The Doobie Brothers are an American rock band. They have sold over 30 million albums in the United States from the 1970s to the present. The Doobie Brothers were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.
Drummer John Hartman arrived in California in 1969 determined to meet Skip Spence of Moby Grape and join an aborted Grape reunion. Spence introduced Hartman to singer, guitarist and songwriter Tom Johnston and the two proceded to form the nucleus of what would become The Doobie Brothers. Johnston and Hartman called their fledgling group "Pud," and experimented with lineups (occasionally including Spence) and styles as they performed in and around San Jose. They were mostly a power trio (along with bassist Greg Murphy) but briefly worked with a horn section. In 1970 they teamed up with bass player Dave Shogren and singer, guitarist and songwriter Patrick Simmons. Simmons, who had belonged to several area groups (among them "Scratch", an acoustic trio with future Doobies bassist Tiran Porter) and also performed as a solo artist, was already an accomplished fingerstyle player whose approach to the instrument complemented Johnston's rhythmic R&B strumming. In a recent interview, Johnston attributed the band's eventual name to friend and housemate Keith "Dyno" Rosen, who noted the guys' fondness for "doobies." They considered the new moniker an improvement over Pud.
The Doobie Brothers improved their playing by performing live all over Northern California in 1970. They attracted a particularly strong following among local chapters of the Hells Angels and got a recurring gig at one of the bikers' favorite venues, the Chateau Liberte' in the Santa Cruz Mountains. An energetic set of demos (eight of which were briefly and illegally released on Pickwick Records in 1980 under the title Introducing the Doobie Brothers, and have since been bootlegged on CD under that title and On Our Way Up as well, both with expanded song selections), showcased fuzz-toned dual lead electric guitars, three-part harmonies and Hartman's frenetic drumming and earned the rock group a contract at Warner Bros. Records.
At this point in their history, the band's image reflected that of their biggest fans - leather jackets and motorcycles. However, the group's 1971 self-titled debut album departed significantly from that image and their live sound of the period. The album, which failed to chart, emphasized acoustic guitars and frequently reflected country influences. The bouncy lead-off song "Nobody," the band's first single, has surfaced in their live set several times over the ensuing decades.
The following year's second album, Toulouse Street (which spawned the hits and classic rock staples, "Listen to the Music" and "Jesus Is Just Alright"), brought the band their breakthrough success. In collaboration with manager Bruce Cohn, producer Ted Templeman and engineer Donn Landee, the band put forward a more polished and eclectic set of songs. They also made a change to the line-up, supplementing Hartman's drumming with that of Navy veteran Michael Hossack while still touring behind their first album (a concert from June 14, 1971 at Fillmore West bears this out as it has this short-lived lineup). Also, the band recorded several songs on the second album with Shogren on bass, guitar & background vocals. But during the album's recording, Shogren left after disagreements with producer Templeman. Shogren was replaced with singer, songwriter and bass guitarist Tiran Porter. Porter and Hossack were both stalwarts of the northern California music scene, Porter having previously played in Scratch with Simmons. Porter brought a funkier bass style to the band and added his husky baritone to the voices of Johnston and Simmons, resulting in a rich three part harmonic vocal blend. Pianist Bill Payne of Little Feat contributed keyboards for the first time, beginning a decades-long collaboration that included many recording sessions and even a two-week stint touring with the band in 1974. With an improved rhythm section and the songwriting of Johnston and Simmons, the Doobies' trademark sound - an amalgam of R&B, country, bluegrass, hard rock, roadhouse boogie, and rock and roll - emerged fully formed.
A string of hits followed, including Johnston's "Long Train Runnin'" and "China Grove," from the 1973 album The Captain and Me. Other noteworthy songs on the album were Simmons' country-ish ode "South City Midnight Lady" and the explosive, hard rocking raveup, "Without You," for which the entire band received songwriting credit. Onstage, the latter song would sometimes stretch into a 15-minute jam with additional lyrics ad-libbed by Johnston. A 1973 appearance on the debut episode of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert featured one such epic performance of the tune.
In the midst of recording sessions for their next album, 1974's What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, Hossack abruptly departed the band citing burnout from constant touring. Drummer, songwriter and vocalist Keith Knudsen (who previously drummed for Lee Michaels of "Do You Know What I Mean" fame) was recruited promptly and left with the Doobies on a major tour within days of joining in September of 1973. (Hossack subsequently replaced Knudsen in the band Bonaroo, which served as an opening act for the Doobies shortly thereafter.) Both Hossack's drums and Knudsen's voice are heard on Vices.
