Features, Print April 10, 2019

Michael McDonald: A Fool Who Still Believes

by Valerie Vampola

Yes, Michael McDonald is going to play “What A Fool Believes.

And while McDonald continues to involve himself on other projects, like releasing a new album in 2017, or recording a hit with the hip acid jazz bass wizard Thundercat, he recognizes that his shows are not about him. They are about his fans and what they want to hear. So of course, it’s on the set list.

There was a time the iconic “yacht rocker” indulged on performing deeper cuts because he and the band really enjoyed playing the songs. But the truth is his audience needs music to relate to.

“What A Fool Believes” turned 40 this year, and instead of storing it for special occasions, McDonald is ready to perform like it was written yesterday.

“We don’t get tired of it because it belongs to the audience,” McDonald said in a phone interview for BandWagon. “It’s like playing it for the first time, and their excitement becomes my inspiration.”

It’s this kind of attitude that has lead him to share the stage with the younger generation of musicians: artists like Vulfpeck, Solange, and of course Thundercat, where he played, yes, “What a Fool Believes” at the Hollywood Bowl.

Admittedly, he did not discover these younger artists on his own, but with the help of his son and daughter. On road trips or drives up the Californian coast, his son and daughter take reign of what comes out of the stereo. The quality time spent in the car is a time for sharing new music, discovering artists and enjoying the great artistry and musicianship that comes with this generation. One of his collaborations is even owed to the son of his longtime friend Kenny Loggins (yep, the guy who did “Danger Zone” and “Footloose”).

Loggins’ son came across an interview with Thundercat, where the band referenced both McDonald and Loggins as influences. McDonald, therefore, performed for millennials at Coachella and the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. They enthusiastically welcomed his presence, and cheer louder than ever when he starts playing the beginning chords of “What A Fool Believes.”

McDonald has always believed he could learn from younger artists. Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat’s creativity, ability, and momentum inspires him. McDonald even admits that at the height of his career, he didn’t push himself the way he observes some of the younger musicians do. He simply wanted to be good enough to write his own music and sing. Sharing the stage with musicians of such technical prowess blows him away.

“There is a spiritual rock ’n roll experience [to what Bruner does],” McDonald says. “Like Jimi Hendrix meets Herbie Hancock.”

When the soul and gospel of the 70’s morphed into the synth and pop of the 80’s, McDonald felt the pressures of needing to change with the market. That kept him runnin’ (so to speak) through four albums with The Doobie Brothers and 11 albums during his solo career, with hits such as “Sweet Freedom,” but that wasn’t him. “[My] best efforts were ill-guided, and I felt like a hound dog barking at a tree,” McDonald said.

When McDonald finally gave up those efforts, he began to rediscover his joy in 2003, when he recorded an album of Motown hits. He got nothing but pure joy singing the hits of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, reminding him of his early days singing in clubs before Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. Ironically the project put him back in the spotlight, as it was a hit, sparking a tour and a follow-up album. He’s been there ever since.

So when Michael McDonald is on stage Thursday, April 11th at Union Colony Civic Center in downtown Greeley, singing our favorite songs like “Taking It To The Streets,” or “I Keep Forgetting,” for the millionth time, he is thanking us for continuing to love who he is. And he knows that’s what it takes to keep his musical legacy fresh for listeners of all ages.

Michael McDonald plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at the Union Colony CivicCenter in downtown Greeley. For tickets, go to ucstars.com or call (970) 356-5000.