It's a dream billing, two legendary, Grammy-winning artists, with a combined repertoire that encompasses rock, soul, blues, pop and jazz standards.
Arriving in Hawaii from touring Australia and New Zealand, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald will undoubtedly deliver one of the year's most memorable concerts Friday night at the MACC.
"We've had a good time, I think it's a good show, with a lot of music from the same era, California '70s music," says Michael McDonald. "We played together last summer and part of the fall and a little Christmas tour. We had toured together years ago in Japan with Joe Walsh. Then we worked together in the Rock and Soul Revue with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, and really enjoyed it.
"What looked like a showcase for the faces behind a lot of mature FM radio hits was actually a rare glimpse of some of the best players in the music business," praised New Zealand's The Press, reviewing a March 3 concert.
"Michael McDonald pours endless amounts of soul and passion into his music, whether it's funky stuff like 'What a Fool Believes,' which got them dancing in the aisles, or ballads with heartache like 'I Keep Forgettin'. And Boz Scaggs has matured into a masterful purveyor of mellow funk and jazz, as well as blues."
One of the greatest R&B singers of our time, Boz Scaggs is known for such smooth, soulful hits such as "Lido Shuffle," "Lowdown," "We're All Alone," "Georgia," "Harbor Lights" and "Jo Jo."
* Michael McDonald (right) and Boz Scaggs perform at 7 p.m. Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Events Lawn. Each artist will do a a set, and then perform together. Tickets are $45, $65, $85, and $125, plus applicable fees ($125 ticket includes premium seating, separate dedicated bar and access to permanent restroom facilities), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.maui arts.org. It's a 21-and-over show; gates open at 6 p.m.
One of the most distinctive and popular vocalists to emerge from California's rock scene of the late 1970s, McDonald's appealing blend of soul and soft rock earned him five Grammy Awards and a string of hit songs from "Takin' It to the Streets" and "What a Fool Believes" with the Doobie Brothers, to "I Keep Forgettin'," "Yah Mo B There" with James Ingram, and "On My Own" with Patti LaBelle.
In the last few years he's found great success mining the Motown catalog.
On "Motown," released in 2003, McDonald pays reverent tribute to the golden age of soul, delivering impassioned covers of Marvin Gaye's timeless classic "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing," and Stevie Wonder's hits "Signed Sealed Delivered" and "Too High."
"I really wanted to do some project like that," McDonald explains. "But then fear set in - what would make you think you're the guy to do some kind of retrospective Motown album? And there are a million black singers who could probably do it so much better. In that moment I decided not to make a big deal out of it, just to do it for the love of the songs, with my own approach that was respectful of the originals. And find some great obscure songs that people in America maybe weren't so aware of, say like the English audience was, so we did (the Four Tops') 'Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.' I just thoroughly enjoyed the whole project from start to finish."
The following year, "Motown Two" continued his soul homage covering more classics like Smokey Robinson's "Tracks Of My Tears," Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" and "Mercy Mercy Me."
Then in 2008, he released the wonderful "Soul Speak," an eclectic covers collection including Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City,"
Guest artists on the album included Wonder who played his distinctive harmonica on his own compositions as he had done on the "Motown" recordings. "He was really gracious," McDonald notes. "We were thrilled the first time and amazed the second time he agreed."
It was as a backing vocalist with Steely Dan that McDonald first came to national attention. Beginning with 1975's "Katy Lied," he sang on "The Royal Scam," "Aja," and "Gaucho," and also played keyboards on some tracks.
"I got that job because back then I could sing all the high parts in my regular voice, and that was really appealing to Donald and Walter," he recalls. "They were my favorite band in the world. I was so bowled over by their records. It was the most interesting stuff I had heard since the Beatles or early James Brown. It was a dream come true to get a job with them."
An offer to join the Doobie Brothers provided McDonald with an opportunity to step out in front as one of the popular rock band's lead vocalists, and soon help them amass Grammy Awards with a more refined, soulful sound.
"One of the original members from Steely Dan, Jeff Baxter, called me when Tom Johnston took a hiatus from the band, and they needed someone to fill in," he explains. "Collectively the band felt it was time to explore other areas musically, and I brought more of fabric of keyboards in."
The resulting "Takin' It to the Streets" album, released in 1976, featured McDonald's title track and "It Keeps You Runnin'," both hits for the band.
