If any Santa Barbara rocker had an excuse for begging off from benefit shows, it would have to be Michael McDonald. This is his second year doing Youth Interactive and he is booked pretty damned solid. What other local rocker is up at nine in the morning on a Saturday for an interview on his way before driving to Bay Area? “I have a gig playing with the Doobie Brothers up there, but I’d like to get there a day earlier because Ringo’s band is playing the night before and I’d like to see them,” said McDonald, admitting that some feelers were sent out a few years ago to see if he wanted to join the ex-Beatles’ All-Starr band. “I was pretty busy at the time,” he said. “But who knows.”
Busier now. Last April, Stevie Wonder inducted McDonald into the Rock Hall of Fame, and just last week his blue-eyed soul got employment at the Carnegie Hall tribute to Bill Withers (“Aint No Sunshine”). “Carnegie Hall is great, and it was the anniversary of a live album Withers recorded there 27 years ago,” said McDonald. “I don’t own the album, but I’m going to get it now. It was the same great band with Booker T in it.” The evening featured many America’s other great voices, like Ed Sheeran, Sheryl Crow, and Dr. John. “I was asked to sing ‘Hello Like Before,’ a lovely ballad most people don’t know, and then they suddenly wanted me to do ‘Lean on Me.’ I had to learn it, but I mean, but who doesn’t know ‘Lean on Me’?”
His normal gigging schedule has him crisscrossing the U.S. offering three brands of McDonald: solo material, Doobie Brothers shows, and a Christmas show to boot. “Maybe it sounds strange, because I’ve played the Doobies songs for so long, but I still have a hard time remembering. I have to relearn them. I do get a little panicky before these shows.”
In a way, the Doobies had a lot to do with McDonald moving to our town, though his first glimpse of S.B. was in the late 1970s when he played the long-lost rock club The Brewery at the Hotel Mar Monte in a band called The Whole Thing. (They also played The Pirate’s Cove, long gone in Goleta.) “I was going to move up to the Bay area to be nearer the Doobies, and I was looking at a place in Carmel. But it was foggy up there. You know, really foggy. Driving back, I stopped in Santa Barbara for coffee and I was standing out on State Street, and it was a balmy evening. I’m a Southern Californian, that kind of fog makes my bones ache.” He’s been a Santa Barbaran since the 1980s, when not taking his music to all the other streets you could name.
“But I was wide open when I first promised to do the Kids Interactive, and besides, I think it’s such a wonderful idea. You know, it’s like the notion of sustainability. It’s that mentality. You can teach kids how to do things, or you can have them actually start a business. It’s not just a math program, their heads are on the block — they have to learn perseverance, how to be mentally prepared, and about group endeavors. And the fact that it’s reaching kids who normally wouldn’t be exposed to this kind of learning, it’s great.”
He will be playing the Lobero with Ambrosia minus founding member David Pack as well as singer-songwriter Tommy Alexander. “It’s too bad he won’t be there. But I’ll play with them and then later I’ll do my songs with them backing me up. You know I love to play with all these bands and with Kenny Loggins. All these people I played with when I was in my twenties, so many of them are gone. I just love getting up on the stage with them.”
Michael McDonald plays with Ambrosia and Tommy Alexander October 11th, at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., at 6 p.m. $75. Call 805-963-0761 or visit lobero.com for more information.