The Doobie Brothers

  • Rock band formed in 1970 from San Jose California. Original members were Tom Johnston (lead vocals, keyboards, guitars), Patrick Simmons (backing vocals, guitar, flute, banjo), Dave Shogren (backing vocals, bass guitar, guitar), and John Hartman (backing vocals, drums). Tiran Porter replaced Shogren after their first album, and Michael McDonald joined in 1975, replacing Tom Johnston, to become the lead vocalist. Johnston subsequently rejoined the band in 1987 and remains today.
  • In 1969, drummer Hartman moved to California with an ambition to join a reunion of the 60s band Moby Grape. He met Skip Spence of Moby Grape, who introduced him to Tom Johnston. Hartman and Johnston connected, and they formed a group called Pud. They played in clubs in San Jose with various other musicians. By 1970, they teamed up with Patrick Simmons and Dave Shogren, and changed the name of the band to the Doobie Brothers, referencing the band’s fondness for marijuana cigarettes. They began to play in clubs in Northern California, and they were particular popular with the Hell’s Angels. Demo tapes of their concerts impressed Warner Bros records and they were signed to a contract.
  • Their debut album in 1971, the self titled The Doobie Brothers, had a different sound compared to their live concerts. It was mostly acoustic, and had a country music influence to it. The album did not chart.
  • Later in 1971, they decided to add a second drummer, Michael Hossack, and later, Keith Knudsen – creating their trademark “double drummer” sound. While recording their second album, Toulouse Street, Shogren left the band after disagreements with the record producer. Porter joined, adding a funkier bass style, and a baritone vocal they complemented Johnston and Simmons. The album was released in 1972, and was their breakthrough hit. Singles from the record include rock classics Listen To The Music and Jesus Is Just Alright.
  • Their next 3 albums – The Captain and Me, What Were Once Vices are Now Habits, and Stampede –  all were top 10 albums on the Billboard Hot 200 album chart, and the first 2 sold over 2 million copies in the U.S. They scored their first #1 single, Black Water, in 1974. The song was unique for its a cappella section, and contained a brilliant hook line – “I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland/Pretty mama come and take me by the hand.” The record company did not think the song could be a hit, and originally released it as the B-side of another song.  Other top 20 singles from these albums were China Grove, Long Train Runnin’ and Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me). 
  • By 1975, Johnston’s health was deteriorating, and he was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer. The tour to promote Stampede was underway, and the Doobies needed a replacement. Jeff Baxter had joined the band as guitarist in 1974, and he recommended fellow Steely Dan alum Michael McDonald to the band.
  • The following year, the band was under contract to produce another album. With Johnston unavailable, they proceeded with McDonald. A radical change in their sound proceeded. Their 1976 album Takin’ It to the Streets was a soft rock classic, with a soul and jazz sound completely different than the rock sound from their previous work. Fans didn’t know what to think, and some were not happy at all. However, the new sound created interest from a new group of fans, and ultimately they were successful.
  • Under McDonald’s leadership, they released 3 more albums. 1978’s Minute By Minute was a surprise hit, reaching #1 on the album chart and selling over 3 million copies. The single What A Fool Believes peaked at #1 on the Hot 100 chart, and won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1979. The song Minute By Minute also won a Grammy.
  • By 1981, all of the original members had left, and it was decided to end the band. After a farewell tour in 1982, the band ended. That changed in 1987. Drummer Knudsen had become active in the Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation. He asked former members of the Doobie Brothers to join him in a benefit concert, and 11 agreed (including both McDonald and Johnston). Tickets were in such high demand that they went from just one concert to a 12 city tour.
  • Ultimately, the band reformed in 1987, with Johnston resuming the role as lead vocalist and frontman. McDonald’s solo career was in full force – he did collaborate with the band in 1995 and again in 2006. The reformed Doobies have released 5 albums, most recently in 2014. One single – The Doctor – peaked at #9 in 1989. They have toured continuously since 1993.
  • The Doobie Brothers were finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020. It sure took long enough! Listen and watch the band perform Black Water. 

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