St. Louis native remembers Johnnie
All music fans have their own life soundtracks, the music they grew up with, and Michael McDonald has been part of my soundtrack since my college days at the Universiity of Missouri. From McDonald’s days with Steely Dan, then the Doobie Brothers, followed by his solo career, I’ve been listening to his wonderful music for more than 25 years and still do courtesy of my iPod.
Check out McDonald’s unique phrasing on the Steely Dan song “Peg” on the Aja cd, when he first gained wide attention. As a member of the Doobies, he recorded some of his most memorable songs, such as “Takin’ It To The Streets,” “Little Darling,” “Minute by Minute,” and “What a Fool Believes” ( a number one single in the U.S. and earning him a 1980 Grammy Award for Song of the Year). Today, I was the man interviewing THE MAN!McDonald was in his hometown of St. Louis for the final performance of his 35 city tour with Steely Dan, and he scheduled time on a Sunday morning to talk about one his music heroes, Johnnie Johnson. I met him in his hotel suite (where he was booked under another name because his music and face are so well known). Like many other musicians I’ve interviewed, McDonald said he was aware of Johnnie Johnson’s piano playing on the great Chuck Berry records before he knew who it was. We talked about what it was like to play behind the legendary Berry in 1967 as a member of Jerry Jay and the Sheratons; we talked about Jefferson Barracks National Cemetary where botrh McDonald’s father and Johnnie Johnson are buried; we talked about “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll”; we talked about the gray area of song-writing credit, which will be explored at length in Johnnie Be Good.McDonald’s final comment about Johnnie may have been his best: “As much as I know people know who he is, I don’t think he gets enough recognition for being a cornerstone, a foundation for rock and roll. He seemed to have such a tremendously profound impact on our whole psyche about rock and roll. What makes those records stand apart from all those other styles of music, I think in large part, one of the main ingredients is Johnnie Johnson. “McDonald said he was pleased and honored to be part of this documentary and he proved it the next night when he wore a “Johnnie Be Good” t-shirt during his concert at the UMB Bank Pavillion in suburban St. Louis. Thanks much, Mike!The Michael McDonald interview is the beginning of an amazing month. I’m headed to Cleveland at the end of the week to interview Terry Stewart, the president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then I’m headed to NYC for interviews with Jimmy Vivino, the guitarist in the Conan O’Brien band (The Max Weinberg Seven) and Pat St. John of Sirius Satellite Radio, one of the top dj’s in New York and a huge fan of Johnnie. Several, days after I get back, I interview drummer and producer Steve Jordan, currently touring with Eric Clapton. I’ll write about all of it in future blogs.If you’d like to support “Johnnie Be Good” there’s some great merchandise for sale on http://www.johnniebegood.net and you can also make a tax deductible contribution to the Higher Education Channel. Thanks to all of you who are supporting this project and please tell your friends about the website and the documentary. Art HollidayDirector, JOHNNIE BE GOOD