Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Forrest McDonald
Forrest McDonald was seven years old when he first heard blues man Josh White perform and as he puts it, “I was hooked!” This experience was augmented by the extensive record collection at the McDonald home, Jimmy Witherspoon and T-Bone Walker albums were favorites. Mrs. McDonald received a Martin D18 guitar for Christmas one year, and young Forrest began learning chords. In the summer of 1964 he hitchiked to NYC where he met and was influenced by Muddy Waters. By New Year’s Eve 1964, Forrest McDonald played his first live gig with a group called the Seagrams 7. Four members of the Seagrams 7 group, including McDonald, later became the Oxbow Incidents, which was a New England regional favorite in high schools, churches and colleges for five years. McDonald’s group, Pale Ryder, was formed with previous Oxbow Incidents band members, and included bass player Dave Hayes, who went on later to join and is still with Van Morrison.
The McDonald home was in close proximity to the location of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, where the musical talent on display consumed Forrest—he saw Ray Charles and Leadbelly perform and caught Bob Dylan’s controversial switch from acoustic guitar to electric. Backstage at Newport in 1969, Forrest played Jimmy Page’s Les Paul, trading licks with Page and Jeff Beck” it was incredible,” McDonald recalls.
McDonald joined the Boston Rock Symphony an 11-piece rock group backed by Arthur Fiedler’s 30-piece Boston Symphony Orchestra that year. While playing in the Boston Rock Symphony, McDonald met up with harp player James Montgomery, who played with McDonald in the Boston Rock Symphony. McDonald also played and toured with the Wadsworth Mansion, who had a Top-20 hit with “Sweet Mary I’m Coming Home.” The group toured with Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter and appeared on “American Bandstand” and “The Dating Game.”
In the early 70’s, McDonald relocated to Hollywood, where he met and formed The Force with Tony Carey and Bob Zinner. The Force and the reformed Wadsworth Mansion now called Slingshot performed regularly at The Whiskey, The Starwood, and the Hollywood Paladium, and for a two-year period, McDonald jammed on the Sunset Strip with Van Halen. During this time, McDonald met and recorded with Steve Perry (pre-Journey). McDonald met current band pianist Raymond Victor while touring supporting cutting the Kathi McDonald Insane Aslyum album for Capitol, and the two formed a fast friendship on a USO tour of Asia. Back on the west coast, McDonald stayed busy with studio sessions. He recorded with former members of Ike and Tina Turner, played with Jimmy Reed and Bonnie Bramlett, and contributed the guitar solo to Bob Seger’s mega-hit “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The Seger track actually recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio brought McDonald south.
As Forrest tells it, he was visiting his father in Alabama, and suggested they drive to Muscle Shoals to “see what’s going on.” So they made their way to the studio. “When I walked in and met [producer] Jimmy Johnson, he asked me if I had my guitar with me. So I put on the headphones, plugged in my guitar, and gave him a solo.” McDonald must have impressed the crew at Muscle Shoals: two months later, the studio called to tell him that Bob Seger purchased the track for his Stranger in Town album!
Forrest McDonald and Raymond Victor played together for 35 years — according to one fan, “the result is what a partnership like theirs can produce against all the impediments us blues lovers know exist. Listening to Forrest and Raymond is like watching a perfectly executed pas de deux!” To duo have toured the world over, performing and recording with such luminaries as John Lee Hooker, Charlie Musselwhite, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Roy Gaines, Bobby Womack, Luther Tucker, Silver Platinum and Gold, Roger Dollarhide, Marie Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other artists.
McDonald moved to Atlanta in 1991. His own label ~ World Talent Records ~provides a haven for the group, which was voted “Best Southern Blues Band” by Real Blues Magazine in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Southwest Blues magazine calls McDonald’s “glowing guitar” teamed with Victor’s “whiskey drenched gutter voice” a “winning combination.” McDonald credits his band mates for the remarkable sound on Finger Lickin’ Blues. “Drummer John McKnight takes the lead on ‘Who’s Been Talking,’ while Dave Parnell’s vocals really make the track ‘Blues in the Basement’ come alive. With his explosive horn solos and Raymond’s piano playing, it’s a pleasure to preserve some of those feelings with such authenticity!”
He also received the Just Plain Folks Music Award for Best Blues Album of 1999 for the Spirit of the Blues CD. Penned by vocalist Raymond Victor, the song “Work, Work,” appearing on What’s It Gonna Take? was voted Best Blues Song for 2000 by Just Plain Folks. Two of Forrest’s good friends Roy Gaines and James Montgomery appear on What’s It Gonna Take.
Following hot on the heels of What’s It Gonna Take?, 2000’s critically acclaimed release, Finger Lickin’ Blues released in July 2001 has increased the band’s appeal to an even wider range of blues fans. Finger Licking Blues reatures a great remake of the Classic “Ode To Billy Joe” with a great slide solo by Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin. As one reviewer stated Forrest’s version give me goose bumps on my goose bumps.
In 2004 a chance meeting occurred in 2003 between then Kaylon Ward and Forrest while recording Fiona Boyes Live in Atlanta. The two became good friends and soon were playing regularly together. Kaylon won the 1991 Atlanta female entertainer of the year award. Their first CD together was Nothing Wrong with Dreaming released in 2007. Their new release “Certified Blue”, April 2010, is the culmination of 3 years roadwork and it is fantastic.
In 2007 Forrest & Kaylon released her first CD together titled “There’s Nothing Wrong With Dreaming” on the World Talent Label.
In 2010 Forrest & Kaylon released “Certified Blue” The CD garnered great reviews in Living Blues and Blues Revue.
In 2014 Forrest and Kaylon went in seperate artistis directions. Kaylon persued her first love, Country music and Forrest returned to his Atlanta/Texas roots.
On February 20, 2014 Forrest recorded a new CD with his old Atlanta band adding his lifelong friend Tony Carey on the Keyboards. The new CD titled “Turnaround Blues” was released June 1 and received rave reviews.
With McDonald on guitar, Andrew Black on vocals, John McKnight on drums, Jon Liebman on harp & vocals, Lee Gammon on bass the band is as strong as bands get and then some.
In 2015 Forrest formed a new band that Won the River City Blues Challenge two years in a row and advanced to the semi-finals.
In February 2017 the band returned to the studio recording their latest CD Stand My Ground 2017(“World Talent Records “).
June 1, 2017 Stand My Ground is released to rave reviews. The Forrest McDonald Band puts on a live show that is not to be missed. The new CD’s are selling out at every performance.
Singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Forrest McDonald is a Journeyman in the blues rock music world. He defies any easy pigeonhole. His guitar work on Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock & Roll and Bobby Womack’s Roads of Life is instantly recognizable. He picks a great guitar and sings well-crafted upbeat songs about modern life. Lead Vocalist Becky Wright started singing at 6 years of age. She began with the band singing backup on Forrest’s CD Turnaround Blues. Her distinct vocal style is Certified Blue. Forrest often says you can’t go wrong with Becky Wright. She is truly a rising star on the Blues horizon. Keeping the driving beat is drummer John Hanes. He is also the most recent band member. On harmonica is veteran harp master Pix Ensign an Ohio and FL state Harmonica champion. On bass is the groove master Lee Gammon, who studied bass with Ellis Marsalis. Forrest’s Finger Licking Blues, Spirit of the Blues and Colorblind won the Just Plain Folks blues CD awards. Their last CD Turnaround Blues is nominated by JPF for Best Blues CD. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pandora Radio.