With the release of their brand new album Liberté just last month, The Doobie Brothers served notice that they are officially back (yes, you heard that right, The Doobies are takin’ it to the streets…again). I had been meaning for some time now to cover the rock & roll stalwarts from San Jose, CA. – who were also recently christened into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – but somehow couldn’t arrive at anything that seemed particularly noteworthy to say. Until I realized, maybe that’s the point, and that’s what’s noteworthy. For a band that’s been around now – off and on – for 50 years, there’s just nothing controversial about The Doobies, nor anything even remotely contentious surrounding them among the rock public. Unlike, say, The Eagles or Steely Dan who are deservedly beloved by legions of classic rockers yet remain strangely, even bitterly, polarizing to segments of others, The Doobie Brothers are like the Sara Lee of rock and roll: nobody doesn’t like The Doobies.
I hope my long-ago advertising reference about a consumer baking conglomerate isn’t lost on most, because I consider the late ’60’s Sara Lee campaign one of the most memorable and subtly shrewd bits of sloganeering ever.¹ It’s a far cry different to state “Everybody likes” versus “Nobody doesn’t like,” isn’t it? And, I believe that statement has got to be applicable and true about The Doobie Brothers. They may not exactly be the band everyone will passionately jump up and down shouting about as their absolute favorite, but who would ever dream of saying they don’t like them? (if such a person exists I have yet to come across them, and frankly I probably don’t want to).
Beginning with their self-titled debut in 1971 The Doobie Brothers – and yes, their name origin does derive from what you think it does – put out over a dozen fantastic albums, which have included an almost staggering number of incredible songs. Their compilation Best of The Doobies is likely best known to many – a stunningly flawless record covering 1972 to 1976 that’s literally filled with nothing but classics – but their catalog of rock-solid rock overflows with way more than that (not to mention continued on far beyond it). The Doobies were one of those bands that when you dug into the album tracks they were every bit as unshakeable as the ubiquitous FM-radio hits. Riff-tastic, fuzz-toned guitars and rich three-part harmonies formed rugged but polished tunes with integrity. Record after record.
And then following that unbelievable Best of era came what might be considered the Doobies third phase. You see, during their amazing nine-year prime, the Doobies thrived amidst, in a way, three different runs: there was the initial mainstream rock period spearheaded by founder/leader Tom Johnston; the middle Takin’ It To The Streets stage where Johnston shared leadership with newcomer Michael McDonald; and the succeeding blue-eyed soul and best-selling span starting with the multi-Grammy winning Minute By Minute when McDonald fully took over the R&B cultivated direction of the band and became the unquestioned lead Doobie, after Johnston’s departure due to health concerns over the rigors of the road. Only guitarist and ‘Black Water’ singer Patrick Simmons can lay claim to being a card-carrying Doobie Brother from their onset, while throughout their history the band has cycled through stretches with various other luminaries that included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Tiran Porter, John McFee, and one of the great names in rock history, Cornelius Bumpus. Many famous bands come to mind that had two distinct phases; I’m not sure another one has ever so splendidly handled three such musical passages, flourishing through the transition from the biker-bong-boogie style with which they’d originally gained popularity all the way to a complex sound built on urban contemporary, almost jazzy pop hooks.
And now with a new record out, their first album of original material in 11 years, it would seem that the Doobie Brothers are poised for yet another life. McDonald, in-and-out of the band for roughly 25 years, is now formally part of The Doobie Brothers ongoing 50th anniversary tour (postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to Covid), joining a fully rejuvenated Johnston, Simmons and McFee to perform the countless unforgettable tunes that punctuate all of the Doobies’ stellar chapters spanning their time as bruising bikers to subtler stylists. From ‘China Grove’ to ‘What A Fool Believes,’ ‘Listen To The Music’ to ‘Echoes of Love,’ ‘It Keeps You Runnin’’ to ‘Dependin’ On You,’ definitive Motown covers ‘Take Me In Your Arms’ and ‘Little Darlin’ (I Need You),’ ‘Rockin’ Down The Highway’ to ‘Real Love,’ and ‘Without You’ to ‘The Doctor.’ The Doobies uniquely multi-faceted long train is still runnin.’ And like Sara Lee, who doesn’t like the sound of that?
¹it’s also my second-favorite ultra-simplistic slogan behind century-old New Orleans root beer makers, Barq’s, who for generations have concisely touted “Drink Barq’s, It’s Good.”
“Aw, goddamn it, man, The Doobie Brothers broke up! Sheeeit. When did that happen?”
As the swashbuckling hero Jack Colton in 1984’s action-adventure film Romancing The Stone, Michael Douglas shared all of our disappointment at what turned out to be one of the Doobie Brothers’ temporary break-ups.
Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like
Sara Lee The Doobie Brothers.