times and that was great fun!

Question: Do you ever wish you had a more “regular” life? Be able to go out without being bothered?

M McDonld: I’ve never had much of a problem with people. Usually most people I meet are very nice and not very intrusive.

Question: What kind of band, Michael?

M McDonld: My band consists of 6 members: a horn player, a drummer, a guitar player, bass player and another keyboard player and vocalist. Most of the guys sing. On drums George Perilli, Bernie Cherivelli on guitar, Charlie Frichtel on bass and on horn Vince Denim. On keyboards we have a few switch hitters from time to time. Most of the time it’s been Chuck Sabatino.

Question: Will you be touring with the NY Rock and Soul Revue this summer?

M McDonld: Not that I know of, no. This summer mostly I’ll be playing with my own band around the U.S.

Question: Do you have a studio at your home? If so, do you use digital or analog equipment?

M McDonld: Well, right at the moment I have had a studio over the years. At the moment I don’t. I have a small demo setup which is a computer workstation with a sequencer and a 12 track recorder. I use the Mac Plus, and I use the Performer software.

Question: What kind of music do you listen to?

M McDonld: Pretty varied, pretty eclectic record collection. I guess anything from Blue Nile to Dori Cayme.

Question: What is your favorite Doobie Brothers song?

M McDonld: My favorite Doobie Bros song! Gosh! I guess for a lot of reasons, I had a lot of different favorite songs. Two of my favorites that I used to love to play the most was Neil’s Fandango and I always got a kick out of playing “Taking it to the Streets”.

Question: Any plans of retirement?

M McDonld: Not yet. Although I fantasize it from time to time.

Question: Are the Doobies thinking of doing another album since the resurgence of the 70’s music?

M McDonld: I’m not really sure. It’s always possible that a few of us will get together. I know that the Doobies will do another album, whether I’m involved I’m not sure.

Question: Country music has changed a lot lately. Do you think it’s for the better or worse?

M McDonld: Probably like most styles of music, a little of both. I think artists like Alison Kraus and Vince Gill really speak for the better part of what country music is evolving into. And there are a lot of other country music artists as well. Those two are just two of my favorites. I also like some of the alternative country acts like Wynona, who though she’s very popular, I consider her to be cutting-edge country. I also like Carlene Carter. Roseann Cash and Johnny Cash’s new album is supposed to be spectacular. Interestingly enough, Johnny Cash’s new album was produced by the guy who produces “The Red Hot Chili Peppers”.

Comment: Met Mr. McDonald in Pittsburgh last September and wanted to say hello.

M McDonld: I’ll just say hello, what’s your name?

Question: What do you think of the new album “Kamakiriad”?

M McDonld: I love it! I think it’s Donald’s best record to date.

Question: Any tips for an aspiring vocalist?

M McDonld: I would say one of the most important things is to sing live as much as you can, because that will always be that thing that separates artists of longevity with artists that are around only a short while. It’s important to be able to perform consistently live, as people pay these days a lot of money to come hear bands play live. From an artist’s standpoint, it’s important not to disappoint them because they bought your record. To not sound less than the record. In fact I think it’s even more important to give them more in a live performance than possibly you were able to do on a recording.

Question: I am almost as big an Alison Krauss fan as I am of yours. I thought the pairing of your voices, brief though it was, was quite good. Any future duet plans?

M McDonld: I would love very much to do a song with Alison. Whether it would be on live TV or record, it would be a lot of fun for me to perform with her as a vocalist.

Question: Do you have any tour plans?

M McDonld: We’re playing throughout the summer. A lot of it is on the West Coast, from Portland to San Diego and also we’ll be playing Chicago and New York City. A lot of the shows, however, are more private affairs, and not necessarily open ticket events.

Question: What’s your opinion of the music today compared to that of the 60’s & 70’s?

M McDonld: I think that a lot of the music of today is a product of a more restricted playlist at the level of radio in the U. S. I think in the 60’s and 70’s with FM radio being such a free format, that a lot of music was allowed to come to light and to the attention of the American public, and that if many of those artists were starting off today as new acts, they probably would never be heard.

Question: Do you lean more to the soul side or rock side of music?

M McDonld: I think instinctively I lean a little more to the pop/R&B side of music.

Question: Do you find a synergistic effect when writing with other people, or do you prefer to write on your own?

M McDonld: Writing with other people can be very much of a hit and miss kind of endeavor. When it works it’s great but I think I actually have more fun, and it seems less like work to me, when I write alone.

Question: Michael, I am an amateur song writer who has never done anything with my songs (30 in all). How do I get started?

M McDonld: Well, one way is find some way to demo songs, that is to make a representative version of the song on tape. It could be anything from piano, voice, to live band but I think the main thing is to capture the main idea of the song on tape so that someone else could appreciate the idea of the song and what you’re trying to say musically and lyrically.

Question: Who is your management and how did you find them?

M McDonld: My managers are HK Management, and I was introduced to them through Irving Azoff, who used to be my manager. He used to be my manager before he went on to become a record-company mogul.

Question: Did you grow up wishing to be a musician?

M McDonld: Yes, I kind of grew up believing that that’s what I would always do.

Question: What do YOU think of AOL?

M McDonld: It’s a very interesting concept! It’s a very comfortable way of addressing a listening audience. I was actually able to eat my dinner while I was talking!

Question: Who wrote the song “Matters of the Heart” from your new album?

M McDonld: I did. I wrote it by myself. I honestly didn’t intend to record it myself. At first, I thought I was writing it for Freddy Fender and the Texas Tornadoes.

Question: I grew up listening to your music, how does that make you feel?

M McDonld: A little old! No, I love to hear that from people, it makes me feel very gratified. It’s one of the greatest pleasures of my life that I’ve been able to write songs that meant anything to people on any level.

M McDonld: I think we have time for one more question.

Question: What do you do to live as much as you can?

M McDonld: I believe that in all of our lives, as we go through life we’re always faced with choices, and some of them lead us into uncharted territory. But I think that if we can reasonably be sure we’re being true to ourselves as people, that uncharted territory coincides with dreams that we have. However uncomfortable, those choices can never really be wrong.

M McDonld: We’re out of time, so I’d like to thank everybody that’s come online tonight to chat with me, and I hope to talk to you again soon in the flesh one of these days!

OnlineHost: Time is up for tonight’s event!

JackDL: Thank you for joining us tonight, Michael! Good night everyone!

M McDonld: You’re welcome and thanks again for having me.

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