Virginia Beach, Virginia is where my mind goes when I hear The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen To The Music”. The moment was in 1972 when I was driving between home and work, and The Doobie Brothers’ first hit was coming out of the dashboard. I loved it. Their timing was perfect for the country rock sound. The Eagles had “Take It Easy” just a couple months earlier. Neil Young and America were on the charts. The acoustic singer-songwriter movement was strong. Even The Hollies had a country sounding “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”.
“Listen To The Music” instantly sounded like a hit. “What people need is a way to make them smile.” sang Tom Johnston. He says the music to the song (which he wrote first) made him feel like it should have an uplifting message, and music could make people feel better. The song still works. Using a banjo and acoustic guitars in the mix dropped it right into feel good country rock, and it’s topped off with excellent harmonies!
Toulouse Street was the album. The title song, by another songwriter and lead guitarist, Patrick Simmons, features subtle guitar work, beautiful harmonies, and even a flute, which was probably played by Patrick Simmons on keyboard. However, chosen as the second single from the album was “Jesus Is Just Alright” which made it into the top 40. The song had been on the “Easy Rider” movie soundtrack, as performed by The Byrds.
Now that “Listen To The Music” had broken the ice for them, The Doobie Brothers came back with a solid top 10 album, The Captain And Me, in 1973. The Doobies could definitely rock. They were one of the few groups to feature two drummers, and two lead guitarists. “Long Train Runnin'” was their first top 10 single, followed by another rocker, “China Grove”. Tom Johnston says the songs were built around guitar riffs, and then lyrics written to fit the feel.
Johnston was also the songwriter for the bluesy standout album track “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman”, but it was Patrick Simmons who wrote my favorite, “South City Midnight Lady”, which is actually a tribute to San Jose, rather than any particular woman. Besides a great arrangement and cool playing by the band, it features steel guitar by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter who would join the Doobie Brothers a year later when Steely Dan stopped touring.
In early 1974, it looked like the Doobie Brothers might loose momentum. The album What Once Were Vices Are Now Habits was released, along with the single “Another Park, Another Sunday”. The single barely cracked the Top 40, and a follow up “Eyes Of Silver” didn’t. Months passed, and then radio stations came to their rescue. As more FM stations began to play album tracks, they zeroed in on “Black Water”, which had been the B-side to “Another Park”. Warner Brothers took the hint, and released “Black Water” as a single. It was their first to hit #1 (not until March of 1975), and pulled the album to #4.
All the touring was beginning to take it’s toll. The Doobie Brothers 1975 album Stampede had no original hits, but their remake of “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)” did make it to #11. Lead singer and one of the two major songwriters, Tom Johnston, was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer.
Jeff Baxter suggested another Steely Dan musician, Michael McDonald, could take over the major portion of the lead singing, and add keyboards. Thus began…The Doobie Brothers, Phase Two.
Michael McDonald gave the band a new direction and sound. He also wrote their next two hits…”Takin’ It To The Streets” and “It Keeps You Running” for the Takin’ It To The Streets album in 1976, and it was a top 10 success.
Their 1977 album, Living On The Fault Line, was fairly successful, but there were no hit singles. It did include a version of “You Belong To Me” that McDonald co-wrote with Carly Simon, and hit #6 for her.
Co-writing was about to pay off for McDonald and The Doobie Brothers. The co-writer, Kenny Loggins, and the song, “What A Fool Believes”. It hit #1 in February of 1979, and won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The album was Minute by Minute, and “Dependin’ On You” and “Minute by Minute” were the album’s other two hits.
Despite all the success with the R&B leanings of this version of the band, there were disagreements and some membership changes. The final album of The Doobie Brothers, Phase Two was released in September of 1980, One Step Closer. It had the hits “Real Love” and “One Step Closer”, but was a definite come down from Minute by Minute.
In 1981, The Doobie Brothers disbanded.
Phase Three didn’t start until six years later. Members of the band got together to play a 1987 benefit for Vietnam Veterans. Eventually, the original Tom Johnston/Patrick Simmons lineup reunited for the album Cycles in 1989. They scored a top 10 hit with “The Doctor”, and the album reached #17.
Although they continued to record, Phase Three has really been about playing live shows for their fans. When Classic Rock radio station KTGL “The Eagle” in Lincoln, NE wanted to celebrate their 10th anniversary in 1997, The Doobie Brothers played for the event at The Bob Devaney Sports Center. They sounded great! The band members all signed a large banner commemorating the event, and for all I know it’s still framed and hanging on a wall at the radio station.
I checked to see what the band is doing now. I found out they’re currently on a tour of the East Coast. That tour will end with a performance in…Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Update: The Doobie Brothers made The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as members of the class of 2020.