In 1974 Steely Dan co-lead guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter learned that his band was retiring from the road and that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker intended to work almost exclusively with session players in the future. In need of a steady gig, he segued into the Doobie Brothers as third lead guitarist in the middle of their current tour. He had previously worked with the band in the studio, adding pedal steel guitar to both Captain ("South City Midnight Lady") and Vices ("Black Water," "Tell Me What You Want") and had already been playing with the band as a "special guest" during that year's tour.
Vices included the band's first #1 single: Simmons' signature tune "Black Water," which featured the memorable refrain, "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand"; climbed to the top of the charts in March 1975; and eventually propelled the album to multi-platinum status. Johnston's lyrical "Another Park, Another Sunday" (as a single, it featured "Black Water" as the B-side) and his horn-driven funk song "Eyes of Silver" had also charted at #32 & #52, respectively, the previous year.
During this period and for several subsequent tours, the Doobies were often supported on-stage by Stax Records legends The Memphis Horns. Live recordings with the horn section have aired on radio on the King Biscuit Flower Hour, though none has been officially released. They also appeared as session players on multiple Doobies albums.
Michael McDonald years
By the end of 1974, Johnston's health was suffering from the rigors of the road. He was absent when the band joined the Beach Boys, Chicago and Olivia Newton-John on "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve" that December. By then, the western-themed Stampede had been completed for release in 1975. It featured yet another hit single, Johnston's cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland-written Motown hit "Take Me in Your Arms" (originally sung by Kim Weston and also covered by Blood Sweat and Tears). The song included a distinctive Baxter guitar solo. Simmons contributed the atmospheric "I Cheat the Hangman," as well as "Neal's Fandango," an ode to Santa Cruz, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. Ry Cooder added his slinky slide guitar to Johnston's cowboy song, "Rainy Day Crossroad Blues".
By the start of the Spring 1975 promotional tour for Stampede, Johnston's condition was so precarious that he required emergency hospitalization for a bleeding ulcer. With Johnston convalescing and the tour already underway, Baxter proposed recruiting a fellow Steely Dan alum to fill the hole: singer, songwriter and keyboardist Michael McDonald. Simmons, Knudsen, Porter and McDonald divvied up and sang Johnston's parts on tour while Simmons and Baxter shared lead guitar chores.
Under contract to release another album in 1976, the Doobies were at a crossroads. Their primary songwriter and singer remained unavailable, so they turned to McDonald and Porter for material to supplement that of Simmons. The resulting LP, Takin' It to the Streets, debuted a radical change in their sound. Electric guitar-based rock and roll gave way to blue-eyed soul and soft rock emphasizing keyboards and horns. Baxter contributed jazz-inflected guitar stylings reminiscent of Steely Dan, along with more emphasis on minor chords throughout many of the song's inner melodies. Above all, McDonald's voice became the band's new signature sound. Takin' It to the Streets featured McDonald's title track and "It Keeps You Runnin'," both hits. ("It Keeps You Runnin'" would be covered by Carly Simon, appearing on her album Another Passenger, with the Doobies backing her). Bassist Porter wrote and sang a tribute to the absent Johnston, entitled "For Someone Special." A greatest hits compilation, Best of the Doobies, followed before year's end. In 1996, the Recording Industry Association of America certified Best of the Doobies "Diamond" for sales in excess of ten million.
Their new sound was further refined and McDonald's dominant role cemented with 1977's Livin' on the Fault Line. It featured a cover of the Motown classic "Little Darling (I Need You)," "Echoes Of Love" (written for, but not recorded by, Al Green by James Mitchell, then of the Memphis Horns, and Earl Randle, both of whom had worked with Green a good bit, to which Simmons added some music and lyrics co-writing the finished version with Mitchell and Randle. The song was later covered by the Pointer Sisters), and "You Belong To Me" (co-written by McDonald and Carly Simon, who had a hit with her own version of the tune). To help promote Fault Line, the band performed live on the PBS show Soundstage and appeared as themselves in a two-part episode of the television comedy What's Happening!!. Jeff Baxter used an early type of guitar synthesizer (made by Roland) on many of the tracks (it is heavily featured in his solo on the title track, as well as on "Chinatown"). In addition, it featured even more use of minor chords, as often used in jazz. Unlike many pop/rock groups that utilize minor chords for their dark and foreboding feel, the Doobies managed to temper that with strong pop hooks, resulting in an album that, though not really jazz, had much of the feel of the "cool jazz" era in a pop setting.
