A King fighting to conquer an unruly Queen City
R&B musician ‘Michael King’ struggles to become full-time musician
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Mike Donohue suspends himself a few inches off of a white carpet while he holds on rigorously. His shoulder is in excruciating pain, still pulsing from the surgery, but he works through it.
As he hangs inverted from gymnastics rings in his home in Lockport, he meditates, using the force of his breath to distinguish between his pain and the noise of his thoughts.
“Most weeks, I only meditate this way once or twice, but it helps to concentrate on the body and push everything else out of my mind,” Donohue said.
Using gymnastics rings is just a part of being a “fitness nut,” according to Donohue. He began doing inverted hangs after suffering a shoulder injury from one particularly rowdy horse that flung him off its saddle during his work as a horse trainer and stable hand in the summer of ’03.
Donohue, a 28-year-old part-time UB student and R&B musician, uses a steady regiment of physical and mental workouts to clear a noisy mind. Still, he often wonders why his hometown seems so reluctant to hire him. His struggle with the Buffalo music scene as an R&B musician has tested his patience and his perseverance.
With his first album release now five months old, Donohue is still waiting for the moment when he can list “musician” as his only job title.
Donohue, or “Michael King,” and his band step on stage for one of the few gigs he’s had the opportunity to book. It’s a windy September day on UB’s South Campus and the trees have just started to transition into autumn colors. Donohue looks over at Daniel Ross, the guitar player in the band, through his glasses to cue the start of “Shoegazin’.” The sun hits Donohue’s thin brown chin hairs as he steps toward the mic.
“So pardon me for jumping off cue, and coming out of the blue/But I had to write, even though I know I just met you,” sings Donohue. At 5-foot-9 and meticulous away from the mic, his stature and persona are not indicative of his confident stage presence.
Growing up with two sisters, Donohue always felt like he was brainwashed into becoming the ideal boyfriend. His father, Barry Donohue, a self-employed lawyer, worked frequently and his absence led Donohue to become a “momma’s boy.” But Donohue was not always the shy, passive type.
“I was a choir boy until I went to a school that didn’t have music and then just fought everybody,” Donohue said. “I guess that was my outlet once I couldn’t sing.”
Donohue, a quarterback in high school, started hanging out with his future Canisius High School football teammates the summer before his freshman year. A few of these acquaintances were Buffalo gang members.
“That was one of the big turns I know in life,” Donohue said. “[We] just kind of ran the streets.”
Two years later, Donohue was out drinking with his defensive line acquaintances. They found themselves at Grover Cleveland Golf Course across the street from South Campus. Armed with drunken ambition, they yelled into the darkness, ripped up the greens, threw away the cones and decimated the ball-washing machines.
The course was destroyed.
“They tracked us down because we did a lot of damage,” Donohue said. “It was just drunken stupidness.”
No charges were pressed. Donohue had a family of lawyers to thank for that.
But the close relationship Donohue had with his parents began to unravel as he hit the peak of his troubled teen years. He would scream into his father’s face, demanding a logical explanation for punishment after punishment. Barry, who struggled to maintain the role as the man of the house, often yelled back. One Sunday morning, a frustrated Donohue refused to go to church with his family. At this moment, Barry couldn’t take anymore. He kicked Donohue out of the house.
He was on his own.
“I was a real s*** disturber, but [my parents] somehow contained themselves from kicking the s*** out of me, and instead kicked me out,” Donohue said. “I’m glad they did, though. I needed that life lesson.”
After attending two different high schools in Buffalo, Donohue dropped out and started working odd jobs. This led him to work at Allegany State Park at 19, where he met Kate, a love interest who quickly made Donohue rethink his troublemaking ways.
“She was the brick wall, finally,” Donohue said.
A few months after they met, Donohue was already thinking about marriage. Kate was his muse, and as he got more and more into songwriting, she appeared as the subject of songs such as “Say You’ll Stay.”
She was his method of mental rehabilitation – the spark that convinced him to get out of trouble and get back into school. Although they are no longer together, Donohue does not deny the positive impact Kate has had on his life.
Donohue took classes at ECC before transferring to UB. He attended classes part-time while working full-time at Circuit City. The money was good, but the company didn’t last, as it eventually became liquidated in April 2009, causing Donohue to lose his job. He found odd jobs again while still attending school.