KATHI MCDONALD - RIP
Just after the Northwest blues community finished
celebrating the life of Gaye Anderson, owner of The New Orleans Creole
Restaurant in Seattle, vocalist and until recently reigning Queen of the Blues,
Kathi McDonald, gave up tryin’, too. She
went into a coma late Tuesday evening, October 2nd and her heart
stopped early on October 3rd, 2012.
She was an amazing vocalist and chef and deserved legend status. Until I get my complete obituary written, here is a piece written by her friend and guitarist, John Hanford.
Eulogy for Kathi “Mack”: What Kind of
F*%kery is This?
An unconventional woman demands an unconventional eulogy. But don’t get your hopes up; I am not the man
who can reduce that irreducible force of nature known as “Kathi McDonald” to
hackneyed sayings and even high praises: Kathi’s spirit – heck, any of our spirits - transcends any
characterization that words can summon up.
And although this is a somber and sad occasion, we might leaven it with
a bit of humor, as she so very much loved a good laugh—and wouldn’t pass up the
opportunity to make a wisecrack even when suffering otherwise debilitating
She was, we know, an incorrigible punster! I’ve been on the receiving end of many a good-natured
barb (as was my dog Wilberforce, who was styled “Wheatabix,” and my irascible
parrot “Sweet Pea,” was dubbed “Mean Pea”), and I garnered a few R-rated
nicknames from Kathi Mack (e.g., “Golden Rod,” “Short John Baldy”). Incidentally, she resented being called “Mack”: she was, rather, she proclaimed: “An Irish
Mick!” And the inevitable misspelling both
of her first and last names on a marquee was an abiding irritant. But drummer Steve Peterson put it this way;
“riding to the gig with Kathi was often more fun than the gig itself.”
Absolutely! She was irrepressible
even when saddled with the most messed-up of gigging circumstances. Keyboardist Pat Hues deemed her a “champion”
– both Pat and I can bear witness to Kathi having arrived at a job looking like
death-warmed over and then rallying for the performance, giving the audience no
clue as to her ailments.
Her storied “show-must-go-on” resilience is documented: some years ago
Kathi performed on Marlee Walker’s Blues
to Do TV Show with a broken arm—a fracture that had been left un- or misdiagnosed
after a first trip to the E.R. She
writhed in pain all the way to the studio, and back again, but never once gave
a clue during the filmed performance—singing her proverbial rear-end off,
introducing each band member, announcing song titles and artists, and doing an
interview without a hitch. She put it
this way, when speaking of her dear friend & fellow performer, Patti Allen,
“Patti and I are old school.” Meaning, “we dress up for our audience, we
try to respect our profession and the traditions of the great performers we
love & emulate.” And she would scold
me: “I’m not like you, John, I DO care about what people think of me
and how I look to the audience!” (And oh
man, was she on my case about getting on board with “Dr. Oz’s” remedies for
male pattern baldness!) She may have been unconventional in many or even most
ways, but she was careful to observe and uphold a good many traditional values.
At a funeral, we are permitted to gloss over the departed’s foibles –
and Kathi didn’t want for some, as she acknowledged. But she did
have her own code of honor and tried to abide by it; e.g., cuss all you
want, but taking G-d’s name in vain was never to be done. And I can add this: that neither in fair nor
foul mood or situation, can I recall one gig, think of one car or plane ride,
of one phone conversation, or even a phone message that she left us, that
wasn’t a memorable, or side-splitting—or yes, even a gonzo experience. One sin she never committed was that unforgiveable one: to be “non-descript.” Even more
than her great talent and musicality, I shall miss this outsized personality,
indomitable spirit, and even the maniacal energy. I loved the woman.
About her talent I will share only a few bits. I first played in Kathi’s band as a
substitute guitarist, just “sitting in” with Jim Matthews, Billy Reed, and
Gregg Keplinger. Until then, I knew
Kathi only socially. Her choice of songs was a gift to me, or if you will, gave
me a vacation away from the mundane musical fare I was accustomed to
playing. We did King Solomon Burke’s “If
You Need Me,” Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down,” (“Pre-chick”) Fleetwood Mac’s
“Rattlesnake Shake,” Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew,” Randy Newman’s “Guilty,”
and of course Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Shopping” (Kathi’s riffing on what came
to be HER own signature song). I’d
always longed to play a book that was rich with these kinds of tunes, and now
here with Kathi, after having played liquor lounges around Seattle for decades,
I found a figurative musical home at the Stanwood Saloon—playing with a band of
gentlemen, led by a vocalist obviously of the first-rank—an interpreter who
OWNED this cherished music. Well, Ken
Cole and Tom Erak had told me as much before I heard her.
Surprisingly, although Kathi’s name was, of course, the main draw for
bookings and we flew under her banner, she was never the “boss” of her band in
any usual sense. She made the gig in
order to sing, to entertain, to see
friends, to have a few drinks – or more than a few (she was not wont to turn
down a freebie!) – and she even helped move equipment. Getting the paycheck and even her share of the pay was left for
another one of us to procure and figure out (after a gig concluded, she plead:
“How much can I get tonight?”). Though she might appear to be the grande dame, she never played that role
in her inter-band relations. Exactly the
opposite: she celebrated her players, featured them, coaxed the best out of
them on stage. She would often call up
after a night’s gig: “You played your d*$k off last night.” (How many times could one hope to repeat that
feat?) She was always in her musicians’
For over a decade we lived close to one another in West Seattle and
often played the now defunct “Corner Inn.”
