Not everyone knows his name, but anyone who has listened to the Doobie Brothers knows his voice, one of the most distinctive in pop and rock history. Five-time Grammy winner Michael McDonald performs on Thursday, April 18, at the Uptown Theatre in Napa.
As lead singer and songwriter of “Takin’ it to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes” and “Minute by Minute,” McDonald transformed the Doobies from a mainstream rock band (“Listen to the Music,” “China Grove,” “Black Water”) into the bluesy, soulful manifestation of his writing and singing.
In a 2018 interview with Billboard Magazine, McDonald talked about his father and the influence of ragtime and blues on his development as a musician. “I draw heavily from that Great American Songbook influence,” he said. “My dad, Robert, was a singer and I was exposed to a lot of those songs growing up — Rodgers & Hammerstein and a lot of ragtime music.
“What my father loved to do most was sing in saloons. I spent most of my time as a kid following him around from saloon to saloon to hear him singing. Eventually, I started playing banjo for him and we played together in a lot of clubs and saloons in the St. Louis area and at civic events and functions.”
McDonald sees a strong connection between the music of his father’s era and of his own. “Whenever I sing blues from the ‘50s or the kind of blues that you might have heard Eric Clapton or Duane Allman emulate, I often feel the similarity of some of the ragtime stuff I sang early on.
“If you’re going to be a consummate blues musician — or at least have a deeper understanding of blues music – the ragtime era was where pop music started to be heavily impacted by African-American influences.”
Though McDonald is best known and honored for his work with the Doobie Brothers, he has recorded and performed with a number of prominent artists and bands including Steely Dan, Toto, Kenny Loggins, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell and Patti LaBelle.
In his post-Doobie Brothers career, McDonald has released 12 solo albums garnering six Grammy nominations. His most recent are 2017’s “Wide Open,” a collection of new original songs, and 2018’s “Season of Peace – The Christmas Collection.”
At the Uptown, the band will be McDonald on lead vocals and keyboards, Mark Douthit on saxophone and keyboards, Bernie Chiaraville on guitar and backing vocals, Jacob Lowery on bass and backing vocals and Dan Needham on drums.
Thursday, April 18, 8 p.m. $75-$115. Uptown Theatre Napa, 1350 Third St., Napa. 707-259-0123. UptownTheatreNapa.com.