Michael McDonald Dishes On His New Album, Working With Younger Musicians And Playing Hooky From Life

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His distinctive voice combines a legendary trifecta of rock, blues and soul associated with smash hit singles like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” “What A Fool Believes” and “Takin’ It To The Streets.” Michael McDonald has one of the most unforgettable voices of all time, which made him a household name back in the 1970s when he became a band member of Steely Dan and later the lead vocalist for The Doobie Brothers.

Since then, the five-time Grammy award winning musician has gone on to collaborate with everyone from Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Kenny Loggins, Patti LaBelle and James Ingram to Elton John, Vince Gill, Joni Mitchell, Van Halen and Carly Simon. His latest album, “Wide Open,” a collection of demos which was released last fall (and his first original release since 2000), features 12 new songs produced by McDonald and drummer Shannon Forrest (Toto).

Next weekend, McDonald kicks off his nationwide tour at the Cabot Theatre in Beverly on May 5.

Michael McDonaldPhoto Credit: Michael McDonald

We caught up yesterday with McDonald to discuss his latest album, working with younger bands and what he loves most about New England.

In the fall, you released “Wide Open,” your first album of original music in 17 years. Was it worth the wait?

I think yeah. Like all records, I am always finishing it right up to the last minute, but this is a record that wouldn’t have been made any other way.

Was writing about this album mostly about personal growth?

In a metaphoric or abstract way, I put a song in a certain scenario or story line that might sound like it’s about myself, but that wasn’t how it was intended. I guess when you are writing a song though, you are really writing about yourself.

What would you like listeners to take away from this latest album?

The album and lyrics have a lot to do with patience and forgiveness, and I think that comes with age. Even making the album took patience. We weren’t sure what would stick, so the last two years we got to work on it. I was constantly pulling things out of the can that we worked on eight years ago. Physically, it was an exercise in patience for me, and living life on life’s terms and realizing that most of what ails me, I can change.

You have recently collaborated with musicians like Thundercat and Grizzly Bear. Are you trying to appeal to a younger audience now?

My daughter and I were just talking about this. She said I should start producing younger acts, but I am not so sure I am really all that plugged in. I am more than happy to work with the younger acts,, but I am not going to ever pretend that I am hip and cool.

Michael McDonaldPhoto Credit: Michael McDonald

Why do you think your music over the decades still continues to resonate with fans?

That kind of scares me, sort of like you don’t want to look in the mirror too long. It’s a rabbit hole (laughs).

Did you ever think you’d still be making music at this age?

Not at all. I look at making music for a living like my playing hooky from life. I felt like I was always waiting for someone to come along and say the party’s over, but I have been very fortunate that I didn’t have to do that. When I get on stage, it is more remarkable for me to think that any of us are doing this as a profession. I can’t help but in those moments to stop and soak it in. I certainly didn’t think I’d still be doing this in my 60s.

When was the last time you were in New England?

Just a few months ago we were playing up in New Hampshire and in the summers, we play at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. I am looking forward to spring in New England. You always have a tough go of it in the winter, but I still love New England.

Any favorite places you like to check out when you are in town?

When we are playing on Cape Cod, there is a place in Hyannis called Spanky’s Clam Shack that has great lobster rolls. The beaches from New Hampshire to Massachusetts are really as good as it gets.

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