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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: October 9, 2017

Michael McDonald brings his smoky voice to the State Theatre

Written by: Ray Routhier
Singer Michael McDonald will perform at Portland's State Theatre Tuesday, Oct. 17. Photo by Timothy White

Singer Michael McDonald will perform at Portland’s State Theatre Tuesday, Oct. 17.
Photo by Timothy White

There’s a scene in the comedy “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” where Paul Rudd’s character, working at a Best Buy-type store, is pushed to the brink of insanity by seeing and hearing Michael McDonald sing on dozens of video screens all day long.

“If I hear ‘Yah Mo B There’ one more time, I’m going to ‘Yah Mo’ burn this place down,” he declares.

McDonald has had a 40-year career in pop music, scoring major radio hits with the Doobie Brothers in the ’70s and ’80s, then more on his own. He takes his music seriously. Luckily for the makers of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and other TV shows and films that have poked fun at his soulful, lyric-garbling style, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“We (musicians) are only a pop art form, so we have to be able to laugh at ourselves,” said McDonald, 65.

McDonald will perform at Portland’s State Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 17. He’s touring to promote “Wide Open,” his first album of all original material in 17 years.

Taking a look back, here’s McDonald with the Doobie Brothers performing the classic tune “What A Fool Believes”

McDonald comes to Maine often, not just on concert tours, because of his longtime connection with the Hyde School in Bath. His son, Dylan, went to the private school and graduated in 2005. While his son was there, McDonald got involved giving workshops at the school and donated money to renovate the school’s recording studio. Even after his son graduated, McDonald has continued to give workshops there. Now, he brings Dylan, who is a working musician in Nashville. Father and son also bring Hyde students to Nashville periodically to record music and take in the scene.

“We love Hyde. It was such a great place for Dylan,” said McDonald.

McDonald grew up in the St. Louis area and remembers first being inspired to sing by hearing Ray Charles. His father sang, in an Irish tenor, in local bars, and McDonald often tagged along to watch.

He played in local bands around St. Louis and in 1970, after high school, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. By 1974, he was a member of the touring band for Steely Dan. His reputation grew and, in 1975, he was recruited by the Doobie Brothers to replace lead vocalist Tom Johnston, who was ill. Though the Doobie Brothers had many radio hits before McDonald, he sang several that were among their best-known songs, including “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “What A Fool Believes” and “It Keeps You Runnin’.”

He left the Doobie Brothers in 1982 and immediately had a hit with “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” which was a duet with his sister Kathy. Two years later, he had a duet with James Ingram on “Yah Mo B There.” In 1986, he had a No. 1 hit, a duet with Patti LaBelle, “On My Own.”

Comedians began parodying McDonald in the ’80s, exaggerating his hard-to-understand vocals and smoky voice, starting with an impression by Rick Moranis on “Second City Television.” On “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in 2013, Fallon and Justin Timberlake both impersonated McDonald in singing a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” In the skit’s climax, the real McDonald steps on stage and joins the chorus.

“My kids always get the biggest kick out of it,” McDonald said of the parodies of him. “I’ve always been kind of flattered by it, I think it’s fun.”

Michael McDonald with Marc Cohn

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17.
WHERE: State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $45 to $75 reserved seating

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