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John McFee in Los Angeles, 2010
September 9, 1950|
Santa Cruz, California
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, recording engineer|
|Associated acts||The Doobie Brothers, Southern Pacific, Elvis Costello, The Grateful Dead, Huey Lewis|
|Website||Doobie Brothers official website|
One of his early and least known exploits was playing Hawaiian steel guitar on a long-running television commercial for C&H sugar. Some of his other early and non-Doobie Brothers work includes playing pedal steel guitar on Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey and Saint Dominic's Preview albums, and recording with many other artists, including Steve Miller on his Fly Like An Eagle album, the Grateful Dead on their From the Mars Hotel album, and recordings with Boz Scaggs, Emmylou Harris, Link Wray, Rick James, Janis Ian, Ricky Scaggs, The Brothers Four, Nick Lowe, Wanda Jackson, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, Crystal Gayle, Mike Bloomfield, John Michael Montgomery, the Beach Boys, Norton Buffalo, Twiggy, Eikichi Yazawa, Chicago, and The Kendalls. He played for a number of years with Huey Lewis in the group Clover and also played on Huey Lewis and the News' Sports and Hard at Play albums. McFee also played with Glen Campbell, for his Meet Glen Campbell live video performance.
McFee has played on a number of Elvis Costello's albums, beginning with all the lead and pedal steel guitar work on My Aim is True, where his lead guitar work on "Alison" was perhaps most notable. He has also continued to perform live with Costello periodically through the years. However, McFee is perhaps best known as a longtime member of the Doobie Brothers.
He joined the Doobie Brothers in early 1979, replacing departing guitarist Jeff Baxter. McFee was first featured on the Doobie's ninth studio album One Step Closer, which achieved RIAA platinum album status. Although he didn't sing lead vocals on the song, he co-wrote the title track with Doobies drummer Keith Knudsen and Carlene Carter, as well as writing the Grammy nominated instrumental "South Bay Strut" with co-drummer Chet McCracken. The album also reunited McFee with Doobies producer Ted Templeman, McFee having played on Templeman's first hit record as a producer (Van Morrison's "Wild Night" from the "Tupelo Honey" album).
After the Doobie Brothers disbanded in late 1982, McFee and Knudsen formed the country-rock group Southern Pacific, which also included ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook and former Pablo Cruise vocalist David Jenkins. The group achieved a high level of success in the niche of national country charts, starting with their first single reaching the top ten - a duet with Emmylou Harris on the Tom Petty composition "Thing About You", and going on to numerous other top ten records, including the number one songs "New Shade of Blue" and "Honey I Dare You", both of which McFee wrote. Southern Pacific was named New Country Group of the Year when they debuted and have been honored by having their name added to the Country Music Association's Walkway of Stars in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1983, McFee played pedal steel guitar on the song "Honky Tonk Blues" from the Huey Lewis and the News's Sports album, a song which was made famous by country legend Hank Williams Sr. In 1989, Southern Pacific had two songs - "Reno Bound" and "Any Way The Wind Blows" - appear in the Clint Eastwood film Pink Cadillac. McFee co-wrote both of the songs. The songs reached the top five on the country charts, and McFee can be heard on lead vocals on both tracks in the movie. Though McFee and Knudsen were committed to Southern Pacific, they co-wrote the song "Time Is Here And Gone" on the Doobies' 1989 reunion album Cycles with late Doobies percussionist Bobby LaKind. McFee has received numerous BMI awards as a songwriter. In 1990 Southern Pacific played a concert on "On Stage", McFee can be heard singing lead vocals on "Any Way The Wind Blows" and "I Go To Pieces".
By 1993, Southern Pacific had disbanded and both men had rejoined the Doobie Brothers. McFee and Knudsen contributed to 2000's Sibling Rivalry, on which McFee sings the lead vocal on the song "Angels of Madness", of which he was a co-writer, and McFee also co-wrote "Five Corners" with Patrick Simmons. In 2007, McFee assumed a role onstage as a relief lead vocalist for Tom Johnston because of Johnston's throat ailment.
In 1995, McFee produced an album by Moby Grape founding member Peter Lewis. Moby Grape was a major influence on the Doobie Brothers, as well as on many other bands including Led Zeppelin and McFee's former group Clover. The collaboration of McFee (who, besides producing and engineering, contributed background vocals, guitars, violin, harmonica, mandolin, and pedal steel) and Lewis resulted in the album Peter Lewis, released by the German record label Taxim. Also making appearances on the album were former Eagle Randy Meisner, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Stu Cook, Doobie Brothers drummer Keith Knudsen, and Cornelius Bumpus (formerly with the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan). The album received a rarely seen five star review from Rolling Stone magazine. McFee's long-term partnership with Knudsen ended with Knudsen's death from pneumonia in 2005.
In 2007, McFee produced and engineered Carlene Carter's album Stronger, playing almost all the instruments himself.
