Michael McDonald was in Steely Dan. He was the backup singer.
He played the electric keyboard, the Fender Rhodes, so Donald Fagen could lead the band on piano and play the synthesizers that everyone else thought were fancy (but Donald thought were funny).
Mike McD was from St. Louis, not one of its high schools, and he was also brought along to hit the high notes and sing a song or two so that Fagen (suffering through debilitating nodule woes on the band’s first visit to England) could give his voice a rest on Steely’s second-ever attempt at a lengthy tour.
This performance is from London, in 1974, this is the band’s first encore on its last tour with the original band.(if the Tube Trick fails us, skip ahead to the 1:03:25 mark.)
McDonald is new to the group, he hadn’t sung on Steely Dan’s previous album, he was brought into the touring fold initially in an attempt to help Touring Dan appear a little less supine – not so much the fault of the band members themselves, usually, but as always in the music industry the fault of Whose Idea Was This?
Jeff Porcaro did make the cut on Pretzel Logic, the McDonald-less LP the group was touring to promote. He and second drummer Jim Hodder shine throughout this live tune as on several others that we will later address on The Second Arrangement, because this is Every Steely Dan Song.
(Asides like this allow us to remind you that we will take on all versions of Show Biz Kids, including its original offering on Countdown to Ecstasy, as this series moves along.)
Porcaro brought with him Mike and his mix of Sample and St. Louis on electric piano, later Royce Jones would join the Touring Dan to take on the tender songs while playing giant bongos. For stateside purposes the orchestra also included two female backup singers, one of whom may have been Jenilee Harrison.
There are novelties here: McDoobie later culled a career out of rather Holy lyrical bends, he gets to say the line with the word “fuck” in it. Once again Fagen lets two other band members sing the two most recently-released singles (“Jeffrey” Baxter kinda missed the point on ‘My Old School’).
Skunk sorry “Jeffrey” can fly, though, lager-willing. His slide solo was him on top. He was a happy man, throughout this show, proud as hell at what he’s been part of.
(Earlier in the concert Fagen uneasily worked his way through ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,’ only released in the UK days earlier, he’s already embarrassed at leaning on those lyrics in front of people.) Michael McDonald blasts out an EP solo that earns a Donald Fagen Beated Bleat midway through, one of music’s highest honors. Mike was around for chops longer than the length of his beard, this guy can really play the electric piano.
Being able to “play,” though, and “play on a Steely Dan album” are two completely different things, McDonald’s piano only made the cuts in brief swings alongside buddy Jeff Porcaro on Katy Lied, he’d sing on three Steely Dan LPs after that but was never asked to add his by-then Doobie’d fingers to the flight.
This is why it’s great fun to listen to the brother McDonald himself try and keep up with Becker/Fagen chords on the other songs in this performance, sorting out clusters better served for Cathy Berberian shrieks than the versatility expected on the St. Louis Sircuit.
This is the rhythm section – Becker, Porcaro, Fagen, McDonald – that would track most of Katy Lied and essentially create Yacht Rock with that very LP.
You gotta get through the desert, though, before the blue hits. Mike had to sleep in an uncomfortable space, first.