Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Rise Of Michael McDonald

Once upon a time, there was an early '70s rock band called the Doobie Brothers. Led by Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, the Doobies played a mixture of countrified, good ol' boy blues rock in the mold of the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Grand Funk Railroad, maybe with a dash of the Band and CCR thrown in. The Doobies could blow out your car speakers with a killer riff a la "China Grove":

Or they could slow things down with a sweet Southern ballad like "Black Water":

Given their success in this style, it seemed like the Doobies could have gone on as boogie rockers for a while. But around 1975, lead singer Tom Johnston began experiencing health problems and took a leave of absence. Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who had recently joined the Doobies from Steely Dan (after Donald Fagen and Walter Becker turned Steely Dan into a studio-only enterprise), recommended one of Steely Dan's back-up singers to potentially take Johnston's place.

Enter a white guy with a beard who thought he was Ray Charles: Michael McDonald.

McDonald had been kicking around for a while when he became a favorite of Becker and Fagen. His most famous Steely Dan appearance is probably "Peg":

Suddenly, with the addition of McDonald, the Doobies got a little less bluesy and a little more...smooth. McDonald hijacked the band's sound with his soulful yet silky pipes:

Old Doobie Brothers fans cried foul, but thousands of new fans flocked to the smooth grooves of the McDonald sound. Little did he know, but McDonald would suddenly find a new, unexpected ally in smoothness.

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