A long time ago in a California dive where Janis Joplin played now and then, I heard Kathi McDonald for the first time. Like many who saw the thin, intense blonde wail that night, I was blown away. Partly because the sound guy was apparently deaf, and partly because of the blistering energy Kathi put into her performance.
Kathi was always pretty intense. She got her big break in show biz when Ike Turner heard her singing in the audience at a performance and invited her to join the Ikettes, his backup vocalists. Not too many blondes became Ikettes.
In 1974, Kathi attracted the attention of Capitol Records which put out her first album, an astonishing debut, with guest appearances by Sly Stone, Neal Schon and other Bay Area music luminaries. I still get goosebumps listening to her wail on Willie Dixon’s "Insane Asylum." Later, Kathi moved to Seattle, where she became prominent in the Northwest music scene. Her powerful chops are still in great demand and she has appeared on more than 70 gold albums.
Above & Beyond, her newest CD, is a marvelous display of vocal skills, polished and ripened to near perfection. Backed up by ace organist, Brian Auger, harmonicat Lee Oskar and some of Seattle’s finest, Kathi belts her way through a dozen songs, singing with the passion and fire that has been her trademark all along. Auger matches McDonald’s intensity with some kick-ass solos that make me wonder why he hasn’t been recording more lately. If you’re a B-3 fan, don’t miss "I Put A Spell On You," and "Season Of The Witch."
Kathi McDonald, winner of the 2001 Best Female Volcalist BB Award from the Washington Blues Society...
A Review from the August Issue of the Washington Blues Society Bluesletter..
Reviewed by Chuck Cox:
Kathi McDonald is one of the great blues singers to have come out of the Northwest. She's sung on over 70 gold records, toured for years with Ike & Tina Turner as an Ikette, been one of the Mad Dog and Englishmen group and was a member of Leon Russell's Shelter people. As if those weren't credentials enough she was also a part of "The Stones" Exile On Main Street recording and had a hit in Canada with You've Lost that loving Feeling, a duet with long time friend British blues rocker Long John Baldry with whom she's toured and recorded for over two decades.
From the first soulful strains of the title cut you immediately realize that this is something special. If her voice and emotion on that song doesn't melt your heart nothing will. The acoustic Don't give Up On Me features Nick Vigarino on guitar and Lee Oskar on harmonica and is reminiscent of Janis Joplin, a comparison that's all too often used but is somehow appropriate here. The jazzy Georgia Sunday Morning with Rich Dangel on guitar and Brian Auger on keyboards shows yet another side of Kathi's immense talent. The ballad Girl You Don't Move Me has Ed Vance on keyboards and Lee Oskar back on harp, both contributing greatly to the beauty of Kathi's song. Kathi puts so much soul into Screamin' Jay Hawkins You Put A Spell On Me that you'd swear it was written for her. Chicken Today is a tune that Kathi wrote twenty years ago when she was a part of California's roots rock community and has a definite country -rock waltz feel to it. The CD ends with a live cut, Donovan's Season Of The Witch, which features an all star line up including Norm Bellas and Brian Auger on keyboards and Nick Vigarino on slide guitar. Listening to this cut you'll wish that you'd been there when it was recorded.
Although this album is literally filled
with some of the best Northwest players around it's Kathi's voice and her
immense talent that is the focal point. She makes every song a joy to listen
to. I first met Kathi a little over a year ago and was immediately blown
away by that incredible voice of hers. How, I wondered, did all that sound
get packed into her petite body? In the time since that meeting I've learned
to quit wondering and just sit back and enjoy the gift that is her singing.
And enjoy it I do, every chance I get. Do yourself a favor and grab this
recording so that you too will be able to enjoy her unbelievable talent.
McDonald is well-known and revered as the
great background singer for Ike & Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, the
Rolling Stones, and countless others. Though essentially a rock and R&B
belter, she's been singing blues with Long John Baldry and lately, the
group Seattle Women. Here, she asserts herself full force, proving she's
lost absolutely nothing from the '70s, and in fact that she has gained
a richness and purity while still equipped with a truly great, gusty, flexible
range and a powerful, crystal-clear set of pipes that has frankly
always made Janis Joplin sound like a piker. Within laid-back, simple beats
per measure, McDonald proves time after time that she can conjure intensity
by not relying on upbeat tempos. She's at her very best on the following
songs: the slow rock/R&B number "A Soulful Prayer," with help from
Lee Oskar on harmonica and Jim Colie on tenor sax; a rejected lover's
rock ballad "Girl, You Don't Move Me" with a soul-stirring performance
from Oskar and a bluesy piano from Ed Vance; and "I Put a Spell on You."
