Single Stories: The Doobie Brothers, JESUS IS JUST ALRIGHT and BLACK WATER

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

In the early 1970s, San Jose, California band and current Rock Hall of Fame nominees The Doobie Brothers were a scruffy group of rough and tumble rockers beloved by bikers and the counter-culture. Years before they even met Michael McDonald, the band was crafting deep and indelible hits that have well stood the test of time.

Two of those songs, both of which are among the most popular in the Doobie Brothers' catalog, were released on the very same day--November 15--just over the span of two years.

It was summer 1972 when the Doobies released the Toulouse Street album, which was kicked off by the first single, "Listen to the Music." They followed that track with second single, "Jesus is Just Alright," on November 15, 1972. While the gospel cover was packed with obvious religious references, for the band it was just a rockin' tune. On the charts, the track surged into the top 40 to peak at #35 on the Hot 100 over the week of February 25, 1973.

"The funny thing about that, we weren't anti-religious. We weren't anything. We were just musicians out playing a gig. We didn't think about that kind of stuff very often," singer Tom Johnston told SongFacts. "We would be out playing that song when that came out as a single, and all these One Wayers, which was a big movement at that time, would be at the show, and they would run up to the stage with their fingers pointed straight up. At first we didn't get it, and we finally said, 'Oh, I know what's going on.' So when we would play that song, they would go nuts. They would throw scriptures on the stage, that sort of thing. Little did they know they were trying to enlist the support of the wrong guys."

It was just two years--and two albums--later in 1974 when the band dropped What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits in February. The album's third and final single, "Black Water," arrived on November 15, 1974. Originally relegated to the B-side of single "Another Park, Another Sunday," "Black Water" became a hit the old-fashioned way: radio DJs who knew a good song when they heard one.

"Roanoke, Virginia picked that tune up and started playing it in heavy rotation, and somebody in Minneapolis who I guess knew somebody in Roanoke heard the song and decided to follow suit, and it ended up becoming our first #1 single," Johnston remembered. "That was Patrick Simmon's first single. And oddly enough, it was never looked at as a single by the record company."

"Black Water" topped the Hot 100 over the week of March 15, 1975: "I remember when I first heard it was #1, we were in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we were just getting ready to go on stage, and then I guess Bruce [manager Bruce Cohn] must have told us," Johnston recalled. "I think we were already aware of the fact that it was getting airplay, but nobody was really paying a lot of attention. And then all of a sudden it became #1 and we were paying attention. I remember I went in and congratulated Pat backstage, and we've been playing it ever since."

Both songs can be found on BEST OF THE DOOBIES. Listen below.