A Michael McDonald tribute? One might initially wonder about the singer-songwriter’s deservedness, but upon even casual reflection the choice — and the voice — rings true. Many who have collaborated with McDonald, as well as a few key artists who influenced him, turned out for this star-studded gathering to honor, and most enjoyably perform with, the self-described “Forrest Gump of rock ‘n’ roll.”
A Crystal Bernard/Billy Dean duet, country act the Wilkinsons’ rendition of “Sweet Freedom” as well as Patti Austin and SheDaisy perfs served as prologue to the first of many fine moments, the appearance of one-time best new artist Grammy winner Christopher Cross.
His walk-on was preceded by an unspooling of the inspired faux musicvid clip for “Ride Like the Wind” from the 1980s show “SCTV” that spoofed McDonald’s near-legendary ability to add a few of his dulcet vocal lines to another artist’s soon-to-be hit song; Rick Moranis hilariously portrayed both vidshow host Gerry Todd and the in-demand background singer destined for greater success.
And the exact moment for the honoree’s warmly welcomed entrance came with the six words he sings on the Cross tune, “… such a long way to go.” That voice, “one of the most soulful, distinctive and recognizable voices” in pop music, said host Jeff Bridges, remains in top form.
McDonald would team up with plenty of other soulful singers to make magic on this night, as he has throughout his recording career. Highlights became too numerous to count: a rousing “Yah Mo Be There” with James Ingram; a pair of duets with Tommy Sims and Wendy Moten from McDonald’s new disc (to be released on Ramp Records, a label he co-founded with actor Bridges, who has a CD debut forthcoming); and Ray Charles giving his Yamaha keyboard a workout on “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”
Other dramatic readings featured the over-the-top stylings of diva Patti LaBelle on “On My Own,” Boz Scaggs’ ever-smooth version of “Gypsy Woman” and the perfect blend of McDonald and Kenny Loggins’ God-given instruments on “Heart to Heart” and “This Is It.”
As if that weren’t enough, McDonald and his brothers Doobie pulled out the stops with their foot-stomper “Taking It to the Streets,” joined by most all of the evening’s guests as well as a stage-filling gospel choir.
Backing band featured a who’s who of top-notch musicians and singers, enough to resemble “a Quincy Jones session,” quipped Toto’s David Paich, with Kim Carnes, Dave Koz and even McDonald’s wife Amy among them. Casual camaraderie of the players belied the tight arrangements of musical director Tim Akers.
Bridges was occasionally required to vamp for stage setup and other production considerations (a TV special is due from the event), invoking his Dude persona from “The Big Lebowski” as well as limericks from his mother.