On a pre-COVID sunny, summer’s day, Otis McDonald joined us for a funk-filled Tiny Porch performance. Part of the fun of organizing Tiny Porch productions is being able to create interesting ways to introduce each band at the beginning of every video. So when we asked Otis if he was comfortable taking a raft ride down the Truckee River and he readily accepted, we knew this was going to be a Tiny Porch episode for the books.

AHOY MATIES: Otis McDonald showed up to our Tiny Porch in style. Photo by Jeremy Jensen

Otis McDonald is the stage name of Joe Bagale, a multi-instrumentalist from the Bay Area who has dedicated his life to being a professional musician. Bagale morphs into his musical alter-ego with the help of some ’70s shades and a jazzy demeanor you’d expect to find in a dark, smoky club that hosts open mic nights for spoken word and star-studded musicians. Currently at 58K YouTube subscribers, he specializes in creating his own mixes and beats, and plays at least 10 different instruments: everything from percussion and brass to guitar and piano.

A regular teacher-in-residence at Moody’s Jazz Camp (which was canceled this summer due to COVID-19), run by popular Truckee restaurant Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats, Bagale is passionate about inspiring others to become the best musician they can be.

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How did the Otis McDonald persona come to be and what inspired it?

The Otis McDonald persona came to be while I was contributing music to YouTube’s royalty-free music library and I had originally contributed 10 songs under my real name, and one of those songs was called Otis McDonald. And the reason I titled that song Otis McDonald was there were elements in there that were inspired by the wonderful singer Michael McDonald and also artist Sugar Otis.

When I started doing more music for them, I was kind of playing around with more production ideas, and it was pretty different than how I had done music in the past. It was actually my wife’s idea to use a different name, and we both thought it would be a cool experiment just to create an artist that never existed on YouTube’s new platform, where they were providing royalty-free music.

How would you describe the Otis persona?

Ten years ago, I played at the Montreal Jazz Festival and I used to have these sunglasses that I wear now under the Otis alias, but those sunglasses were bright blue and really catchy. I just remember being at that festival and it was kind of like a superhero outfit because everyone would recognize who I was. They’d say, ‘Oh I saw you play last night,’ and then when I took them off no one would know who I was.

When I started the Otis McDonald thing, I was really going for it in terms of understanding how to brand yourself as an artist. So I created a logo and I wanted to create a look so that someone could always associate those sunglasses or a certain style of coat with Otis McDonald. 

What’s your musical journey? How did you get started as a musician?

I started playing music when I was 7 years old. My father is a music teacher. He was the man of the house who was introducing me and my two older brothers to all kinds of music. I started pretty young on the drums to kind of keep up with my brothers, and immediately fell in love with that. By the time fifth grade came along, I was really into bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, so I picked up the guitar.

But really a lot of what kind of informed what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was the first time I saw The Beatles Anthology documentary. I just became a huge Beatles nut and learned so much about how much everything went in to being a musical artist, whether it was performing, writing, or recording.

I’ve known I wanted to be a professional musician since I was 11 or 12 years old., I started my first band back then and started playing school dances, bar mitzvahs, barbecues … I even got paid to do that, too. It was my first experience getting paid to do something.

As someone who plays so many instruments, do you have a genre preference?

I try not to put myself in any particular genre as an artist. I mean, the one thing that kind of ties all the different sounds of my music together is kind of funkiness. I’ve always been into rhythm and blues, soul, funk music. I mean, really as far back as I can remember, being a kid from the ’80s, Michael Jackson was like the first thing everywhere. And then my brothers and I were really getting into hip-hop music in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and so music that just is funky and moves.

In terms of rock and roll music, I listened to rock and roll music a lot. I don’t really listen to new rock music, because it doesn’t have that roll, that funkiness, that thing that grew out of black American music. You listen to a band like Led Zeppelin and that shit is funky but you listen to a band like Coldplay and it’s not very funky. It’s cool, like, I dig Coldplay, but I’m not trying to make music like that. I take inspiration from them and Radiohead and Björk, but the stuff I always come back to is stuff like Stevie Wonder, Prince, Michael Jackson, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and The Beatles.

What’s your involvement with Moody’s Jazz Camp?

 I’m what they call one of their artists-in-residence. And what that entails is, during the day and the actual camp, I’m one of the instructors. In addition to teaching during the day, you play in Moody’s jazz Bistro at night, and that band is made up of all the other artists-in-residence that are teaching, so that’s what makes it really special because it’s kind of like camp for the teachers. We all bring in our own tunes every year and get to play five nights of gigs. It’s just a really special experience coming up here.

What do you hope that your music brings to the world?

Joy. I just want people, if they come to see me play or put on a record of mine, I want them to leave their listening stations with a little bit more joy than they had when they walked in. And if it inspires them to pick up an instrument or make better music, or seek out other styles of music, that would be a bonus too.

JAM SESSION: Musicians McDonald and Adam Theis reunited on our tiny porch. Photo by Jeremy Jensen