Grammy winner Michael McDonald comes to Beaver Creek, Aug. 27
If you go …
What: Michael McDonald.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.
Cost: Tickets start at $125.
More information: Tickets are on sale now at the VPAC Box Office, by calling 970-845-8497 or visiting www.vilarpac.org.
Two notes. That’s all it takes to recognize the voice of Michael McDonald.
Distinctive and soulful, McDonald, an American singer, songwriter, keyboardist, composer and record producer, is a five-time Grammy Award-winning artist and has been a singular musical presence for four decades, from ’70s-era Doobie Brothers classics such as “What a Fool Believes” and solo hits like “I Gotta Try,” through two highly acclaimed Motown albums.
McDonald will bring his ever-evolving sound to the Vail Valley on Saturday for a show at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.
In the beginning
Growing up in St. Louis, the first musical instrument McDonald ever laid hands on was the piano. Music was a big part of his family and “was central to our best memories growing up,” he said. The first band he saw live was a group led by Oliver Sain, a multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, songwriter and producer who was influential in the annals of St. Louis soul.
“They played at the Shady Grove Friday night Fish Fry in Jennings, Missouri,” McDonald said.
After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, McDonald honed his talent as a session musician and singer before being invited to join Steely Dan. Over the course of four albums, from “Katy Lied” to “Gaucho,” McDonald became an integral part of the group’s sound, singing background vocals on FM staples such as “Black Friday” and “Peg.”
In the mid-’70s, McDonald joined The Doobie Brothers, helping the band redefine its funky R&B sound as a singer, keyboardist and songwriter on such top-40 singles as “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “Minute By Minute” and “What A Fool Believes.”
McDonald said his one big takeaway from performing with Steely Dan and the Doobies was “being privy to other people’s view, approach and attention to detail concerning their music and performance.”
His distinct vocal style also made McDonald one of the world’s most sought-after session singers. Beyond his hits with The Doobies, the musician lent his voice to dozens of collaborations — “more than I could mention,” he said — including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Vince Gill, Kenny Loggins, Van Halen and Grizzly Bear.
In 1982, McDonald released his first solo album, “If That’s What It Takes,” featuring a duet he recorded with his sisters, Kathy and Maureen, titled “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).” The musician said he still enjoys playing music with his family.
“It’s always fun, even now, and usually my idea,” he said.
During the ’80s and ’90s, McDonald’s solo career hopped from success to success on the wings of hits such as “Sweet Freedom,” “On My Own,” a duet with Patti LaBelle, and the Grammy-winning duet with James Ingram “Yah Mo B There.”
In 2008, McDonald released the acclaimed crossover album “Soul Speak,” which hit three different charts simultaneously, and in 2011 received an honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music. He’s also written a song for the TV show “South Park” and appeared on “30 Rock,” though he denies having a funny bone and chalks up the experiences to “cruel management.”
Recently, he and cohorts Donald Fagen and Boz Scaggs and an 11-piece soul super group, released their first live DVD. As for future collaborations, McDonald said English electronica, alternative indie rock artist Imogene Heap is on his short list.
Heading into his show at the Vilar Performing Arts Center, McDonald said his pre-performance routine has changed a bit over the years.
“I prefer to warm up more these days and I like to contemplate the experience I’m about to have in advance in a more quiet setting — however rare that opportunity is,” he said.
When he isn’t touring, writing music or recording, McDonald is home with his family, “walking my wife and daughter’s dogs on the beach in Santa Barbara,” he said.
“It’s a job they give me when I’m home, like grocery shopping, to keep me from being underfoot until I hit the road again.”