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KAABOO-bound Michael McDonald is hip again, thanks to new collaborations

Credit his recent collaborations with Thundercat and Grizzly Bear, shout-outs from Mac DeMarco, and the surge in popularity of yacht-rock with young hipster music fans.

Michael McDonald. (Timothy White)

Former Steely Dan and Doobies Brothers’ singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald is hip again — at the age of 65. Credit his recent collaborations with Thundercat and Grizzly Bear, shout-outs from Mac DeMarco, and the surge in popularity of yacht-rock with young hipster music fans.

In addition to being featured on “Drunk,” the new album by neo-R&B maverick Thundercat (real name: Stephen Bruner), McDonald performed with Thundercat in April at the Coachella festival in Indio. Many of the audience members were about the same age as McDonald’s 25-year-old daughter, Scarlett. They not only sang along — word for word — to the Thundercat/McDonald slow jam “Show You The Way,” which also features fellow yacht-rock favorite Kenny Loggins, but also to “What a Fool Believes,” the 1979 Doobies’ hit McDonald co-wrote with Loggins.

“It’s been a wild ride!” said McDonald, whose first big-name music gig in the early 1970s was in teen idol David Cassidy’s band. He recently released “Wide Open,” his first album of new songs in 17 years, after making three albums of Motown classics between 2003 and 2008.

To preview his Friday performance at KAABOO Del Mar — 7 p.m. on the Trestles Stage — McDonald spoke by phone from the Santa Barbara home he shares with his wife and longtime band member, Amy. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation.

What’s it like to be newly hip at 65?

Well, it’s strange. And it’s been wonderful for me. I’m inspired by what Stephen and Grizzly Bear are doing, and Mac DeMarco is someone I’ve gotten to know in the last few years. I was introduced to their music by my daughter or by friends of mine’s kids. It’s great to see such passion in these young artists. They seem to have much more of an articulate musical language than I had at their age.

Do your daughter and son now look at you with new respect?

They were thrilled! When my daughter found out I knew Thundercat and was in the studio working with him, she was very excited. So I appreciate these brief spurts of: ‘Dad, you’re the s–t!’ But they wane quickly.

What does music mean to you now that it didn’t 20 or 40 years ago?

That’s a good question. Because it’s a question I ask myself all the time. My son is 29. I tell him: ‘When you’re 65, you’ll be asking yourself these very same questions as you are now. So get comfortable with not having the answers. … The only thing I can tell you, which I learned with time and has been really valuable to me, is — with all the problems I think I might have — in the end the only real problem, pretty much, was me.

Our last interview was in 1987, when we were both wide-eyed kids with big dreams. You told me then: “If I was real honest about it, I would want to be remembered as a solo artist. Then again, if I was only remembered as a member of the Doobies and Steely Dan, that would be fine. Steely Dan is one of my fondest memories.” How would you update that quote today? Or would you?

Nope. It’s still the same. And, since then, I’ve had the occasion to be on stage with Doobies from time to time and look forward to doing so more in the future. They will always be some of closest friends. … And, just a year ago, I was on stage with Steely Dan at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and I cherish that moment. I got to sit and talk with Walter [Becker, who died Sept. 3] for a while.

There’s never a point where I don’t look across the stage and think: ‘Did I ever think, in a million years, I’d still be doing this — playing music — with some of the same guys I played with 40 or 45 years ago?’ That’s one of the most amazing things in my life.

george.varga@sduniontribune.comTwitter @georgevarga

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