In the latter part of his career, Michael McDonald's music has been heard mostly on adult-contemporary radio formats. But the singer/songwriter and keyboardist with the husky baritone was once a fixture of album-oriented rock radio stations during his tenure in the Doobie Brothers, a group he helped transform from a boogie-rock band to a more mature pop and soul-jazz combo.
Michael McDonald was born Feb. 12, 1952, in St. Louis. He formed his first band, Mike and the Majestics, in high school in 1964. McDonald played keyboards in other groups before signing with RCA Records in 1972.
McDonald released one of his own compositions, "God Knows I Love My Baby," as his first single. When it bombed, the label nixed a full album. On Bell Records, in 1973, McDonald issued the failed singles "Dear Me" and "When I'm Home." He spent the early '70s writing for and singing on albums by such artists as Jack Jones and David Cassidy (Dreams Are Nuthin' More Than Wishes).
Drummer Jeff Porcaro convinced Steely Dan to hire McDonald for a 1973 tour. The following year, McDonald joined the jazz-rockers as a keyboardist and backing vocalist. But when Tom Johnston left the Doobie Brothers in 1975, McDonald auditioned for and got the job as his replacement. He found himself in an already-successful band that wanted his services as a lead singer and songwriter.
McDonald's unique voice and jazz-soul instincts changed the band into a more mature combo perfect for progressive-rock radio. The transformation yielded such hits as the title cut to Takin' It to the Streets (1976), McDonald's first LP with the Doobies.
McDonald co-wrote Carly Simon's 1978 top-10 hit "You Belong to Me," which the Doobies also recorded on Livin' on the Fault Line (1977).
The Doobies' Minute by Minute (1978) was a multiplatinum smash, thanks to such hits as the McDonald-sung title track and "What a Fool Believes" (RealAudio excerpt), for which McDonald and co-songwriter Kenny Loggins won two Grammy Awards. But the Doobies never matched that success again, and the other members increasingly felt that they were just McDonald's backing group.
Following One Step Closer (1980), with its top-5 "Real Love," the Doobie Brothers disbanded in 1982. That year came McDonald's first solo LP, If That's What It Takes, which yielded the top-5 "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)." The next year, he scored a top-20 hit with James Ingram on the Grammy Awardwinning "Yah Mo B There."
No Lookin' Back, McDonald's second solo album, included the 1985 single "Our Love." The following year, McDonald topped the Billboard Hot 100 with "On My Own." Though the song was a duet with Patti LaBelle, the pair sent audiotapes of their parts to each other and didn't meet until after they shot a video on different U.S. coasts.
McDonald's chart successes then dwindled. Take It to Heart (1990) was a moderate seller, and he was featured on Aretha Franklin's top-20 R&B hit "Ever Changing Times" (1992). That same year McDonald reteamed with Steely Dan's Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in the New York Rock and Soul Revue, a touring group that also included Boz Scaggs and others.
In 1995 McDonald briefly rejoined the Doobies for a tour. Three years later, he toured as a solo act, opening for Stevie Nicks. Last year, he released "Among the Missing," a duet with Reba McEntire with part of the proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
McDonald is prominently featured on the Doobies' box set, Long Train Runnin': 19711999. His most recent solo LP is Blink of an Eye (1993).
Other birthdays on Saturday: Ray Manzarek (Doors), 65; Gene McDaniels, 65; Joe Schermie (Three Dog Night), 55; Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis), 50; Gary "Gaz" Whelan (Happy Mondays), 34; Chynna Phillips, 32; and Jim Creeggan (Barenaked Ladies), 30.