What a Fool Believes
First gaining national attention with the jazz-rock group Steely Dan, Grammy winning American R&B/soul singer and songwriter Michael McDonald is best associated with the American rock group the Doobie Brothers. During his tenure with the group from 1975 to their split up in 1982, McDonald recorded four successful albums titled “Takin' It to the Streets” (1976), “Livin' on the Fault Line” (1977), “Minute by Minute” (1978) and “One Step Closer” (1980). The multiple platinum “Minute by Minute,” which spawned the massive hit “What a Fool Believes,” which he co-wrote with Kenny Loggins, brought McDonald his first four Grammy Awards. Sometimes credited as the greatest “blue-eyed soul” singer, McDonald took home his fifth Grammy Award in 1985 for “Yah Mo B There,” a duet sung with James Ingram.
McDonald launched a solo career in 1982. Despite gaining some success with his first album, “If That's What It Takes,” his subsequent releases were primarily ignored. It was not until twenty one years later that the former background vocalist for Steely Dan revived his solo career with his Motown tribute album. For his effort, McDonald was nominated for two Grammy Awards. Since then, he has released the studio albums “Motown Two” (2004) and “Soul Speak” (2008) and the compilation and specialty albums “Through the Many Winters” and “The Ultimate Collection” (both 2005).
In the music industry since the 1970s, McDonald received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2003.
As for his personal life, McDonald and his wife of 26 years, Amy Holland, have two children.
Childhood and Family:
Michael H. McDonald was born on February 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri. He was educated at McCluer High School in the Ferguson area of St. Louis. During high school, Michael performed with a number of local bands like Mike and the Majestics, Jerry Jay and the Sheratons, the Reeb-Toors, and The Guild before heading to Los Angeles in 1970. He was spotted while playing with the group Blue.
On May 21, 1983, Michael married Amy Holland. He welcomed his first child, Dylan, in 1987 and his second child, Scarlett, was born four years later in 1991.
Michael McDonald played with several local groups until he was discovered performing with a group named Blue. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1970, he enjoyed his first taste of fame as a member of the American jazz-rock band Steely Dan, whose members included Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. McDonald sang backup on tracks for the group's forth album, “Katy Lied” (1975), and the gold record “The Royal Scam” (1976). He also contributed background vocals on “Peg” and “I Got the News” from the 1977 album “Aja,” which won a 1978 Grammy for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording and became the group's best selling album. Also playing keyboards on several Steely Dan tracks, McDonald's last work with Steely Dan was on their album “Gaucho” (1980).
It was his next affiliation that made McDonald a star. Joining The Doobie Brothers in 1975 when lead singer Tom Johnston was hospitalized during a national tour, the former replacement keyboardist was so impressive that he was later recruited as a full time member. As a songwriter and singer, McDonald made his recording debut with The Doobie Brothers in “Takin' It to the Streets” (1976), which featured two of their most popular songs, “Takin' It to the Streets” (#13 Hot 100) and “It Keeps You Runnin'” (#37 Hot 100). His vocals on the album became the band's new signature sound. McDonald further verified his success with “Livin' on the Fault Line” (1977), where he wrote the tracks “Nothin' But a Heartache” and “There's a Light” and co-wrote “You're Made That Way” and “You Belong to Me” with guitarist Jeff Baxter and drummer Keith Knudsen, and Carly Simon, respectively.
McDonald's career with the Doobie Brothers attained its peak with the multi-platinum album “Minute by Minute” (1978). The album rose to No.1 on the Pop Albums chart in 1979 and earned a Grammy for Album of the Year. It spawned the hit “What a Fool Believes,” which McDonald wrote with Kenny Loggins. In addition to peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the song won two Grammys in the categories of Song of the Year and Record of the Year. McDonald also co-wrote the pop hits “Minute by Minute” (#14), which received a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group, and “'Dependin' on You” (#25).
McDonald returned two years later with “One Step Closer” (1980), which rose to No. 3 on the Pop Albums chart. The song “Real Love,” which McDonald wrote with Rev. Patrick Henderson, was a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Other songs he wrote or co-wrote on the album included “Keep This Train A-Rollin,” “Dedicate This Heart” and “No Stoppin' Us Now.” After the platinum album, the Doobie Brothers split up and McDonald went to work as a solo artist.
“If That's What It Takes,” McDonald's debut solo album, was released in 1982 and received gold certification. “I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time Your Near),” a duet sung with his sister Maureen, rose to No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Singles charts. He co-wrote the song with Ed Sanford. The album also produced the 44 hit “I Gotta Try,” which he co-wrote with Kenny Loggins. McDonald did not record another album until 1985 with “No Lookin' Back,” which failed to reach the Top 10 and only became a 45 hit.
In the meantime, the gifted musician gained attention with his collaboration with other artists. “Yah Mo B There,” a duet with James Ingram, earned him a 1985 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, making McDonald the first white musician to win the category in two and a half decades. He went on to work with singer Patti Labelle on the hit song “On My Own” (1986), which rose to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became a hit in the U.K. It was included in the Labelle platinum album “Winner in You.”
McDonald resurfaced in 1990 with “Take It to Heart,” his first album since 1985. It rose to No. 110 in the U.S. and No. 35 in the U.K. and generated a minor hit with the title song, which he co-wrote with Diane Warren. “Blink of an Eye” followed in 1993.
The late 1990s saw McDonald quietly leave California for Nashville. It was here that he began his partnership with writer/producer Tommy Sims, who produced his next album, “Blue Obsession” (1997). Following a dispute with McDonald's record label, Reprise, the album was shelved for nearly three years and released in 2000 by Ramp Records, an independent label he founded with actor Jeff Bridges. The following year, he launched a Christmas album called “In the Spirit.”
After years of setback, McDonald enjoyed a renaissance in 2003 with “Motown,” which was a tribute to the Motown sound. Containing such renditions as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Distant Lover” and “How Sweet It Is,” the album was certified platinum and brought the singer two Grammy nominations. The installment “Motown Two” hit the music stores the next year. It was a Top 10 hit in the U.S. and Top 30 hit in the U.K. and went on to receive gold certification from RIAA.
In 2008, McDonald released “Soul Speak,” which was a Top 10 R&B hit. It spawned two minor hits with the songs “Love T.K.O.” and “Enemy Within.” Prior to the album's release, McDonald released the compilations albums “Through the Many Winters” and “The Ultimate Collection” (both 2005).
Also in 2008, McDonald was seen performing “America the Beautiful” at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, at the Mile High Stadium.
Grammy: Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, “Yah Mo B There,” 1985
Grammy: Song of the Year, “What a Fool Believes,” 1980
Grammy: Record of the Year, “What a Fool Believes,” 1980
Grammy: Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group, “Minute by Minute,” 1980
Grammy: Album of the Year, “Minute by Minute,” 1980