Both Streets and Fault Line reflected Tom Johnston's diminished role in the group following his illness. Restored to fitness and briefly back in the fold, he contributed one original song to Streets, ("Turn It Loose"), and also added a vocal cameo to Simmons' tune "Wheels of Fortune." He also made live appearances with the band in 1976 (documented in a concert filmed that year at the Winterland in San Francisco, excerpts from which appear occasionally on VH1 Classic), but was sidelined once again in the fall due to exhaustion. None of Johnston's songs appeared on Fault Line, though he had written and the band had recorded five of his compositions for the album. Finally, before Fault Line was released, Johnston had his songs removed and he left the band that he co-founded (though he received credit for guitars and vocals and was pictured on the album's inner sleeve band photo). He embarked on a solo career that eventually yielded one modestly successful Warner Brothers album Everything You've Heard is True (1979) and the less successful Still Feels Good (1981).
During the period of transition, the band also elevated former roadie Bobby LaKind to onstage backup vocalist and percussionist. In the studio, LaKind first contributed percussion to Streets but had been a member of the road crew since 1974.
After almost a decade on the road, and with seven albums under their belts, the Doobies' career unexpectedly soared with the success of their next album, 1978's Minute by Minute. It spent five weeks at the top of the music charts and dominated several radio formats for the better part of two years. McDonald's song "What a Fool Believes," written with Kenny Loggins, was the band's second #1 single and earned the songwriting duo a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The breezy, McDonald-penned title song received the Grammy for Pop Vocal Performance by a Group and the album was honored with an Album of the Year nod. Among the other memorable songs on the album were "Here to Love You," "Dependin' On You" (co-written by McDonald and Simmons), "Steamer Lane Breakdown" (a Simmons bluegrass instrumental) and McDonald's "How Do the Fools Survive?" (which featured a lengthy guitar coda improvised by Baxter in a single take, according to a 1980 interview in Guitar Player Magazine). Nicolette Larson (whose best-known hit was "Lotta Love") and departed former bandleader Johnston contributed guest vocals on the album.
The triumph of Minute by Minute was bittersweet, however, because it coincided with the near-dissolution of the band. The pressure of touring while recording and releasing an album each year had worn the members down. Jeff Baxter and Michael McDonald had been in the midst of a creative conflict for some time. McDonald desired a simple, polished rock/R&B sound while Baxter insisted on embellishing guitar parts in an increasingly avant garde style. (Both McDonald and Baxter elaborated on the matter in the documentary series Behind the Music, which aired on VH1 in February 2001.) Just as Minute by Minute's monumental success had become apparent, founding drummer Hartman, longtime guitarist Baxter and LaKind exited through the revolving door. A two-song set on the January 27, 1979 broadcast of Saturday Night Live (with guest host Michael Palin ) marked the final television appearance of this lineup, and a brief tour of Japan marked the last live performances of the band in its middle-period configuration. (Hartman subsequently joined Johnston's touring band in 1979 and taped an appearance with Johnston that aired on Soundstage in 1980.)
With the surprise smash album embedded in the charts and more money to be earned on the road, the remaining Doobies (Simmons, Knudsen, McDonald and Porter) decided to forge ahead. In 1979, Hartman was replaced by ace session drummer Chet McCracken, and Baxter by multi-instrumental string player John McFee (late of Huey Lewis' early band Clover); Cornelius Bumpus was also recruited to add vocals, keyboards, flute and saxophone to the line-up. This line-up toured throughout 1979, including stops at Madison Square Garden and New York City's Central Park for the No Nukes benefit shows with like-minded artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and John Hall.
1980 marked the return of LaKind to the lineup as a full member and the Doobies released their ninth studio album, entitled One Step Closer. The LP featured the hit title track and the Top Ten smash "Real Love" (not to be confused with the John Lennon composition) but did not dominate the charts and the radio as Minute by Minute had two years earlier, largely due to an over saturation of the "McDonald sound" by many other artists (such as Robbie Dupree's hit "Steal Away", which copied the "McDonald sound" nearly note for note) heard on the radio at that time, (Not to mention McDonald's numerous guest vocal appearances on hits by other artists at that time, such as Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, Nicolette Larson and others). The album itself was also musically far weaker than the previous three with the band itself sounding tired and seemingly little more than McDonald's "backup band" by then (according to contemporary references at that time). Long frustrated with the realities of relentless touring and yearning for a stable home life, as well as battling self-admitted problems with cocaine, Porter left the band after the recording of Closer. Renowned session bassist Willie Weeks joined up and the Doobies continued touring throughout 1980 and 1981. (Post-Doobies, Weeks has performed with the Gregg Allman Band, Eric Clapton and many others.) Also during this tour, session vet Andy Newmark stepped in briefly for Knudsen, who was in rehab then.
