Rhino Galleries - The Doobie Brothers

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Monday, August 19, 2013
70s
80s
The Doobie Brothers
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Rhino Galleries - The Doobie Brothers

From their humble 1970 beginnings playing scruffy San Jose dives to climbing the charts, selling out venues, and emerging successful and sophisticated in 1980s L.A., The Doobie Brothers sure seemed to embody one hell of a California dream.

Singer-guitarist Tom Johnston and drummer John Hartman met in ’69 via the kind introductions of former Moby Grape member Skip Spence; they promptly named their first band Pud. By 1970, bassist Dave Shogren and guitarist Patrick Simmons were on board, and the group was rechristened The Doobie Brothers at the suggestion of a roommate.

The band had a reputation for putting on explosive shows, and counted members of notorious motorcycle gangs such as the Hells Angels, Gypsy Jokers, and Night Riders among its devotees. Word about them somehow got downstate, and before 1971 was done, The Doobie Brothers had a self-titled LP on Warner Bros. to their credit. But it wasn’t until 1972’s TOULOUSE STREET that the band was able to replicate its live chops on vinyl. The irresistible “Listen To The Music,” penned by Johnston, pushed the Pop Top 10, “Jesus Is Just Alright” followed closely—and the rest of the record rode the hook-friendly, good-time rock vibe all the way to sold-out concerts. And the live shows were getting bigger and better all the time: there was a second drummer now (Michael Hossack), along with a new bass player (Tiran Porter).

The follow-up, 1973’s THE CAPTAIN AND ME, stuck to the same tactics. This time, “China Grove” had the awesome, slashing power chords; now, “Long Train Runnin’” provided the tasty harmonies and funk-inflected acoustic guitars.

But Johnston’s formerly dominant songwriting was starting to take a back seat. That was fine on 1974’s WHAT WERE ONCE VICES ARE NOW HABITS, since it was Simmons’s “Black Water” that stole the show anyway—it was the Doobies’ first #1 hit. (Around this time, ex-Steely Dan guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who had guested on The Captain And Me, joined full-time.) But by Stampede, from 1975, there was definitely some change afoot. The only charting track was a Motown remake, and when Johnston bowed out that year to nurse himself back into shape, it just about looked like the Doobies had been cashed.

Enter singer-keyboardist Michael McDonald, who Baxter knew from his Steely Dan days. McDonald took on most of the lead vocal duties on 1976’s TAKIN’ IT TO THE STREETS, and, via his impassioned blue-eyed-soul singing on the hit title track, helped shepherd the Doobies into a new pasture of smooth, laid-back grooves. He came into his own with “What A Fool Believes,” the #1 smash off 1978’s MINUTE BY MINUTE. The song, cowritten by McDonald and Kenny Loggins, is subtle, sexy, and doesn’t have a single guitar within earshot. It was a far cry from the Doobies’ hard-rocking origins, and by the end of 1979, Hartman and Baxter hung it up. The band regrouped for One Step Closer, released in 1980, and gathered steam for one last tour to support that album. But the end of the line had come.

McDonald went solo, going on to record hits including “I Keep Forgettin’,” “Yah Mo B There,” and “On My Own,” with Patti LaBelle. In 1987, the original Doobie lineup, fronted by Johnston and a bevy of electric guitars, reunited for a tour to benefit Vietnam veterans and then to record the LP CYCLES — a full cycle, indeed, but certain habits still seemed to die hard. That album’s single, “The Doctor,” couldn’t seem to help hitting the Top 10 in the spring of 1989. And after nearly a decade away from the studio, 2000’s SIBLING RIVALRY proved the band was still rockin’ down the highway.

In 2010, the group returned to the studio with longtime producer Ted Templeman for WORLD GONE CRAZY and they continue to perform in various incarnations today.