By Hector Saldana
San Antonio Express-News
Steely Dan and Michael McDonald have a history.
It began long before pairing up for their “Steelyard ‘Sugartooth’ McDan” tour. The Doobie Brothers star played in one of the earliest touring incarnations of the revered and reclusive band.
Steely Dan and McDonald play Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Saturday. McDonald opens but is expected to perform songs with his former band.
“They were one of the most sophisticated bands recording at the time,” McDonald said in a conference-style media interview. “So, I think those of us who worked with them were really thrilled and terrified at the chance.”
So sophisticated that punk exploded as a reaction to the music made by bands like Steely Dan. “I think to some extent punk rock was a reaction against some of the kinds of things we were doing,” Steely Dan co-founder/guitarist Walter Becker said in the same interview. He explained that Steely Dan would “strive for a certain level of polish because otherwise it just sounded like music students playing jazz, which is an effect we were trying to avoid.”
Both artists weren’t exactly certain how they would intermingle their talents onstage this time, but they agreed it needed to “evolve organically.”
Becker called it “such a natural collaboration.” Obviously, the combined monster hits are appealing — “My Old School,” “Reeling In the Years,” “Peg,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Do It Again,” “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes” and “Minute By Minute”– but this won’t be a boring trip down memory lane.
“Our attitude is we’re definitely sort of in the anti-nostalgic camp,” Becker said. “We’re going to try and condense the Steely Dan set down into a maximum high-impact slamming type of deal that will completely banish any talk of nostalgia or traipsing down the rose garden — the garden path or whatever, however you put that.”
Old-school fans may recall when Steely Dan performed at Laurie Auditorium on Sept. 14, 1973. It was a KEXL and Wild West Productions show with tickets at $5.50.
But they attract new generations, too: “Multigenerational audiences — yes, that’s true. I have seen that. I was just talking to — about that yesterday to — with my wife and the occasion that we had where we saw somebody spotted a couple of young — a couple of young guys in the audience that were — you know, knew all the songs and were having a great time,” Becker said.
The two acts come from different backgrounds. McDonald’s is more pop and Motown. Becker is hard-core jazz and blues.
“It wasn’t really until I joined Steely Dan that I became aware of a lot of the music those guys listened to and a lot of the influences on the band,” McDonald said. He got the Steely Dan gig because he could sing all the high parts in his natural voice.
“We were very opportunistically oriented in those days. And Mike showing up just gave us a whole other direction to go in,” Becker explained. But the touring was short-lived.
Becker described ’70s touring as a money-losing proposition. And the sound, he acknowledged, was hit and miss in the old days.
“Donald (Fagan) and I decided that we didn’t want to tour anymore because of the fact that we really wanted to write songs and make records,” he said.
Today, Steely Dan and McDonald are sometimes confined to smooth jazz. “You know, it’s a wonderful thing. I mean anytime that somebody’s playing your music for an audience that’s out there it can only be — I mean thank God for ‘smooth jazz’ for artists like myself. I mean that’s been largely the radio play that I’ve gotten in recent years. And you know it’s an interesting audience. I’ve gone out and played with some smooth jazz, acts,” McDonald said.
From the San Antonio Express News, July 14, 2006