This last piece includes Brian Auger's burning organ on a typical arrangement
and it's made great by the aforementioned veterans and guitarist Doug Scott.
The title cut is a slow gospel blues with Vance and backup singers, while
acoustic, finger-style, 12-bar picking blues from guitarist Nick Vigarino
informs McDonald's growling voice for "Don't Give up on Me," and the easygoing
"Georgia Sunday Morning" has Auger in a jazzier framework. Auger goes into
vaudevillian tones on piano and overdubbed organ for the blues/rock/funk
of the cut that offers the most fun, "Stray Cat," with Vigarino's slide.
The hardest blues edge is sharpened on the laid-back, 12-bar "Dallas."
There are also more blues/rock ballad excursions during "Ain't It Wonderful?"
and "Two Drifters." The former of these two is stretched
instrumentally courtesy of Vance, second keyboardist Norm Bellas (who accompanies
on the last five tracks), Colie, Oskar, and guitarist Rick Dangel; the
latter repeats the phrase "like a refrain in a love song always remains/sustains."
McDonald wrote the title cut, "Girl," and the country-type waltz "Chicken
Today, Feathers Tomorrow." There's also a poorly produced, live club-date
version of "Season of the Witch" which most listeners will end up wishing
would have been done in a studio. Those who are curious should seek out
McDonald's 1974 recording "Insane Asylum." For others, this will do just
fine, because Kathi McDonald is the undisputed, uncrowned queen of blue-eyed
soul. The release of this very fine CD should finally set the wheels in
motion for her overdue coronation.
~ Michael G. Nastos
1.Save Your Breath
2.Frankie and Johnny
3.Hold on Me
4.Tell Me Something Good
5.I Know You
6.Grand Hotel Blues
7.Walk in the Rain
8.Come on to my Kitchen
9.Can't Hold Out
10.It Hurts me Too
12.Bring it On Home to Me
13.Baby, Please don't Go
14.Save Your Breath (LIVE)
Divas are a dime a dozen on today's pop
charts, but few of them bring the experience and soul of Kathi McDonald
into the recording studio. The petite blonde has a bombshell voice
that has been in demand for back-up work for the past 30 years. From
her role as an Ikette with Ike and Tina Turner's Las Vegas shows to the
Muscle Shoals recordings of Leon Russel and the Rolling Stones' "Exile
on Mainstreet", McDonald's big and sometimes boisterous voice has
been a part of many high points in the annals of Rock 'n' Roll. Born in
Anacortes, Washington, and raised in nearby Mount Vernon, McDonald left
her Catholic school girl persona behind and headed to the Bay Aria in the
late '60's to jump start her singing career. One night she was in
the audience at a Tina Tuner show in the Fillmore and began singing along
on "River Deep, Mountain High". Even without a microphone McDonald's
voice caught Ike Turner's ear and overnight she became an Ikette.
After more than three years with the Turners, McDonald joined Joe Cocker's
Mad Dogs and Englishmen entourage. There she met Leon Russell
and soon became part of his Shelter People. Gigs with Elton John,
Freddie King, Rita Coolidge, Dave Mason and Nils Lofgren followed.
In 1974 McDonald made her debut album, "Insane Asylum", which featured
appearances by an array of performers, including the Pointer Sisters, Sly
Stone, Ronnie Montrose and the horn section from Tower of Power.
Though the release was critically acclaimed, it did not receive much attention
and is today out of print. But the lack of publicity has never slowed
McDonald down and in 1976 she began a very successful relationship with
British Blues rocker Long John Baldry. The duo had a hit in Canada with
"You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and have recorded and toured together
for more than two decades. McDonald is also noted for her work
in the Pacific Northwest with guitarist Nick Vigarino, Seattle Women and
most recently the Watertown Blues Band. The Washington Blues Society
has bestowed her with several awards for best female
vocalist and added her to it's Hall of Fame roster in 1999.
Review posted from www.joerecords.com