The Doobies' career soared even higher with the success of their "Minute By Minute" album. It spent five weeks at the top of the charts, dominated radio, and earned a Grammy for Album of the Year. McDonald's song "What a Fool Believes," written with Kenny Loggins, won a Grammy for Record of the Year, and his song "Minute By Minute" was also honored with a Grammy.
"I went from playing clubs in L.A., little dives, to playing 'Long Train Running' in front of 20,000 people," he says. "It was very surreal. I remember feeling like an imposter; that someone was going to discover I didn't belong there. But it was a great experience working with those guys. They're still some of my greatest friends."
When the Doobies disbanded at the turn of the '80s, with some trepidation McDonald decided it was time to pursue a solo career.
"It was very scary and awkward," he recalls. "I'd always been a piano player in a band who sang some songs. All of a sudden I was singing all the songs and supposed to somehow engage the audience. A friend of mine from Maui, Scotty Rotten, put it best: the stage presence I have is more, please don't beat me."
His first solo album, "If That's What It Takes," featuring the hit "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)," consolidated McDonald's broad appeal. A duet with James Ingram on "Yah Mo B There" won a 1985 Grammy, and another duet, with Patti LaBelle, "On My Own," brought him a No. 1 hit.
Of his many stellar collaborations, this esteemed artist is most proud of working with Ray Charles on "Genius Loves Company."
"We all have that one artist we idolize, and if there was one guy that really got me into the music business, it was Ray Charles," he enthuses. "So to actually perform with him and stand in front of a 40-piece orchestra, to sing a song together, was just the thrill of my life."
Last year, he was among a diverse group of artists like Jon Bon Jovi, Al Green, Joss Stone, Johnny Lang and Angelique Kidjo, singing on the rousing contemporary gospel collection "Oh Happy Day."
"It's an eclectic gospel record with artists from all different genres. It was fun to hear what some of the other people did," he notes. "There's probably no more exciting music than gospel. When it comes to power and passion there's something about gospel that transcends all other styles of music, a limitless kind of energy. To me, it's one of the purest forms of American music. I think of gospel and jazz as the more progressive American genres, they're constantly pushing the limits."
He also sings on a superb new album, "The Journey to Miracle River," by his wife, Amy Holland.
"My guitar player produced the record and wrote most of the songs with her," he says. "Amy had the luxury of spending a lot of time in making it. She got breast cancer when she started the record, and that put a damper on the progress of the whole thing. She picked it up again after her treatments, and had a lot more of a story to tell. It put a whole 'nother spin on the project."
Most recently he was invited to collaborate with indie rockers Grizzly Bear, and the New York electro dance team Holy Ghost.
The B-side of Grizzly Bear's harmony-rich single, "While You Wait for the Others," from the group's critically acclaimed CD "Veckatimest," features haunting lead vocals by the legendary artist.
"It was a great opportunity for me to make music with a young talented group," he reports. "They have such a unique sound."
And his surprising teaming with Holy Ghost on its forthcoming debut CD?
"I find it intriguing, it keeps my interest in pop music going," he says. "Back in the '70s I did so many backing singing sessions because I really enjoyed being part of music creation."
This busy artist is also looking forward to collaborating with guitarist Robben Ford, who has played with artists from Joni Mitchell and George Harrison to Miles Davis and Greg Allman.
"We're hoping to make a record this summer and get out and tour a bit," he reports. "It will be pretty eclectic and lot of R&B, some more traditional blues and cover some funk."
At Gail Swanson's recent memorable "Simple Truth" CD release party at Mulligan's on the Blue, besides singing and playing keyboards, McDonald also strummed a ukulele, backing both Gail and John Cruz. On her new CD, he sang and played ukulele on a cover of the old Skeeter Davis song "End of the World."
"I enjoy it, it's something I picked up a couple of years ago to relieve the boredom on the road," he explains. "I got the bright idea I might use it on a record here and there. I used it on a Christmas album, and I've cut some tracks in the studio.
"When I'm sitting in a hotel room, I play this game thinking of songs that I've never heard on ukulele, and what would they sound like on ukulele. So I'll play old Nat King Cole and Brenda Lee songs and surprisingly many of them fit the instrument well."
McDonald's passion for the uke led him to play it in concert on a PBS Christmas special in December.
"It was kind of terrifying," he concludes. "It's one thing to play it in your room, and another to play it when it's actually plugged in."