Michael McDonald is ready to get personal on 'What a Fool Believes': NPR

Michael McDonald, 72, describes his voice as a “malleable” instrument: “Especially with age, it's like you're constantly renegotiating with it.”

Timothy White/Sacks & Co.


hide caption

change caption

Timothy White/Sacks & Co.


Michael McDonald, 72, describes his voice as a “malleable” instrument: “Especially with age, it's like you're constantly renegotiating with it.”

Timothy White/Sacks & Co.

Even Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Michael McDonald says he sometimes feels like an impostor.

“I don't mean to be self-deprecating when I say this, but I never really understood why people gave me so much praise as a musician,” McDonald says. “I'm really just, more or less, a songwriter who plays a little piano.”

It's an understatement. McDonald's unique sound that has captivated audiences for generations and given life to remixes, remakes and thousands of impressions of Tonight Toon sketches to The voice.

His new memoir, What a fool believesco-written with comedian Paul Reiser, McDonald chronicles his childhood in Ferguson, MO, his early years as a session musician, and his decades-long career as a member of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers and as a solo artist.

Throughout his career, McDonald was known for his crossover hits. His 1982 single, “I keep forgetting“, made the top 10 on Billboard's Pop, R&B and Adult Contemporary charts, and was later sampled by hip-hop artists Warren G and Nate Dogg in their 1994 hit, “Regulate.”

McDonald says that earlier in his career he tended not to write about himself directly in songs. But now, looking back, he's noticed a shift in his music, which he partly attributes to becoming sober in the mid-eighties.

“More than anything, I think what people who suffer from addiction have universally in common is that we kind of hide from ourselves. We hide from our feelings,” he says. “I have learned in sobriety to slowly peel back layers.”

Interview highlights

What a Fool Believes, by Michael McDonald

Jim Shea/Brian Moore/Sacks & Co.

What a Fool Believes, by Michael McDonald

Jim Shea/Brian Moore/Sacks & Co.

On his first band, Mike and the Majestics

It was Mike and the Majestics, and I got demoted pretty quickly, and it was just the Majestics. We started when we were all around twelve. I think our first gigs were more like when I was thirteen. And the other boys were a year and two older than me.

Back then we were playing basement parties, birthday parties for girls we knew in eighth grade. And then we started going to student parties at a very young age, which my mother was not happy about. And so she brought in my father as our manager – not before we were exposed to some of the rites of passage we were probably too young to witness. …We thought we had died and gone to heaven. Because the girls were all really cute, and the students were crazy and passed the hat. …But then we had a curfew because we were all like 12 and 13 years old. And in the course of all this, we learned all the dirty lyrics to “Louie Louie” and songs like that were school supplies.

YouTube

On writing the Doobie Brothers' song, “Takin' It To The Streets,” which was inspired by gospel

The intro to the song just popped into my head, and I couldn't wait to get to the gig, set up my piano and figure out the chords on the piano. …It just felt like an opening for a gospel song and I was into gospel music at the time. … What better motif for that idea of ​​people falling through the cracks of our society and … and what better way to do it together than a gospel song. … It took me a minute to come up with “Takin' to the Streets” because that came from the idea that … we have to do better together or this is where it's going to go. It will be resolved one way or another. These types of progressive ideas and reforms do not come easily, and are born out of necessity. … We will meet on the same plane somehow, maybe we can do it out of love for each other and out of consideration and empathy before we have to do it out of frustration.

About the realization that white artists covered songs by black musicians and were praised for it

I think that was pretty much the experience of a lot of people of my generation growing up. White kids who thought Pat Boone wrote “Tutti Frutti.” We didn't know any better, you know, because radio was so segregated, like everything, in the United States at the time. It was a sad separation in what was really such a strong part of our culture, you know, but it was always kind of insular and gave credit to the people who really brought these art forms to America and really gave America its own country. true artistic art form: jazz and R&B music and gospel. …

For example, the English invasion bands thought they wrote songs like, “It's All Over Now” by The Rolling Stones, Bobby Womack and his brothers, and they had a group called The Valentinos, and that song was a No. 1 hit. on Black radio when the Stones released it. … I keep being surprised by the roots of music that I thought was more of a pop record, but really has its roots in the blues tradition and was written by American artists who didn't really enjoy the success of the song that other artists made.

About being big in the black community

When that was brought to my attention by friends of mine who liked our music, I was really flattered by it. And I'm still flattered because that, to me, is really the test of all I ever really wanted to do, was represent in my own way what I really believe American music is. To have that privilege to be able to do that and to have it accepted by the audience that I think created it, that invented it and brought it to all of us.

About how his voice has aged

The voice is a malleable instrument at best, and especially as you get older, it's like you're constantly renegotiating with it. I find that at my age now I'm just trying to figure out what my strengths are and what I can use to convey the song. I wish in some ways I could sing with the range or sense of pitch or whatever it was that I had when I was younger. But unfortunately, those things change over the years. …

I've been less reticent about lowering the keys and such, and especially if it gives better performance, but I noticed that a lot of things have changed. …I have to kind of learn what still works for me when I'm singing because I don't want to try to sound like I used to sound and have that be obvious. Now I just want to be able to do what I'm good at.

Sam Briger and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.

Related Posts

Writer Shalom Auslander catalogs his lifelong battle with self-contempt in ‘Feh’ : NPR

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Tonya Mosley. Today, my guest is writer Shalom Auslander. For decades, he’s written with humor about what it was like to grow…

Comedian Bob Newhart, who helmed classic TV sitcoms, dies at 94 : NPR

Bob Newhart played psychologist Robert Hartley on the 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show. Gerald Smith/NBCUniversal via Getty Images hide caption switch caption Gerald Smith/NBCUniversal via Getty Images Bob Newhart…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Missed

Trump Bitcoin Conference Fundraising Tickets for Nashville Soiree Hit $844,600 Max

  • July 19, 2024
Trump Bitcoin Conference Fundraising Tickets for Nashville Soiree Hit $844,600 Max

Solar parks with rainwater management reduce runoff and erosion, research shows

  • July 19, 2024
Solar parks with rainwater management reduce runoff and erosion, research shows

Food aroma research could help explain why meals in space taste bad

  • July 19, 2024
Food aroma research could help explain why meals in space taste bad

The mindset, technology and tools holding back e-commerce

  • July 19, 2024
The mindset, technology and tools holding back e-commerce

Writer Shalom Auslander catalogs his lifelong battle with self-contempt in ‘Feh’ : NPR

  • July 19, 2024
Writer Shalom Auslander catalogs his lifelong battle with self-contempt in ‘Feh’ : NPR

Canadian Jacob Shaffleburg, Colombian Richard Rios and Copa America stars set for transfers

  • July 19, 2024

Trump speaks at RNC amid Biden election questions

  • July 19, 2024
Trump speaks at RNC amid Biden election questions

Stocks Making the Biggest After-hours Moves: ISRG, NFLX, PLUG

  • July 19, 2024
Stocks Making the Biggest After-hours Moves: ISRG, NFLX, PLUG

The Key to a Purposeful Life in a Distracted World

  • July 19, 2024
The Key to a Purposeful Life in a Distracted World

Groundcherry gets genetic upgrades: Garden wonder turns into agricultural powerhouse

  • July 19, 2024
Groundcherry gets genetic upgrades: Garden wonder turns into agricultural powerhouse

Is Kim Kardashian's Salmon Sperm Treatment Safe or Effective?

  • July 18, 2024
Is Kim Kardashian's Salmon Sperm Treatment Safe or Effective?