A Circuitous Path Through Literary, Musical and Geographic Influences

John McD - sketch by Marilyn Craig



Academic Aspirations

     Remember what the Scottish poet Robert Burns said about “the best laid plans?”

     John moved to Pittsburgh  to attend graduate school at Duquesne University where he specialized in European philosophy.

     Although John studied contemporary authors, along with classics by Plato, Aristotle and Augustine, he discovered a kindred spirit and an enduring fascination with the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who extolls the unlimited potential of human creativity while exuding a passionate enthusiasm and love of life.

     Inspired in part by Nietzsche’s affirmative celebration of life and spirited call to say "Yes,” John indulged his love of music and began playing open mike nights.

     John’s life-long passion for music eventually overtook his scholarly aspirations and he established a full-time career as a performing musician.  After completion of his M.A., he went on to front one of the region’s most popular “party” bands.

     Now, on his most recent CD Right Place, Right Time, John writes evocative lyrics about poignant, thought provoking themes: the inexplicable occurrence of chance meetings and precious moments of grace, constant change, the mystical nature of love, optimism in the face of uncertainty, the universal power of music, the virtue of humility and compromise, indiscretion in the age of digital surveillance and the imperative to let go of the past. 


Trop Rock Innovator

     Inspired by artists like Bob Marley, David Byrne, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and Sting, who integrate various styles and elements of music from tropical destinations into rock, John started identifying his music as "Trop Rock" in 1994, an abbreviated and catchier version of tropical rock.

     In particular, Paul Simon’s seminal 1986 album Graceland and 1990 Rhythm of the Saints, opened up John’s appreciation of the globalizing influence of tropical music on rock and pop and his fascination with the geography of music.

     In 1994, John recruited renowned percussionist and ethnomusicologist Dr. Kwasi Jayourba and formed one of the region's "premier party bands," John McDonald & the Mango Men.

     John & his Mango Men went on to become a staple in regional concert venues as the opening band for a diverse list of contemporary and classic artists including America, The Beach Boys and Smokey Robinson.

     John's late 90's CD High Frequency Hope and Heartfelt Vibration may have been the first CD self-consciously described and specifically designated  as a distinctly "Trop Rock" album.

     In 2000, Cleveland disc jockey Dennis King, one of the earliest enthusiasts to embrace High Frequency Hope, launched the Island Time Radio Show on WBWC, the longest-running radio program dedicated to Trop Rock.

     Beach Front Radio, based in Maryland under the auspices of Andy Forsythe, is a full-service, internet radio station, with daily programming that offers multiple formats featuring Trop Rock.

     In 2011, Andy published the first attempt to comprehensively research and catalogue the fledging genre in Trop Rock Songs: Stories and Tales from the Singer/Songwriters.

     To John’s amazement, what started out in the mid 1990’s as a short but handy, self-stylized description of his music for talent buyers, turned out to be a stepping stone and a platform for a global community of independent singer-songwriters, musicians and fans.

     In 2005, John was called a “Trop Rock innovator.

     Looking back, John didn’t anticipate his coinage - Trop Rock - would migrate and eventually designate a distinct niche and sub-genre of music with its own organization, Trop Rock Music Association, crystalizing into an international network of radio programs, web sites, venues and festivals.


John’s Back Yard

     Clearly not a typical Pittsburgh singer-songwriter, John is a transplant from Boston who fell in love with the hilly landscapes, vistas and waterways that designate its singular charm as "The City of Bridges," the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers that forms the Ohio River.

     John affectionately calls Pittsburgh “a poor man’s San Francisco,” pointing out the panoramic view of the downtown skyline a few miles from his house, perched atop an elevated section of the residential neighborhood of Greenfield. The majestic horizon off his back deck never fails to stimulate his creative imagination.

     With its flourishing start-up scene and vibrant market place of ideas, Pittsburgh provides an effervescent back drop for John's personal renewal as an artist.    

     Despite the decades-long decline of manufacturing and the connotation of decay and neglect, the Steel City, once dubbed "hell with the lid taken off," has re-emerged as a model of post-industrial innovation, entrepreneurship and economic creativity, leading "The Rust Belt Revival."  

    So with Pittsburgh as his back yard, John marches to the beat of his own distinctive fusion of literary and musical inspirations, at the Right Place, Right Time.