An veritable American rock institution will be hitting the ENMAX Centrium stage Oct. 21st.
The Doobie Brothers have been delivering ‘roots-based, harmony-laden, guitar-driven rock’ for over four decades, selling more than 48 million records along the way and landing four Grammy awards.
There sound has always been a brilliant mix of genres, but their latest project will have a distinctive nod to Nashville. In 2011, the band filmed a CMT Crossroads special and appeared for the first time on the Grand Ole Opry. Something clicked. Their relationship with Nashville continues to unfold with a new CD Southbound in early November.
It’s also a move that points to the band’s willingness to change with the times while hanging onto the basics of their foundations that have contributed to their staying power.
Southbound reunited the band with Michael McDonald and features collaborations with Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Hunter Hayes, Toby Keith, the Zac Brown Band, Sara Evans, Love & Theft among others. The CD also features some of their biggest hits from Listen to The Music and Black Water to Jesus is Just Alright and What a Fool Believes.
“It was definitely something new for us – we’d never done anything like this before,” explains Tom Johnston, singer/songwriter/guitarist, of the collaborations. “We’ve also never re-recorded any of our songs before for that matter.”
But it was a blast from the get-go. Johnston said lining up folks to join them on the project proved easy. “I think one of the most pleasant things about it was finding out how many of them were fans of the band. We had no idea – we had no way of knowing. Working with them was a pleasure.”
The guys are enjoying a bit of a break, but had been touring non-stop since the spring. Johnston is excited about hitting the road again, particularly with the new project on the way. Besides that, performing is at the heart of what the Doobie Brothers are all about, he said.
“It’s about the people that show up to the shows,” he points out. “Basically, we are all about playing ‘live’. I think the good thing about the band, and what helps enable us to have so much fun with this new project (in particular), is the fact that the band comes from so many sectors musically.
“From the very beginning, it’s always been about everything from blues to R&B to rock and roll to country to American roots – it’s all been involved in everything we have ever done from the very beginning.”
Beginning with their multi-million-selling sophomore album Toulouse Street (1972), the Doobies have three multi-platinum, seven platinum and 14 gold records. Their number one singles Black Water (1974) and What a Fool Believes (1979), both gold, lead a catalog of tunes that include Jesus Is Just All Right, Rockin’ Down the Highway, Long Train Runnin’, China Grove, Take Me In Your Arms, You Belong to Me, The Doctor and more. So many of the cuts have stood the test of time incredibly well and are still staples on an array of stations.
“A good song is a good song, and if it strikes a chord with people, even more so. To me, that’s what makes a good song – it’s something that lasts,” observes Johnston. “People also associate it with a time in their lives – good, bad or whatever. It’s a good feeling when you’ve written a song that has lasted as long as some of the songs we’ve written have lasted. It’s not planned – I can tell you that. It just happened.”
Formed in 1969 by Pat Simmons, Johnston, drummer John Hartman and bassist Dave Shogren, the Doobies made their mark with a run of hits on Warner Brothers Records. They attained radio ubiquity in the late 1970s when the group’s lineup was augmented by McDonald.
Simmons and Johnston continue to front the group. And multi-instrumentalist John McFee’s history with the Brothers dates back to 1978.
Johnston was born in Visalia, California and his favourite music as he grew up included Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Elvis, James Brown and lots of rhythm and blues on the radio. Although he’d been playing the clarinet, he pretty much ditched it when he got his hands on a guitar at the age of 12.
He eventually moved to San Jose to finish college, where he was majoring in graphic design, and started playing in bands around the city. “I didn’t really have any plans to be a professional musician,” he explains. “But we played music all of the time. I did it because I loved it. And the place I was living ended up being kind of the music centre of San Jose and Santa Cruz.
“There were always musicians there jamming – I’d come home from classes and there would be guys in the basement crashing away. I played with most of the musicians in San Jose at one time or another.”
It was also in San Jose he met the Skip Spence. Spence was the original drummer of the Jefferson Airplane and went on to become a founding member of the group which had a major influence on the Doobie Brothers – Moby Grape. It was Spence who introduced Johnston to Hartman.
And it wasn’t long before the right members came along and audiences began taking notice of this strikingly talented group. And the hits started coming. Johnston wrote Listen To The Music and Rockin Down The Highway, and with help from Jesus Is Just Alright the band was on its way.
Meanwhile, there’s been no better path in life for Johnston to follow.
“Getting involved with the crowd – getting the energy out from the band and then getting it back. If you can get them up dancing and singing along, then we’ve done our job.”
Tickets are available at the Centrium box office or online at www.ticketmaster.ca.