In 2010, he produced and engineered "Hawaiianized" by the legendary singer Pamela Polland. Pamela has performed and recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison, John Denver, Taj Mahal, Manhattan Transfer and a host of others. In 1970, Pamela joined the famed "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour with Joe Cocker and Leon Russell, appearing on the resulting album as well as in the movie of the same name, and her songs have been recorded by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Helen Reddy, The Byrds, Vicki Carr, Nancy Ames, Anita Carter and Bobby Bare. McFee also contributed on 8 string tenor ukulele, slack key guitar, acoustic and electric Hawaiian steel guitars, nylon string guitar, acoustic bass, keyboards, percussion, vocal arrangements, and background vocals for this project.
Also in 2010, the Doobie Brothers released "World Gone Crazy", on which McFee contributed as recording engineer, as well as playing acoustic guitars, banjo, slide guitar, mandolin, percussion, violin, drums, electric guitars, vocals, and resonator guitars. The New York Post suggested that this album should be "Album of the Year", saying "Now they're back on track, with a smokin' mix of roadhouse boogies, classic rock and country."
In 2011, McFee played acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel, banjo, Dobro, mandolin, and slide guitar on renowned French singer/songwriter Hugues Aufray's project, "Troubador Since 1948". Mr. Aufray is widely known as a compatriot of Bob Dylan since the folk era, having translated many of Dylan's songs into French. He also wrote and popularized the classic ballad "Céline", which inspired Celine Dion's parents to choose this name for their daughter.
In 2014, McFee played violin on the band Chicago's single release, "Naked In The Garden Of Allah".
Also in 2014, the John Cowan album "Sixty" was released, produced by John McFee. John Cowan was the lead vocalist and bass guitarist for the legendary progressive bluegrass group New Grass Revival, and in recent years has been touring and recording with the Doobie Brothers. The album "Sixty" features guest appearances by Alison Krauss, Leon Russell, Ray Benson, Chris Hillman, Rodney Crowell, Bonnie Bramlett, Jim Messina, Alison Brown, Sam Bush, John Jorgenson, Viktor Krauss, Bernie Leadon, Huey Lewis, Jay Dee Maness (Buck Owens and the Buckaroos), Josh Williams (Rhonda Vincent and the Rage), and others. On this project McFee also plays acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel, Dobro, mandolin, violin, and other instruments as well as singing background vocals. "Sixty" was listed as one of the top Americana albums of 2014, and has been hailed as John Cowan's "masterpiece" album.
2014 also saw the release of the Doobie Brothers album Southbound, a Nashville-based project which features high-profile country artists collaborating with the Doobie Brothers on historic Doobie Brothers songs. Examples would be Blake Shelton performing "Listen To The Music" (with Hunter Hayes on guitar), Zac Brown Band doing "Black Water, Toby Keith singing "Long Train Running" (with Huey Lewis on harmonica), Chris Young performing "China Grove", Brad Paisley doing "Rocking Down The Highway", and so forth. On this project McFee can be heard on banjo, slide resonator guitar, pedal steel, violin, autoharp, and electric and acoustic guitars, as well as background vocals. This project also saw Michael McDonald reunited with his fellow Doobie Brothers.
In 2015 John McFee teamed up with John Jorgenson (Desert Rose Band, Hellecasters, Elton John) to co-produce singer-songwriter Lewis Storey for the project "Storey Road". Lewis Storey was nominated for the Horizon Award (Best New Artist) by the Academy of Country Music Awards in 1988 and has won several Songwriters Guild of America awards.
The year 2016 involved extensive touring with the Doobie Brothers, co-headlining with the group Journey, and with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Dave Mason (Traffic, outside of his other work) on the bill as well. McFee, a long time admirer of Dave Mason, was often seen sitting in with Dave and his band, particularly on "Dear Mister Fantasy", from Dave's years with the group Traffic, "Feelin' Alright", also originally from Dave's Traffic recordings but hugely popularized by Joe Cocker, and "All Along The Watchtower", penned by Bob Dylan but perhaps most memorably recorded by Jimi Hendrix on his "Electric Ladyland" album. On the Jimi Hendrix recording, it is Dave Mason playing the acoustic guitar.
McFee was also involved with the artist Jeremiah Richey, on the recording project "Northridge", on which McFee played electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin, Dobro, among other instruments, and was a co-writer of the song "Pretty Girl" (produced by Rob Arthur, with whom a connection was formed when the Doobie Brothers toured with Peter Frampton - Rob Arthur playing keyboards with Frampton.
Also in 2016, Mr. McFee played on Timothy B. Schmit's first post Eagles solo project, "Leap Of Faith", playing violin on the first single from the recording, "Red Dirt Road". Although John had performed in concert with Timothy on numerous occasions, this project was the first time the two had worked together on a studio recording project. John also toured with Timothy in January 2017, as well as performing again on Timothy's tour dates in November and December 2017.