Born out of Northern California’s chaotic, late-1960s musical stew, The Doobie Brothers’ rugged, real and authentic approach to rock and roll made them biker bar stalwarts. But their self-titled debut album in ’71 went beyond just leather and motorcycles, revealing even more musical layers; sweet three-part harmonies and rootsy, introspective, acoustic flavors.
The Doobie Brothers’ legacy has been built upon not just hit records, but also an unrivaled commitment to musical integrity and a steadfast allegiance to their enthusiastic fan base. The bands ability to evolve in a constantly changing industry and connections to generations of listening audiences is a testament to their craft.
It all began in 1969, when a drummer named John Hartman arrived in Northern California. He was there to meet Skip Spence from the band Moby Grape and become part of a supposed band reunion that never quite got off the ground. But it wasn’t all for naught. Spence (who had also played in the Jefferson Airplane) introduced Hartman to his friend Tom Johnston, a local singer/songwriter/guitarist -and they connected. Hartman and Johnston began playing local Bay Area bars. They soon met singer/guitarist Pat Simmons, whose finger-style playing richly complimented Johnston’s R&B strumming-style, and the foundation for The Doobie Brothers was set.
While their debut album in 1971 did not chart, just a year a later, their second record, Toulouse Street, became a breakout sensation. Producer Ted Templeman helped the band craft a sound that was organic, yet radio friendly, and brought in Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne to add unique musical textures.
From there The Doobies hit the road, tirelessly working their way around the world. They established themselves with a breathtaking run of hits on Warner Bros. Records that tapped into a myriad of American styles. “Listen to the Music,” “Jesus is Just Alright,” “China Grove,” “Black Water,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “Long Train Runnin’” and other anthemic singles confirmed their status as fine craftsman who could also rock arenas.
In 1974, Steely Dan co-lead guitarist and session legend Jeff “Skunk” Baxter joined the band as third guitarist, one of many unique and talented players who would revolve in and out of the band over the years. The group’s expanded lineup was augmented in 1975 by Michael McDonald, whose soulful vocals and songwriting led to the hits “What a Fool Believes,” “Minute by Minute,” “Takin’ It To The Streets,” and “You Belong To Me.” Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, John McFee, joined in 1978 bringing his wide range of musical styles and experience recording with Van Morrison, Steve Miller, Elvis Costello, and The Grateful Dead to The Doobies’ sound.