The night that Ike Turner died we were playing the “Corner,” and Kathi
dedicated a song – perhaps “As the Years Go Passing By,” to someone whom she
regarded as a friend rather than as the wife-abusing monster we are accustomed
to hearing about. I was playing a Fender
guitar like the one Ike favored, so I made some adjustments in attempting to
conjure up Ike’s blistering sound, as my own little tribute. In-between the song verses she backed up away
from the microphone and under her breath said to me, “You’re freakin’ me out
man.” I don’t share this anecdote to
congratulate myself for channeling Ike—I was just trying something out on
stage: what registered on me was the keenness of her ear for style and
sound. Well, she had played and recorded
with many of the artists I revered
(though I REALLY didn’t find about many of them until I started reading the
posthumous tributes), but here was a talent possessed of a most subtle
understanding of stylistic allusion.
At the end of that same night’s performance she introduced the band
members to a tepid response from the audience.
After introducing me, Billy Reed on keys, and Conrad Ormsby on drums—to
a roaring silence, Kathi thundered out an intro for Jim Matthews: “on bass, OSAMA BIN LADEN!—Wake up people!” I reckon that
unprepared dissonance reflected her degree from the “old school” of Etta
James. Her blood got up when she felt
the audience was not giving proper respect to her or her musical partners.
Kathi was a professional hub for me and for many of us gathered here:
through her I played with and now am privileged to call many fine musicians and
“civilians” my friends. And she deeply cherished her good friends – even
for the occasional tiff that might have gone down. Among her beloved Bay Area clan, Kathi’s
manager and producer, Glenn Herskowitz, and his wife Danika, supported her in every imaginable way; Seattle friends Brad Oldman and Liz Latham saw her
through both thick and very thin; guitarist Ritchie Kirch was a valued friend
and collaborator; Deb Rock was nominated for sainthood, and Billy Stoops a
staunch ally; Marlee Walker has done us innumerable professional favors; Steve
Sarkowski, manager of the HWY 99 Blues Club provided our latest group
(variously dubbed, “Kathi McDonald and Her Beer-Swilling Louts,” the
politically not-so-correct “Plebes, Dweebs, & Heebs,” and “Monster Road”)
with that most coveted of engagements – a monthly residency; Kathi revered singers Val Rosa, Duffy Bishop,
and her early role models, Nancy Claire and Gail Harris. She counted Karen Hunter, her friend since
parochial school, as her own flesh and blood.
Kathi did contemplate the “hereafter” and looked forward to being
reunited with her father “Mick” and her beloved Long John Baldry—another
larger-than-life kook from rock’s great era.
Maybe she’ll chill with Amy Winehouse.
As she would say, “What ev’.”
Written by John Hanford, who plays with Monster Road (Kathi's latest band), as well as The Bare Roots, and The Wailers, among many others. He also teaches at the UW.
for Lind Hornbuckle Donation Fund
recently diagnosed with kidney cancer, has taken a sabbatical from work and her
band while she undergoes treatment. Portland's rich music community will come
together to celebrate, bring hope and joy for Portland's 'soul diva' to
show their Love for Linda!
are unable to attend the benefit concert on Nov. 11th, this is a way for you to
show your support for Linda Hornbuckle, Portland's 'soul diva!'
MADE WILL GO TO THE CASCADE BLUES ASSOCIATIONS MUSICIANS ASSISTANCE FUND ATTN:
LOVE FOR LINDA.
Bruce Conte of Tower of Power is battling leukemia and needs
Former Tower of
Power guitarist Bruce Conte was diagnosed with leukemia a few months ago. Bruce
is also an insulin-dependent diabetic and has been dealing with health issues
for years. You can help by donating any amount. 100% of the money collected
will go to Bruce's medical expenses. There is no generic available, which makes
the medication expensive. For now, his condition is responding very well to the
medication. Thank you for reading this and please consider helping Bruce Conte.
For more information and to donate to help Bruce pay his medical bills, click
on this link from the Tower
of Power website: http://www.towerofpower.com/news-and-updates/please_help_bruce_conte_in_his_battle_with_leukemia/
Sadly, The Oxford Saloon, featuring live blues in Snohomish
has not been able to come out of its financial hole and the current owners gave
up tryin’ in late September.
The Royal Lounge in Olympia is hosting a Wednesday blues
night with help from The Sheriff, not to be confused with The Royal Room in
Seattle’s Columbia City area with occasional blues nights as well.
Tim “Too Slim” and Nancy Langford moved from Seattle to
Nashville. Best of luck! You will both be missed so we expect regular
The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame Inductee nominees for 2013 include
Albert King, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Marvelettes, The Meters,
Randy Newman, and the Northwest’s own Heart among others.
Nick Curran just passed away from oral cancer. More later….
As we speak, the bulldozers are poised to pounce on Parker's Ballroom, formerly The Aquarius, and other names, on Aurora where many of us have had many fond musical memories including B.B. King in an intimate club setting of Parker's Ballroom.
Finally, there is a Recovery Support Group for Seattle Music Community,
With meetings every Tuesday, beginning Oct. 16th, 7 – 8 pm, Local 76 Musicians Association, 3209 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle, WA 98102 (Free parking in back)/ MusiCares is proud to announce the start of weekly addiction recovery support group meetings in Seattle.
Johnathan “Oogie” Richards is joining forces with Marlee Walker once a month with both blues DJs streaming from 88 Keys where Marlee and her crew gather footage of new blues artists every Monday night and live stream from ilove88keys.com. This monthly NW Blues Forum will be held on the 4th Monday of each month (except December will be Dec 17th), and will include discussions on new blues releases, new artists, show reviews, news, plus an All Star Jam and more and will include invited guests from all parts of the blues community. Check out our first NW Blues Forum, Monday, November 26th.