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Michael McDonald: Once A Doobie, Always A Doobie

Host Ophira Eisenberg with Michael McDonald on <em>Ask Me Another</em> at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California.
Mike Katzif
Host Ophira Eisenberg with Michael McDonald on Ask Me Another at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California.

Singer-songwriter and "yacht rock" pioneer Michael McDonald has a lot to be excited about these days. This month, news broke that The Doobie Brothers — the band he performed with and wrote hits like "What A Fool Believes" for since the 1970s — was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. If inducted next year, the celebration would be pretty perfect timing — 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the rock band's start. "None of us thought we'd be taking the stage together in our sixties," he told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg at the Lobero Theatre, in Santa Barbara, California. "It's amazing to me."

Michael McDonald plays a game on <em>Ask Me Another</em> at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California.
Mike Katzif / NPR
Michael McDonald plays a game on Ask Me Another at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California.

The five-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter reflected on his nearly 50-year-long career in music — from his early days performing with his father in St. Louis to moving to Los Angeles when he was 18. It was there where he signed a record deal that earned him gigs with the famed collective of session musicians, the Wrecking Crew. He would soon lend his distinctive, silky-smooth voice to songs like "Peg" with Steely Dan, collaborate with Kenny Loggins, and write hit after hit as a Doobie Brother with singles like "Takin' It To The Streets" and "It Keeps You Runnin.'" Throughout the 1980s, McDonald went on to carve out a successful solo career of his own — and in recent years has reached with a younger generation of fans with collaborations with the likes of Thundercat and Solange.

On stage at the Lobero, McDonald also shared what it was like to co-write a song with his son, Dylan, on his 2017 record, Wide Open — his first album of original songs in 17 years — and offered up his take on the musical genre "Yacht Rock."

Inspired by McDonald's love of female singers from the 1960s and '70s, his Ask Me Anotherchallenge played him short clips of well-known classics, and had him identify the famous singers who sang them.

Interview Highlights

On Performing with his dad when he was young:

I did perform with my dad in a lot of ammateur stuff. He sang in bars all around St. Louis for fun. We did a lot of rag-time stuff, old songs. He was an Irish tenor, if you were gonna have to describe him. He sang a lot of Irish songs. I played banjo for him too.... Then I went into rock and roll and I broke his heart. He didn't want to see me do that. My grandma snuck me a guitar for Christmas and that was the end of my banjo playing.

On getting his first record deal after moving to LA at the age of 18:

Eventually it was (how I met Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers). I played in a lot of clubs, and one of the bands I played in, we were just local L.A. club musicians. But you could meet a lot of people in those clubs. When certain bands were auditioning to go on the road, someone who might be working for that band might remember someone who fit the job description. In my case, I could sing all the high parts in my natural voice. I can't anymore, but back then I could. So I was a valuable asset to any band who were trying not to hire too many people.

On performing with The Doobie Brothers:

The Doobies were always such a generous band. They just were desperate enough and they called me... I met up, we rehearsed for two days and then finished out the tour. There were so many bands. You know, there was the "principles" and the "other guys." With the Doobies, everybody in the band was proud to be a Doobie Brother. And to this day, I think of myself as a Doobie Brother — all these years later.

Heard on Michael McDonald: Once A Doobie, Always A Doobie.

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