John McDonald’s “Angel Midnight”

A week at the Chickenbox, Nantucket. In front of the band house with John and Ray Jacques, summer 1973

I’ve started a Facebook Page for my friend and old band mate, John McDonald, and here’s why:

About 3 years ago, John was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, also called Huntington’s Chorea. It’s the same degenerative illness that struck Woody Guthrie. John is a strong, tough guy and doing as well as you could expect, but friends and family thought it was time to help him do what he had always wanted to do––get out the CD he had always wanted to make.

Here’s the whole story:

Back in the 1970s, I was a freelance writer and a working musician in the Boston-Cambridge area. The band I was with for the longest stretch was John Lincoln Wright and the Sour Mash Boys, of Harvard Square, Cambridge. The name sounds like a bluegrass band but we were a bar band, a big, loud country-tinged rock group, with trucks, roadies, and a large following of fans. We worked nearly every night somewhere, and what can I say, except that those years were fun, unforgettable, and intense. So intense they almost did me in a couple of times.

They were also unexpectedly consequential, as it turned out: I met my future wife because of that band. My older daughter got her first job in New York at the East Side club where we used to play in Manhatten.

Like old army buddies, many of the guys in the band have been lifelong friends, and one of those is John McDonald.

John was our lead guitar player. But it became apparent over time that his true talent was songwriting. He wrote them on the side while in the Sour Mash Boys, and although the band showcased the originals of John Lincoln Wright (also a first-class songwriter), one of McDonald’s songs, “Sweet Montana,” became perhaps the single most popular number we performed.

After a few years, John married Peggie and left band life. Music took a back seat while they they raised three kids, Travis, Ryan, and Lindsay, but through those years, the songs kept coming. He has written about 30 that I know of, and about 25 of them stand up as fine songs by any standard, but he never put out a CD to represent the full range of his achievement.

It’s out now, and raw as it is (he made the recordings over many years, under varying conditions) it’s impossible not to be knocked out by the range and quality of his songs. They run the gamut, from Springsteen-ish rockers to Orbison-style power ballads, often with a Latin influence. There are echos of Jackson Browne, Steve Earle, and others, but mostly they are John McDonald: he has his own sound.

We all pitched in. John’s son Travis (himself a musician based in Austin) and band mate Larry Flint, worked with John to pull the music together. I helped with the CD packaging, and a website, Sweetmontana.com. And now, the Facebook Page, “John McDonald’s Angel Midnight.” I hope you’ll check it out and become a fan of the page–you can click here–and also visit the website, which is about as full of information as I could make it.

At the bottom of every page (and in the left hand column of the Facebook Page) is a ReverbNation player with about 8 or 9 of John’s songs (there are 16 total on the CD). Please sample a few, and if you like what you hear, click on one of the “buy” links that appear on every page. They take you to CD Baby, where you can order “Angel Midnight.” And I should also note that part of the proceeds from sale of the CD go to the The Huntington’s Disease Society of America: http://hdsainfo@hdsa.org

{ 3 comments }

1 Larry Gollub May 25, 2010 at 2:05 am

A slightly color corrected version of the group shot with Waylon Jennings can be found at:
http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1263/1129323279_f736ac43af_b.jpg
And a good shot of John “Roadhog” McDonald is at:
http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1303/1298263391_2004499c30_b.jpg
And a shot of JLW with the band at John and Peggy’s wedding. I took some pictures and gave all the film to John and Peggy, but slipped in one last role and took some photos at the end of the reception. I’ll look for the others.
Give John and Peggy my best.

2 Larry Gollub May 25, 2010 at 2:06 am

Forgot the url for the shot at the wedding

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1172/1298263367_8fc4b457aa_b.jpg

3 Bill May 25, 2010 at 9:43 am

Thanks for these Larry! I’d totally forgotten who took the Waylon shot. I’ve been looking at it “blue” for so long it’s amazing to see it in living color. And that’s a great shot of McDonald. Would love to see any more pics from those days you might have.

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