Michael McDonald Talks Doobie Brothers' Country Album: 'It's Like Old Times'
Country A-listers lead busy lives, and when the Doobie Brothers decamped to Nashville to cut a star-studded album featuring twanged-up versions of their classic hits, they found themselves playing "musical chairs" with their high-profile collaborators.
That's according to onetime Doobies frontman and legendary solo artist Michael McDonald, who re-teamed with his former band mates for the as-yet-untitled set, due out later this year.
As the revered soul man tells Billboard, he recorded new renditions of three '70s faves—"Takin' It to the Streets," "What a Fool Believes," and "You Belong to Me"—and at this point, he's not even sure about the final track list.
"Some people we hoped would do it at first weren't available," McDonald says. "Not that anyone was our second choice. In fact, in many cases, who wound up being available, and who wound up doing it, in the end will come to be the best choice of all."
When the Doobies announced the album last month, Brad Paisley, Chris Young, the Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith, and Sara Evans, were among the country luminaries confirmed for the project. McDonald reveals that Evans sings on "What a Fool Believes," while "Angel Eyes" hitmakers Love and Theft appear on "Takin' It to the Streets."
As for "You Belong to Me," a 1978 smash for co-writer Carly Simon, McDonald is hoping the version that ultimately makes the record features both his good buddy Vince Gill—who sang and played guitar—and Amanda Sudano-Ramirez, one-half of the eclectic husband-wife duo Johnnyswim.
Sudano-Ramirez is the daughter of disco goddess Donna Summer, and while McDonald says the young model and musician warrants comparisons to her famous mother, he calls Johnnyswim a "tour de force" with their own signature sound.
"They really are great, a really soulful duo," he says. "It's hard to pinpoint whether they're rock, folk, or country. They're in that nether world of uniqueness. They are what they are. It's really great to hear young artists that possess that quality."
While McDonald recorded his three tunes individually, he says there were moments that he and the rest of the gang, including Doobies founders Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, got to spend some quality time together.
"That was a lot of fun, to just be hanging in the studio," McDonald says. "It's like old times."
McDonald says he's always happy to "get back into the mix" whenever possible, and echoing what Johnston told Billboard last month, he insists there's no bad blood between him and the band.
"For me, one of the best things of having been a Doobie Brother is that the people involved always were great people," McDonald says. "Tommy's been a guy I've admired very much—and even better liked very much as a person—for many years now."
Indeed, the two go back a long way. McDonald joined up with the Doobies in 1975, after Johnston fell ill, and he remained at the helm until 1982, when the group went on extended hiatus. McDonald went on to record numerous solo hits, among them "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)" and "Sweet Freedom."
"We've all come away from the thing feeling much more of a camaraderie than anything," McDonald says. "I could never be grateful enough to the Doobies for the opportunities the organization gave me over the years."
Next up for McDonald is a co-headlining tour with Toto beginning Aug. 2.