Something Else! Featured Artist: More Doobie Brothers

We were all set to continue our celebration of the upcoming Doobie Brothers tour alongside Chicago, when disaster struck the group — as cancer-stricken long-time drummer Michael Hossack died. Hossack had been a member of the band during its seminal early-1970s hitmaking period (including the albums Toulouse Street, The Captain and Me and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits) then returned to play on seven more Doobie releases between 1989′s Cycles and 2004′s Live at Wolf Trap, finally leaving the band in 2010 to continue his fight against the disease.

So, this second-edition of our Featured Artist series on the Doobie Brothers has also become something of a commemoration, fittingly begun with a look back at a key cut from that long-hoped-for reunion of the original 1970s-era members in ’89. Hossack played on five of the cuts featured here …

“NEED A LITTLE TASTE OF LOVE” (CYCLES (1989): The Isley Brothers were early admirers of the Doobie Brothers, having covered “Listen To The Music” back in 1973. The Doobies returned the favor some 16 years later, tackling the Isley’s own 1974 deep cut “Need A Little Taste of Love.”

Played in the same key and with a similar shuffle, “Taste” could even be taken as a re-write of “Listen,” as thus made it a natural song for them to cover, right down to the uplifting lyrics and chorus harmonies. One of the few real bright spots along with the single “The Doctor” on an otherwise disappointing comeback record Cycles, “Need A Little Taste of Love” at least affirmed that the original Doobie Brothers were still the same, good ol’ Doobies when they had strong material to work with. — S. Victor Aaron

[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: In our first edition focusing on the Doobie Brothers, we dove into familiar favorites like "It Keeps You Runnin,'" "Jesus Is Just Alright," "What A Fool Believes" and others.]

“LISTEN TO THE MUSIC” (TOULOUSE STREET, 1972): This may not be the greatest song the Doobie Brothers ever recorded, but it is catchy and definitely deserved to be the hit single it came to be. Peaking at No. 11 on the national charts in the late summer of 1972, “Listen To The Music” introduced the San Jose, California group to the mainstream public, rendering them one of the best and most promising new acts of the year. The Doobie Brothers surely lived up to such a title, for well over a decade they were in regular rotation on the radio dial. Never to be forgotten, their records are constantly aired on classic rock stations.

Boasting a synchronized blend of styles, “Listen To The Music” touched based on the band’s varied influences. Country, blues, folk, soul and rock and roll jog seamlessly through the tune. Wrapping these inspirations neatly together, the Doobie Brothers created a winning party anthem. The energy is positive, there’s a nice little hippy vibe happening, the rhythms are upbeat and the lyrics are scripted of good cheer. A cool break also cements the track, and the band’s full-throated harmonies even emit a bit of a gospel feel. Here on “Listen To The Music,” the Doobie Brothers kind of sound like the younger cousins of Creedence Clearwater Revival, who ironically dismantled the year the record was released. — Beverly Paterson

“REAL LOVE,” (ONE STEP CLOSER, 1980): Maybe Minute by Minute represented the only truly good ideas the middle configuration of the Doobies could muster. After all, this follow up, more often than not, sounded like a band that was completely out of gas. Still, there was this — maybe the best song on a half-hearted finale for the McDonald-era Doobies.

The previous project, of course, featured bigger hits but — for me — “Real Love” remains the most inexplicably perfect combining of McDonald’s late-1970s amalgam of hit-making sounds with the Doobie Brothers. There were, again, these period-piece keyboard elements — a scronky opening signature, that plinky backing during the chorus — and an irresistible candy-coated hook, all cobbled together with McDonald’s grease-popping soul singing. Sure, it couldn’t have been any further away from their origins as a mellow-rocking country-cool boogie band, but there was (is) a listenable charm — undeniable, even if you liked the earlier edition — to sleek, R&B-flecked pop like this.

“Real Love” would go to No. 5 on the Billboard charts, but also mark the end of the band — outside of a similarly half-hearted farewell tour — until co-founders Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons jump started everything again in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, McDonald essentially spent the next pair of decades rewriting this underrated gem — that is, until he decided to go back to the wellspring, and start covering Motown. — Nick DeRiso

“BLACK WATER” (WHAT ONCE WERE VICES ARE NOW HABITS, 1974): Back in their days as a hippie bar band, and a couple of years before Michael McDonald would destroy them, The Doobie Brothers were in top form with a song from the LP “What Once Were Vices Are Now Habits.” Their first number one single, “Black Water,” came from this 1974 album and it’s a perfect synthesis of everything the Southern California band did well.

