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Jeff Moehlis: Singer Michael McDonald Is Takin’ It to the Lobero for TRAP Benefit Concert

Michael McDonald Click to view larger
Michael McDonald will perform at the Lobero Theatre next Wednesday as part of a benefit concert for The Rhythmic Arts Project. (Timothy White photo)

If you like your music smooth and soulful, you can't do much better than listening to Michael McDonald, whose hits include "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)," "What a Fool Believes" and "Takin' It to the Streets."

McDonald will be performing at the Lobero Theatre next Wednesday, Nov. 7. Tickets are available by clicking here.

The show is a benefit concert for The Rhythmic Arts Project, which drummer/TRAP founder and CEO Eddie Tuduri describes as a program that "educates individuals with intellectual and developmental differences, as well as children in typical preschools, by embracing a unique methodology that encompasses rhythm as a modality to address basic life and learning skills as well as reading, writing and arithmetic."

McDonald, who lives in the Santa Barbara area, will be joined by a number of other notable artists, including extraordinary singer Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie fame, and Bill Champlin, who founded the 1960s Bay Area rock and soul band Sons of Champlin and was a longtime member of Chicago.

McDonald talked to Noozhawk about some milestones from his life in music.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: How did you get involved with The Rhythmic Arts Project?

Michael McDonald: Eddie Tuduri is my old friend. We knew each other when we both lived down in L.A. years ago. We both probably came out around the same time to L.A. He was playing the drums at the time, I believe, with J.D. Souther. It was probably around the time I was playing with Steely Dan and various bands around the valley, the Los Angeles basin. We just always kind of ran into each other at rehearsal halls, studios, places like that. In particular, I think we met over at the Alley Music Studios in what's now known as NoHo. That was the early '70s, I would say.

JM: Did you reconnect with him when you moved to Santa Barbara?

MM: Yeah, we reconnected. I'm not really sure how, to tell you the truth. We just kind of ran into each other around town, or at a gig possibly. We also have a lot of mutual friends like Bill Champlin. We know a lot of the same people still to this day.

JM: I read that you once played in the backing band for Chuck Berry. What was that experience like?

MM: It was great. We played a club out in Ferguson, Mo., back then. We were the house band in the club, a group called Jerry Jay and the Sheratons. We were kind of a large band. Particularly with a band that large, you almost have to be a house band somewhere [laughs]. And we would play different clubs. But we were one of the better known dance/R&B bands in the St. Louis area. So when Chuck played at the Castaway club, which he did once or twice a year, we were usually were the band to back him up. He would just go out and play with the house band. So I got to meet him back then.

The one I remember the most was at the club. He came down to play with us there. I remember we had learned a song that he had just recorded that week, and it wasn't even pressed yet so he sent us a test pressing to learn from. It turned out to be "No Particular Place to Go," so I was always convinced that we were the first band to play that with him live.

JM: You mentioned Steely Dan, and I have to say that I particularly love your background vocals on the song "Peg." What do you remember about recording that particular song?

MM: I remember that session pretty well. One thing I remember about it was it was a very close chord I was singing for the harmonies. The harmony parts were pretty close intervals. So I remember I had trouble singing them listening to my other parts, so I sang each of the parts individually without hearing the other parts. Typically I don't do that, but on that one I did just so that I could be sure I had my pitch right on each part. I wasn't that sophisticated as a studio singer. I could sing the parts, but I had trouble singing in that kind of a close harmony.

It wasn't until I really finished the backgrounds that I actually heard it for the first time myself, and I remember thinking, "Wow, that sounds pretty good." [laughs] It was just because of the nature of the harmonies. They were very jazzy kinds of chords.

JM: Probably my favorite of your songs in "Takin' It to the Streets," and I know that you often close the show with that. How did that song come together?

MM: That song came from a conversation I had with my younger sister. She was in college at the time, and in her sociology class they were talking about urban economic structure in a country like the U.S. where there's a very thin line between the haves and have-nots. They were considering what was the future of the middle class, and how increasingly people were falling through the cracks, especially in urban areas, you know, below the poverty line. It was a trend that would seem to continue if we weren't careful. That was what they were studying, and that kind of inspired the lyrics.

In Ferguson back in the '50s and '60s, when I grew up there, along economic lines there was almost the mentality of if we don't have to see it, we don't have to deal with it. In small towns and in urban areas in this country, we've always kind of separated ourselves from the have-nots by location, like somehow that would seem to erase the problem psychologically for city governments and state governments, and America in general. And it just doesn't work that well once it gets to be a growing problem.

JM: What else is in the works for you? Are you thinking of recording some new stuff?

MM: Yeah, I'm always recording, at a snail's pace sometimes. But I'm usually recording something and writing something. I started recording a little bit with a guy in Santa Barbara named Chris Pelonis, who I've worked with for years, who I've known for many years. I've compiled a record that's more or less just piano and voice — in some cases just me at a piano singing, and in some other cases with just a couple of instruments. But we're trying to keep it very bare bones, just to see what we come up with. Stylistically, it'll be something different from what I've done in the past — not so much rock stuff, more ballads and slow stuff.

Click here for the full interview with Michael McDonald.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his website, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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