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About Michael McDonald

"In a 1982 bit from the Emmy-winning sketch show SCTV, called “A Tribute to the Greatest Backing Vocalist of All Time,” singer Michael McDonald (played by Rick Moranis) is shown speeding to a recording studio and making his way to the vocal booth just in time to lay down his part for Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind.” The producer shrugs, as if to say, Nailed it. McDonald hashes out some paperwork while the verse plays, then zips back to the booth just in time for the next chorus. When the song ends, the producer stands up to shake McDonald’s hand. “I’ll probably need you next week; I’ll give you a call,” he says. “OK,” McDonald replies, then walks coolly to the studio door before rushing full-sprint back to his car.

The joke had a couple of gears: Not only was McDonald one of the most sought-after vocalists—backing or otherwise—of the ’70s and ’80s, but he also made it seem like no big deal. Born in 1952, he started his career as a touring member (and studio fixture) of Steely Dan before joining The Doobie Brothers when vocalist Tom Johnston got sick mid-tour—a temporary pairing that proved so successful (“Takin’ It to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes”) that McDonald stayed on with the band for years. Husky, smooth, and sophisticated, his voice came to embody the polish of ’70s and ’80s soft rock, straddling pop, soul, and jazz with virtuosic ease.

McDonald left The Doobie Brothers in the early ’80s to start a solo career whose high points—“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” the Patti LaBelle duet “On My Own,” the Grammy-winning James Ingram duet “Yah Mo B There”—were every bit as era-defining as his work with the band. After a relatively quiet ’90s and early 2000s (including a reunion with The Doobie Brothers and a pair of Motown tribute albums), McDonald was rediscovered by younger artists as a touchpoint for a bygone era, collaborating with the indie-rock band Grizzly Bear and left-field funk auteur Thundercat, among others."

HOMETOWN
St. Louis, MO
GENRE
Rock
BORN
Feb 12, 1952

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