Donald Fagen Says He Regrets That Michael McDonald Didn’t Replace Him as Steely Dan’s Lead Singer

Donald Fagen has been Steely Dan’s sole official lead singer since the group’s original co-lead vocalist David Palmer left the band in 1973.

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That same year, the soulful, honey-voiced Michael McDonald joined Steely Dan’s touring lineup as a backing vocalist and keyboardist. According to Fagen, around that time, McDonald nearly was asked to take over for him as the band’s main vocalist.

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“There was a serious discussion about whether he should replace me as the lead singer, which would have been my personal preference,” Fagen told The New York Times via email, as reported in an article about McDonald’s soon-to-be-published memoir, What a Fool Believes. “But, for some dumb reason, I was voted down. I didn’t insist, and I’ve regretted it ever since.”

Fagen added, “I mean, here’s this monster singer and musician, and he’s also really funny and a sweetheart of a guy. What’s not to like?”

[RELATED: The Meaning Behind “What a Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers and How It Transformed Michael McDonald’s Career]

The Steely Dan co-founder also noted that it was future Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro who referred McDonald to his band. “[Michael] came to rehearsal a few days later and knocked everyone out,” Fagen recalled.

More About McDonald’s Contributions to Steely Dan and His Later Career

McDonald was a member of Steely Dan’s touring group until the band decided to stop touring in 1974. He also contributed backing vocals to four of the band’s albums—Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977), and Gaucho (1980).

McDonald, of course, also joined The Doobie Brothers in 1975, and became that group’s main singer and keyboardist until its 1982 breakup. He then launched a successful solo career.

About McDonald’s Memoir, Plans for a Book Tour

What a Fool Believes, named after the chart-topping Doobie Brothers hit McDonald co-wrote with Kenny Loggins, will be released on Tuesday, May 21. Michael penned the book with his friend, Mad About You actor Paul Reiser, who also is an accomplished musician.

To promote the memoir, McDonald and Reiser will appear together at series of book-tour events scheduled for May 21 in New York City, May 22 in Nashville, May 23 in St. Louis, and May 29 in Los Angeles.

McDonald’s 2024 Tour Plans with The Doobie Brothers

McDonald, who rejoined The Doobie Brothers in 2019, will then hit the road with the band for its 2024 trek. First up for The Doobies will be a series of European concerts opening for the Eagles in late May and June. They include five concerts in Manchester, U.K., and two in Arnhem, Netherlands.

Interestingly, The Doobie Brothers are taking over the support slot for Steely Dan, who dropped off the bill “due to unforeseen circumstances.”

After the European dates, The Doobie Brothers will launch a North American headlining tour. That trek runs from a June 23 concert in Inglewood, California, through an October 16 show in Saint John, Canada.

Tickets for The Doobie Brothers’ concerts are available now via various outlets, including StubHub.

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Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images; Photo by Timothy White

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  1. No disrespect to MM, but Steely Dan wouldn’t be Steely Dan without Fagen’s vocals.

    Picture MM singing lead vox on Gaucho, by way of one example.

    I don’t care what you do at home, but it worked out fine IMO.

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