The phrase Yacht Rock encompasses certain soft rock, jazz-rock and blue-eyed soul hits of the 1970s and ’80s.
It is often employed pejoratively, but proud Yacht Rocker Michael McDonald is tickled by it.
“When the (comedy web series ‘Yacht Rock’) came on, I remember watching it pretty avidly,” McDonald told the Boston Herald. “My kids got a huge kick out of it. We would laugh about the characterizations of the people involved. At this point, it’s a genre of its own. You’re either yacht or you’re not.
“But, hey, I am flattered that anyone is still talking about me at all at my age,” the 66-year-old said.
McDonald performs on Dec. 8 at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Van Wert.
Whatever you think of yacht rock as a genre (or as a slur), you have to admit that Michael McDonald has created or contributed to a lot of great music.
He was the lead singer of the Doobie Brothers from 1975 to 1982. He generated hit after hit during the eight or so years of his solo career’s heyday.
He has performed as part of Steely Dan’s touring band and has contributed to several of that band’s recordings.
His voice and keyboard playing are featured prominently in hit songs by Christopher Cross, James Ingram, Toto, and Kenny Loggins. McDonald even wrote one of Van Halen’s biggest hits.
Few would argue that McDonald has one of the most distinctive and indelible vocal instruments in modern popular music. But McDonald admits that he didn’t take very good care of it in his younger years.
“Today I’m a lot more conscious about trying to get the sleep I need on the road,” he told the Boston Globe, “because it really becomes a death march if you’re not getting enough sleep. There’s just any number of little things I try to be cognizant of now, because I want to be able to sing as long as I can. But I look to some of the old gospel singers, and I realize that if I relax, and don’t push too hard and don’t work it out the wrong way, I could probably keep going for a while.”
In 2017, McDonald participated in a career-revitalizing collaboration with Thundercat (aka Stephen Lee Bruner) on the single “Show You the Way.” Kenny Loggins provided backing vocals.
He later performed the song with Thundercat at Coachella.
“That [collaboration] was a lot of fun for me,” McDonald said. “He’s a very talented guy, and very prolific — in a way, I feel like a shrinking violet around him. The guy never stops writing and putting down ideas, and he’s got an energy that I wish I had about a tenth of. I got the chance to go out and play shows with those guys. It was a whole other experience, because it’s very much a power trio [playing] funk, fusion, R&B, rock almost at times. There are so many genres wrapped up in his music, and that’s the thing I love the most. James Taylor, especially on In the Pocket and Gorilla, would explore so many styles. Some of these young artists are doing that again, and I always love that. I don’t really so much care for records that are pretty much a lot of the same thing.”
Thanks to that song and a few flashy public appearances (McDonald also accompanied Solange on “What a Fool Believes” at the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival that same year), the nation’s young people are suddenly talking about this music industry vet.
“I don’t know how long any of this will last,” McDonald told The Sacramento Bee. “My experience in the music business is everything comes in waves and things get quiet for awhile and you just kind of have to stay in touch with what your muse really is and really should be. It’s anybody’s guess what that will be five years from now.”
On this tour, McDonald is playing selections from his 2017 album Wide Open, which Stephen Thomas Erstwhile of allmusic.com described as “sturdier than nearly all of the albums he recorded at his popular peak.”
The fact that he is producing some of the best music of his career at this late stage of the game is a testament, he said, to his undiminished passion.
“I definitely feel grateful to get the chance to make music, on this level or on any level, really,” McDonald told the Pocono Record. “What makes me happy is the same thing that made me happy when I was 14 in a van going to some un-air-conditioned, god-awful nightclub, completely thrilled at the idea of going with my buddies to play this gig. I still feel like I’m some kid who’s found a stash of candy, and somebody’s gonna come in at any moment and grab me by the back of the neck and make me go back to school. At 66, it’s still that much fun. That’s the most I’ll ever be able to ask of it.”
McDonald told The Aspen Times that he feels as creatively strong and fresh as he ever has.
“…I’m enjoying life more than I ever have,” he said. “If you’re not enjoying yourself at this point, you’re missing the point.”