John McFee in Los Angeles, 2010
September 9, 1950 |
Santa Cruz, California
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, recording engineer|
|Instruments||Guitar, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, Dobro, bass, harmonica, keyboards|
|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, 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 as a touring member in early 1979, replacing guitar legend Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. McFee was first featured on the Doobie's ninth studio album One Step Closer. Although the album achieved RIAA platinum status, the album is considered by some critics a failure and possibly the band's weakest output  - marking the end of the Doobie Brothers with John McFee on guitar. John McFee would not return to record another Doobie Brothers album until 2000. With McFee out of the band, the Doobie Brothers reformed without him in 1987, for the album Cycles.
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 "tried to cross country and rock, sometimes with mixed results", achieving some level of success in the niche of national country charts, starting with their first single reaching the top ten in the country circuit - a duet with Emmylou Harris on the Tom Petty composition "Thing About You", and going on to numerous other top ten records within the same niche, including the number one songs "New Shade of Blue" and "Honey I Dare You", both of which McFee contributed to. 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. With Cycles critically dismissed as "just a rehashed version of the bluesy boogie of their early albums, only stiffer and less inspired", McFee's contribution was not meant to be a single and remained only marginal.
By 1993, Southern Pacific had disbanded and both men had rejoined the Doobie Brothers, after the band's album Brotherhood stalled at #82, deeming it an artistic and commercial failure, with the band being dropped by Capitol Records. 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.
With The Doobie Brothers (incomplete)
- One Step Closer
- No Nukes
- In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record
- Farewell Tour
- Best Of The Doobies, Vol. 2
- Listen to the Music: The Very Best of The Doobie Brothers
- Rockin' down the Highway: The Wildlife Concert
- Best of the Doobie Brothers Live
- Greatest Hits
- Doobie's Choice
- Sibling Rivalry
- Long Train Runnin’: 1971-2000
- Live at Wolf Trap
- The Very Best of The Doobie Brothers
- World Gone Crazy
- Live at the Greek Theater 1982
with others (incomplete)
- Hugues Aufray - Troubador Since 1948
- Mike Bloomfield - Bloomfield: A Retrospective
- Norton Buffalo - Lovin' In The Valley Of The Moon
- Norton Buffalo - Desert Horizon
- Carlene Carter - Musical Shapes
- Carlene Carter - Two Sides to Every Woman
- Carlene Carter - Stronger
- Chicago - Naked In The Garden Of Allah
- Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True
- Elvis Costello - Taking Liberties
- Elvis Costello - Almost Blue
- Elvis Costello - The Very Best Of Elvis Costello
- Elvis Costello - The Delivery Man
- John Cowan - Sixty
- The Grateful Dead - Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel
- The Grateful Dead - Beyond Description
- Emmylou Harris - 'White Shoes
- Emmylou Harris - All I Intended To Be
- Janis Ian - Present Company
- Wanda Jackson - Heart Trouble
- Rick James - Throwin' Down
- Rick James - Anthology
- The Kendalls - Movin' Train
- Nicolette Larson - Radioland
- Nicolette Larson - All Dressed Up & No Place To Go
- Huey Lewis and the News - Sports
- Huey Lewis and the News - Hard at Play
- Peter Lewis - Peter Lewis
- Nick Lowe - Jesus Of Cool aka Pure Pop for Now People
- Steve Miller - Fly Like An Eagle
- Steve Miller - Greatest Hits: 1974-78
- John Michael Montgomery - What I Do The Best
- John Michael Montgomery - The Very Best Of John Michael Montgomery
- Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey
- Van Morrison - Saint Dominic's Preview
- Boz Scaggs - Moments
- Ricky Scaggs - Solid Ground
- Southern Pacific - Southern Pacific
- Southern Pacific - Killbilly Hill
- Southern Pacific - County Line
- Southern Pacific - Zuma
- Southern Pacific - Greatest Hits
- Southern Pacific - Pink Cadillac Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
- Twiggy - Please Get My Name Right
- Link Wray - Be What You Want To
- Bill Wyman - Stone Alone
- Eikichi Yazawa - Anytime Woman
- Eikichi Yazawa - Rock 'n' Roll
- Eikichi Yazawa - Subway Express
- AOL Sessions Video.aol.com
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 357. CN 5585.