By the end of 1981, even Simmons had resigned from the band. Now faced with the prospect of calling themselves "The Doobie Brothers" with no remaining original members, a sound that was light years away from their original version and a "leader" in McDonald that was ready for a solo career, the group elected instead to disband, and even this wasn't decided upon until after a rehearsal done without Simmons in a vain attempt to keep the band going, according to an interview with McDonald for "Listen To The Music," the Doobie Brothers official video history/documentary released in 1989. He went on to say in that interview that at that point they couldn't have gotten further away from the Doobies sound if they had tried to. The reluctant Simmons, already hard at work on his first solo album, rejoined for a 1982 farewell tour on the promise that this truly would be the end. At their last concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, they were joined onstage by founder Tom Johnston for what was presumed to be the final rendition of his staple, "China Grove." Former members Porter, Hossack and Hartman subsequently took the stage for an extended version of "Listen to the Music." Knudsen sang while Simmons, Johnston and McFee traded licks on guitar. The live album Farewell Tour followed in 1983.
Reunion years and beyond
The Doobies hibernated for the next five years with various members getting together in different configurations for annual Christmas season performances for the patients and staff at the Stanford Children's Hospital in the Bay area. Simmons released a commercially disappointing solo album, Arcade, in 1983. During the mid-80s, Johnston toured U.S. clubs with a band called Border Patrol, which did not release any recordings. Hossack and (briefly) Simmons worked with the group. Around 1986 Johnston and Simmons began working on an album together (according to a 1989 interview with Simmons), but abandoned the project soon after with no known finished tracks. Knudsen and McFee formed Southern Pacific and recorded four albums that found success in the country charts. (Former Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook would join the band in 1986 and former Pablo Cruise guitarist David Jenkins in 1988.) Out of print for decades, Arcade was reissued on compact disc in early 2007 by specialty label Wounded Bird Records, which is also the home of Southern Pacific's and Tom Johnston's catalogs. Post-Doobies, McDonald became established as a solo artist. His voice dominated adult contemporary radio throughout the eighties, though his star faded in the nineties. He has experienced a renaissance of popularity in the new century as an interpreter of Motown classics.
Doobie Brothers in concert at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, California, on August 31, 2006.
The reformation of the Doobies was scarcely premeditated. On a personal quest for a worthy cause, Knudsen had become active in Vietnam veterans' affairs. Early in 1987 he persuaded eleven of the Doobie alumni to join him for a concert to benefit veterans' causes. Answering the call were Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons, Jeff Baxter, John McFee, John Hartman, Michael Hossack, Chet McCracken, Michael McDonald, Cornelius Bumpus, Bobby LaKind and Tiran Porter. There were no surplus bass players as Weeks had other commitments and long-absent Shogren reportedly was not invited. They soon discovered that tickets were in great demand, so the one concert quickly evolved into a twelve city tour. This expanded lineup was able to perform selections from every album using a smorgasbord of instrumentation that they could not have previously duplicated onstage. Baxter and McFee played pedal steel and fiddle, respectively, during "Black Water" and "Steamer Lane Breakdown." "Without You" featured no fewer than four drummers and four lead guitarists. Producer Templeman, a musician in his own right, banged percussion and LaKind sometimes played Knudsen's trap set while the latter came to the front of the stage to join the chorus. The tour culminated (sans McDonald, McFee and Knudsen) at the glasnost-inspired July 4 "Peace Concert" in Moscow, with Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and Santana sharing the bill. Excerpts appearing later that year on the Showtime cable network included a performance of "China Grove."
The successful reunion sparked discussions about reconstituting the band on a permanent basis. They eventually decided to replicate the Toulouse Street/Captain and Me incarnation, settling on a line-up featuring Johnston, Simmons, Hartman, Porter and Hossack plus more recent addition LaKind and released Cycles on Capitol Records in 1989. It featured a Top Ten single, "The Doctor," which showcased Johnston's unmistakable voice and soaring lead guitar, and reminded listeners of the band's pre-McDonald triumphs, which was natural, given the lineup of the band at this time. The song is very similar to "China Grove" and the connection is further enhanced by guest Bill Payne's tinkling piano. There was more strong material on the album, including Johnston's "South Of The Border", Simmons' "Take Me To The Highway", a great version of the Isley Brothers' "Need A Little Taste Of Love", and perhaps the best version ever done of the Four Tops classic, "One Chain (Don't Make No Prison"), which had been covered by Santana years before. Cycles proved a successful, strong and very solid comeback album and was certified Gold. Bumpus also participated on the 1989 tour, adding his distinctive voice, keyboards, saxophone and flute to the proceedings. His presence bridged the gap between the current band and the McDonald era; he sang lead vocals on the song "One Step Closer" (as he originally had on the 1980 album) while Simmons took McDonald's part. The group was further augmented on the 1989 tour by Dale Ockerman (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Richard Bryant (vocals, percussion) and Jimi Fox (percussion, backing vocals). Due to illness, LaKind stepped down before the tour.
