He’s sung with legendary rockers, new electropoppers, Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. But in his heart of hearts, Michael McDonald is a soul man and a surfer dude.
“Soul music is my favorite. I think of myself largely in that realm,” he says by phone from his home in Maui, where his idea of a great time is to ride the waves.
“It’s what I love most about Hawaii,” he says. “As I get older, the thing I feel as the most melancholy about at times — I don’t see it happening too soon — but the thought of getting too old to go surfing makes me sad.
“Or it’s something that makes me grateful,” he says. “When I’m surfing I think, man, at my age, who knows — anything can happen to anybody, but to be physically able to go out and paddle out in the water and catch a wave once in a while — when you think about how lucky you are, especially at 60 years old, one good heart attack could end that for good. It makes you stop and go, ‘For however long I have this gift, I’m grateful.’”
He’ll be bringing his music and his instantly recognizable voice to the Riverside Casino Event Center on Saturday night, accompanied by two female backup singers, bass, drums, guitar, two keyboards and sax.
The concert will feature a cross-section from his eclectic career, drawing on hits from his vast solo collection and some Doobies classics to his recent Motown recordings.
“We do a little bit of everything that we think people want to hear,” he says.
His hit parade includes the Grammy-winning “What a Fool Believes” and “Minute by Minute” with the Doobie Brothers in 1979 and “Yah Mo B There” with James Ingram in 1984, as well as solo efforts “I Keep Forgetting” and “Sweet Freedom” and the chart-topping duet “On My Own” with Patti Labelle in 1986. Since then, he’s recorded Christmas songs; covered Motown standards in 2003 and 2004; released the disc “Soul Speak” in 2008; is collaborating with his son, Dylan, 23; and recently sang backup for indie electronic band Holy Ghost!
He’s also sung the national anthem at the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and the 2011 NBA finals, and appeared on “American Idol” and the sitcom “30 Rock.”
While soul speaks to his soul, McDonald likes to jump genres.
“I love to do R&B stuff. The stuff that I write, even the stuff that I wrote for the Doobies, probably leans toward pop rhythm and blues more than rock ’n’ roll,” he says.
“‘Takin’ it to the Streets’ is probably the closest thing to a rock song, in a way, because it was kind of a gospel rock ’n’ roll thing.
“On the other hand, I try not to categorize myself too much, so I don’t limit myself too much in my own head.”
One of his latest endeavors will keep him on the road all summer, touring with Donald Fagen of Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs in the soul supergroup, The Dukes of September.
“It’s really a lot of fun,” he says of the project. “Donald, Boz and I are kind of indulging ourselves, to a certain degree, hopefully in a way the audience can enjoy. “
Performing live keeps things fresh.
“What I really love is that moment when you get on stage and the band sounds great,” he says. “Every night’s a little different. I don’t know what other kind of gig you can have that has that kind of aspect to it.”
In a high burnout industry — personally and professionally — he’s been married nearly 30 years and has a 20-year-old daughter, Scarlett, as well as son Dylan, to whom he dispenses a little advice while working on a project.
His key to successfully navigating his mercurial industry blurs all lines.
“At this point, I feel very fortunate,” he says. “There’s so many twists and turns whether in your marriage or in your career. Anything can go wrong and seem insurmountable at that moment. … I’ve always lived with the belief that there’s another chance at something good coming down the pike. If you apply that to the areas of your life, you can hang in there a little longer with things.”
— Diana Nollen