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Michael McDonald's staying busy in quarantine: Q&A

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Like everybody else, Michael McDonald's year has changed significantly.

At this point the hit-making singer, songwriter and musician should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and on the road, both with the Doobie Brothers, celebrating the group's 50th anniversary. Instead he's at home in California -- but still making music, including a solo concert on Thursday, Sept. 30.

McDonald has started to release a series of live cover songs, starting with Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and continuing with the the Jackie De Shannon hit "What the World Needs Now is Love." There's a bunch of new original music around as well, and the Doobies reunion (McDonald was with the band from 1975-82 and won four Grammys for 1978's "Minute By Minute" album) will now take place during 2021, following the group's Nov. 7 entry into the Rock Hall, albeit via an HBO special rather than in-person, as lanned

But McDonald, 68, does have a little extra time on his hands, which led to a chat about finding himself busy, even in quarantine...

So how are things in your corner of the quarantine?

Y'know, man, they're just like everybody else -- going stir crazy. If I don't think of the financial aspect of it, it's a good thing for me, in a way. Normally I'm thinking, "When am I leaving, again?" and "Have I done my laundry?" But for so many people it's devastating, the financial thing. I don't lose sight of that at all.

You certainly had a lot on the plate coming into the summer. Is pushing back the Doobies tour a disappointment?

Oh, for sure. We're all pretty geared up to go do it, but such is everybody's fate these days. I know I'm really looking forward to it, and all the other guys are up for it come next year. It was something we were all looking forward to and kind of disappointed it didn't get to happen this year. But it'll still be great when we do get out there next year.

The Rock Hall induction -- better later than never?

I think it's something we're all looking forward to, for sure. I think all of us share in that sense of pride of having been in the Doobies and been a part of that band and gotten to play that music for so many years.

Meanwhile you've started releasing these live cover songs. What's the story there?

For a long time I thought about taking some live shows and making use of that stuff. I've always thought people should have it made available to them if they want to check it out. Over the years the record companies would always say, 'Oh, nobody buys live records' and I never thought that was true. So this just seemed like an opportunity to get some live music out there and let people kind of check us out as a band.

The first two you released, "What's Going On" and "What the World Needs Now...," are also pretty appropriate to the times we find ourselves in.

We always end our evening with one of those two songs, or both. We've tried to make our live shows leave peoel with a sense of community and a little something more important than just all of us getting together to hear some live music. That's certainly a wonderful thing...but nonetheless we take the opportunity to say something beyond that to all the people who are nice enough to come hear us, that points to the fact we're a community. And the mindfulness of being a community is always important -- especially now.

Are you working on new material now?

Yeah, always. I've always got something in the can. In fact, I'm in the middle of an EP which is turning out to be more -- like a seven-, eight-song collection. I was initially going to use it just to have some kind of merch for the tour, but it's morphed into something a little more involved and complicated. In it simplest form it's very live recordings I made with thee musicians I play with, in a barn just north of Santa Barbera on a remote area of the coast. We just recorded everything lives, vocals and everything. We did overdubs, but for the most part the tracks themselves are initially live bass, drums, guitars and vocals.

What's on it?

It's a collection of some songs I thought I might never record that I've written over the years. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to record some of those, and reimagine some of the old stuff, different arrangements of some of the Doobies tunes like "It Keeps You Runnin'," "What a Fool Believes" and "You Belong to Me." I've got a Neil Young song on there, "Helpless." there's a song I wrote with David Crosby, too. It's turned out to be this California kind of project, with some more Latin arrangements of things. Whenever we put it out, I think it will surprise a lot of people.

Michael McDonald streams "Home Alone: A Special Solo Concert" at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30. Tickets are $20 via boxoffice.mandolin.com.

Web Site: www.boxoffice.mandolin.com

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