“The only thing in life that’s constant is change.” – Clarence
The inspiration for LIFE –
We received a wonderful letter from Jane (below) at the same time we were updating Clarence’s website. We were so touched by the story that we wanted to share it with others. We asked Jane for her permission to re-print her letter and she kindly agreed.
Since that time, we have started to add more letters to the LIFE section. Thank you for taking the time to share your ‘Clarence McDonald stories’ – we truly appreciate it! It is the special folks like you that inspire Clarence to keep playing and creating.
The Clarencemcdonald.com Team
LIFE – Letter No. 1
June 17, 2012
Tonight after my 16 yr. old son took a break from his piano, I told him this story…and I thought I would share it with you as well. When I was about 15 years old, I was lucky enough to hear James Taylor in-concert. It was in my hometown about an hour west of Toronto. I went with my three best girlfriends and we were stoked since it was the first concert we’d ever been to. We knew every word to every one of his songs, as we’d been spending all our time singing and harmonizing together for the past few years (that’s what we loved to do together). As teenage girls we were also wrapped up in the ‘scene’ that we imagined California to be…full of amazing songwriters like James, Carole King, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell…from where we were sitting on cold winter evenings (in our argyle sweaters and lip gloss) believe me, California sure sounded pretty nice.
The concert was amazing, and the fantastic surprise was that ‘shy Carly’ (as we called her) joined James on stage. Bonus!! Afterward we had to wait for one of our Moms to pick us up, so we were sitting all alone in the last row of the theatre, giggling and blissed out after the show. The house lights were up and suddenly we heard noise behind us and turned to see the last few members of your band filing into a room at the back.
Now what would you do if you were 15 years old, full of naive confidence, your best gal-pals at your side and you’re faced with the only chance you’d ever have in your entire life of meeting your idol?? We followed the last of the band-members into that room of course!! (ha ha, I wouldn’t have the nerve to do that today)
The door closed behind us and we stood like deer in the headlights, while you guys all stopped talking and tried to figure out who the heck we were. James Taylor sat in a big armchair in the corner. He looked exhausted and was not very happy to see us. We shuffled our feet a little before saying, “Hi Mr. Taylor, great concert!” He was not in the mood to talk and immediately got someone to show us our way out.
We were crushed. Our perfect evening had just been completely squashed and stomped on. Our first time out alone at a concert, feeling so grown-up…and suddenly we felt 10 again. We hung our heads and slunk back out of the room. Dejected…we could barely even look at each other.
Then you came out to join us, introduced yourself and apologized graciously explaining James wasn’t feeling well. You treated us with respect, took us up on stage and showed us around. You turned the night around for us. My last memory of the evening was of us four girls tearing across the huge, empty parking lot toward my Mom’s car, laughing and screaming at the top of our lungs about the adventure we’d had and the special treatment you gave us!
And all these years later you’re the one I remember most about that night. I found myself telling my 16 year old son that story tonight and how good you’d made us feel, what a respectful person you’d been and what a big heart you must have. And of course what an awesome musician you are as well.
You are a special man to have looked around and cared about the way we girls were feeling.
If you should ever come to Toronto, let me know cause I want to bring my kids to your concert!
Thanks so much, all these years later, for taking the time out to care.
LIFE – Letter No. 2
August 15, 2013
I knew you when I was a teen in Los Angeles. My friend and I followed you around
when we could, being music fanatics and fantasy jazz musicians. I became a
psychologist, not a musician, and now live on the East Coast. You popped into my
mind the other day and I Googled your name. I had no idea how many of my
favorite songs bear your influence. I decided to email you just to let you know that
you inspired me a very long time ago. And since that time your music has enhanced
my life, though I didn’t always know it was yours. So I say thank you, and wish you
continued success, peace and happiness.
LIFE – Letter No. 3
July 5, 2014
It was so good to talk with you. Listening to you made me remember all
the wisdom that God has placed in you; and also the ability he gave you to share it
with those around you. As I said last night you have played a very profound part in
my life and many things that you shared with me in my younger life have helped to
mold the person I am today.
Many thanks to you. I have nothing but love for you.
LIFE – Letter No. 4
June 29, 2008
Just a note of thanks.
I am a keyboardist from Detroit and a forty year friend of Quentin Dennard. I originally came out to Los Angeles in the 1970’s to play with Natalie Cole and got diverted into starting a band called Raydio with Ray Parker.
There were many keyboard players in Los Angeles but there were 2 that were at the TOP-OF-THE-HEAP, Sonny Burke and Clarence McDonald. One or both of you were on every record I owned. I began doing my share of recording sessions with my first solid rhythm section consisting of Ben Adkins, Wally Ali, Quentin Dennard and myself. At the time, Ben was also playing with the Al Jarreau Trio with Harvey Mason. One day I did a recording date with Harvey. He listened back to the track and pulled me aside. Harvey said what I was playing was solid and ‘pretty’ but it wasn’t taking the song anywhere. He asked me who I admired on records. I told him Clarence McDonald and Sonny Burke because they worked so much. He said you two worked so much because you brought something special to the tune. He told me, anyone can play block chords. He said, that you two made the song ‘sing’ by making the chords into piano parts — sometimes subtle and other times elaborate. Each time, you put your signature on the song. So, I went home and listened to all the hits you played on and started making the keyboard parts as important as the bass line or the guitar part. After that, I started working for Richard Perry, Dick Rudolph, Freddie Perren, Leon Haywood, ect… I think I finally met you at Leon Haywood’s house with Quentin and Jerry. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for showing a brother, by example, how to be a credible piano player in Hollywood.