Starting with the acoustic guitars, to Tom Johnston’s soulful lead vocal, to the rousing group harmonies at the finish line, Patrick Simmons’ song didn’t have a note out of place and was tailor made for 1970s rock radio. Lyrically, the track is similar to the moods that Creedence Clearwater Revival, another California group from the hippie era, so vividly created with their depictions of old rural America and the deep South. The tune opens, “Well, I built me a raft and she’s ready for floatin’ / Ol’ Mississippi she’s calling my name / Catfish are jumpin’ / The paddle wheel thumpin’ / Black water keeps rollin’ on past just the same.”

Even though he probably would have never accepted the gig maybe Simmons and company should have replaced Johnston with John Fogerty because CCR was already a thing of the past by the time the The Doobies’ lead singer left for health reasons. I know I’m in a small minority when I say this but the composer of “Proud Mary” would have been a better fit. — Charlie Ricci, from www.Bloggerhythms.com

“NOBODY” (WORLD GONE CRAZY, 2010): Besides the presence of frontmen and main composers Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, this album also saw the return of the Ted Templeman — producer from the Doobies’ 1971 self-titled debut through their initial split-up in 1982. There could hardly be a stronger signal that the Doobies wanted to get back to the things that made them great in the first place. That, and “Nobody” — a remake of the very first cut from their first album 39 years ago.

Templeman wasn’t happy with the way the recording came out the first time around (actually, the whole record suffered from subpar production), so he persuaded the group to take another crack at Johnston’s song. A great suggestion, as this time Templeman got the mixing right. The rich blend of acoustic and electric guitars, the strutting rhythm and those sumptuous backing vocals are there just like the hitmaking days. Johnston, as before, takes the lead vocal and all the years and health issues hadn’t worn down his R&B pipes one iota.

In spite of the good effort, the rest of the album just doesn’t quite do it for me; the newer songs don’t hit the sweet spot like “Nobody” does. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy to see this band still alive and kickin’ and making a record. They proved they can still recapture that old feeling, even if an old song is required to do it. — S. Victor Aaron

“CHINA GROVE” (THE CAPTAIN AND ME, 1973): With its chugging guitar groove and catchy roadhouse boogie piano work by session pianist Bill Payne, this was the song that put the Doobies on the map for a lot of people. There are hints of Moby Grape peppering the song. China Grove showed the band firing on all cylinders. Next to “Long Train Runnin,’” this is probably their best known song — and the one-two punch of the two songs are largely what made The Captain and Me such a solid album for the band and solidified Johnston’s songwriting rep. — Perplexio, from DancingAboutArchitecture and The Review Revue

“MINUTE BY MINUTE,” (MINUTE BY MINUTE, 1978): The intro of Michael McDonald playing chords up and down and up again on a Rhodes at the offbeat intervals is sweet soulful stuff. Then the song settles into a mid-tempo shuffle and McDonald’s brawny baritone kicks in. There’s a little synth interlude that sounds a little cheesy today, but that’s not enough to disturb this groove; right after that the bridge takes the song to a higher key and McDonald’s voice just soars in response.

I recall Larry Carlton covering this song around 1987, but found it lacking. That’s because it’s mainly instrumental and even though the melody is tight and righteous, it’s Mike’s lead vocals that makes the sale. Oh yeah, and that cool electric piano intro, too. — S. Victor Aaron

“PURSUIT ON 53rd STREET” (WHAT WERE ONCE VICES ARE NOW HABITS, 1974): That cover photo has long been one of my absolute favorites — the crowd crammed up against the front of the stage, the stage full of the band members, two drum kits and all of that chemical fog. What you can’t see are the rows of amps anchoring the back line but, believe me, they were there. You can almost see the volume.

“Pursuit On 53rd St” is a fine example of the early, hard-rockin’ era of the Doobies with its tight vocal harmonies, dual guitar lines, and chunky rhythm guitar. Yeah, this tune isn’t really too far removed from “Without You” from the previous album. Still, it does illustrate just how malleable this band could be, bringing the sonic bite on one cut, and then shifting gears to “Black Water.” Their erudite nature, quite common back then, is a rare commodity these days. — Mark Saleski

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