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Song of the Day: Billy Sedlmayr on Kathi McDonald Covering Willie Dixon's 'Insane Asylum' 

Kathi McDonald had the pipes, the moves, the whole deal. - WIKI COMMONS
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  • Kathi McDonald had the pipes, the moves, the whole deal.
In the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, huge rock 'n' roll ensembles—sometimes with two drummers, full horn sections and flotillas of backup singers—packed ballparks and concert halls.
And women were resplendent in Slinky-like bracelets, unfathomably long earrings and feathers, fur and platforms. Jackie De Shannon, Labelle, Rita Coolidge, P.P. Arnold, and Maggie Bell are but a few of this cool breed.

But I'm pretty damn sure there would've been no Janis without Kathi Mcdonald (R.I.P.).

Some backstory: McDonald made her way to San Francisco from the Pacific Northwest at 19, and promptly joined Ike & Tina as an Ikette (that ever changing squad of unrelenting power). She quickly became the voice to call in and out of the Bay Area. There was Long John Baldry, with whom she'd work on and off for 30-some years. She also sang on The Stones' Exile album, and was a member of Joe Cocker's legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and recording. She was one of Leon Russell's go-to singers on his killer Shelter recordings. She worked with Delaney and Bonnie, Freddy King, and of course Janis's Big Brother and the Holding Co.

You get the picture. She had the pipes, the moves, the whole deal. So in 1973, producer David Briggs (Neil Young et al) worked on her big Capital Records debut album, Insane Asylum, it's title nicked from the Willie Dixon tune that explodes off this record.

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The record boasts a who's who of musicians she'd come to know from the scene. Guitar heroes like Nils Lofgren, Ronnie Montrose, and a young Neal Schon fresh from Santana. Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Tower of Power horns, it goes on ...

So let's listen the aforementioned "Insane Asylum," her duet here with Sly Stone. It's a tale so full of lost love and terror that by the time Stone begins to break it all down, McDonald comes in like a DC-10, tearing the sky to shreds as they trade lines and scat off of the other till each slow-screams into an orgasm of musical heights. Stone is beyond even his high-water mark and the first time I heard this song on long-gone Tucson rock-radio gem KWFM when I was a kid, I called through 10 or 15 busy signals to find out who or what this song was.

Well,they don't make them like they used to, and Willie Dixon could pen a song as good as anyone else did or will do.

Find a hardcopy of this record and add it to your collection. It's a true timepiece that continues to stand tall.

(Note: A close friend in town was tight with Ms. McDonald, and I still have the autographed picture she sent my way!)

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