The success of Cycles led to the release of 1991's Brotherhood, also on Capitol. The group members grew their hair back out, donned denim and leather, and attempted to revive their biker image of 1970. In spite of the makeover and strong material led by Simmons' now trademark "Dangerous" (featured in the Brian Bosworth biker film vehicle, Stone Cold), Brotherhood was unsuccessful, in part due to a lack of support on the part of Capitol Records. It still stands as one of the Doobies' best albums, with possibly the best single album collection of songs from the "Johnston era" band lineup since "What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits". The accompanying tour (with the 1989 lineup sans Bumpus) was ranked among the ten least profitable tours of the disappointing 1991 summer season by the North American Concert Promoters Association, according to an article published in Billboard Magazine on December 14 of that year. The 1987 Doobie alumni band reunited on October 17 and 19, 1992 at the Concord Pavilion in Concord, California to perform benefit shows for LaKind's children. Noticeably frail, LaKind, who was terminally ill with cancer, nevertheless joined the group on percussion for a few numbers. The concerts were recorded and subsequently broadcast on the Superstars in Concert radio series accompanied by a plea for contributions to the LaKind family fund. LaKind passed away on Christmas Eve the same year.
A brief period of hiatus followed during which Simmons collaborated with bassist and songwriter John Cowan (ex-New Grass Revival), Rusty Young (of Poco) and Bill Lloyd (of Foster & Lloyd) on an unreleased project called Four Wheel Drive. When the band emerged yet again in 1993, Hartman and Porter were gone for good but former members Keith Knudsen and John McFee had rejoined on a full-time basis. Joined by Ockerman, Bumpus and former member Willie Weeks, the group toured with Four Wheel Drive as the opening act. After Weeks left the tour to resume his session work, Cowan played bass for both bands. Bumpus also left (to join the reunited Steely Dan), giving way to saxophonist, keyboardist and harmonica player Danny Hull. Alum Chet McCracken temporarily filled in for an injured Hossack in July 1993. The 1993 and 1994 tours included co-headlining appearances with Foreigner.
Tiran Porter still performs in and around northern California, occasionally with Moby Grape and regularly with Stormin' Norman and the Cyclones and the Beatles tribute band the Santa Cruz White Album Ensemble. His only solo album, the self-produced Playing to an Empty House, has become a collector's item.
With renewed energy, the band began to experiment with different arrangements of several tunes. They even sampled McDonald's songbook from time to time, eventually restoring "Takin' it to the Streets" to the set on a semi-permanent basis with Simmons and new bassist Skylark (who joined in 1995) subbing for McDonald on vocals.
The band has toured continuously since 1993. In 1995 they reunited with McDonald for a brief co-headlining tour with the Steve Miller Band. The "Dreams Come True" tour featured all three primary songwriters and singers and reflected all phases of the band's career. Cornelius Bumpus joined the 1995 tour, with Chet McCracken replacing the absent Knudsen and Bernie Chiaravalle sitting in for John McFee. A 1996 double live album, Rockin' Down the Highway: The Wildlife Concert, featured guest star McDonald on three of his signature tunes. McDonald remains an occasional "special guest" and has joined the group for benefits, private corporate shows and parties (such as the wedding reception of Liza Minnelli and David Gest), as well. Baxter has also sitten in with the band during concerts and the band have stated that they have an "open door" policy for guest appearances by former members.
Keyboardist Guy Allison (ex-Moody Blues and Air Supply) replaced Dale Ockerman in 1996. Marc Russo (ex-Yellow Jackets) joined in early 1998 replacing Danny Hull. A serious motorbike mishap sidelined Hossack from mid-2001 to 2002. Drummer/percussionist M. B. Gordy was recruited to play drums during Hossack's absence and remained on percussion until 2005. Ed Wynne substituted for Russo on saxophone from April to August in 2002.
In the late 1990s, the current band was forced to obtain an injunction preventing confusing or misleading uses of the "Doobie Brothers" moniker in advertisements promoting a tribute band featuring former members McCracken, Bumpus and Shogren accompanied by several lesser known musicians. Unfortunately, this unpleasant episode appeared to have burned bridges between the band and the aforementioned former members (of whom only McCracken survives today).
In 1999, Rhino Records released the group's first box set, entitled Long Train Runnin': 1970