Stephen Bruner has always been open to collaboration. The bassist and singer has played with metal bands, jazz artists and rappers like Kendrick Lamar -- which led to a Grammy award last year.
But his latest musical partnership might surprise even his biggest fans. It came about when Bruner -- who performs as Thundercat -- did a radio interview.
"Somebody asked me a question along the lines of: 'Who would you take with you on a boat or on an island?'" Bruner says. "And without hesitation it was: 'Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.'"
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Loggins and McDonald are two big names in a genre often called “soft rock” or “yacht rock” for its sleek and highly produced sound. Those aren’t flattering terms. Loggins and McDonald have received their fair share of mockery over the years.
Some might have thought Bruner was joining in on that mockery. But he's a huge fan.
"I was very serious about it," he says. "They're all under-weaved in my melodic understanding. I just have always felt like they were some of the greatest."
McDonald -- the former frontman for the Doobie Brothers -- caught wind of Bruner’s praise. They got in touch, and that led to a performance together at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles last year.
Bruner and McDonald played the Doobie Brothers single “What A Fool Believes” onstage. The crowd’s reaction was unforgettable.
"It kind of freaked everybody out at the Bowl," he says. "I remember hearing this guy's reaction in the front row. I don't know if he was high on mushrooms. I don't know what it was. When I said, 'Here's Michael McDonald,' he just screamed. It was the gnarliest scream I've ever heard."
The show was a big success. Bruner and McDonald felt an instant connection. So they kept in touch and started to write music for the new Thundercat album. That’s when McDonald decided to call up an old friend to join.
Enter Kenny Loggins.
Loggins and McDonald hadn’t worked together in nearly 20 years. So Bruner had some doubts about the collaboration.
"I had no clue where this could go," he says. "If it could go bad, or if it could go good. I just tried to keep my mind open about how things were to come about."
And he loved how things came about. They worked as a songwriting team where each musician had equal say. That led to the song “Show You The Way” off the new Thundercat album “Drunk.”
They recorded just that one song together. But the Loggins and McDonald influence is all over “Drunk.”
Bruner says he’s honored he got to work with his musical heroes. Because recently, more and more of them are gone.
"Within the last three days: Junie Morrison, Al Jarreau, Larry Coryell," he says. "They're dropping like flies! I'm dreading Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Tell 'em you love 'em while they're still here."
And on “Drunk,” Bruner has given a musical love letter to two of his all-time favorite musicians.