In a 1986 poll published by the Los Angeles Times, the Doobie Brothers were the band that readers most wanted to reunite, right behind Led Zeppelin. The following year the band reformed and have remained active ever since.
The Brothers in Doobiness got started in 1969 when drummer John Hartman landed in the Bay Area in hopes of meeting up with Moby Grape. Hartman managed to locate co-founder Skip Spence and expressed his desire to stage a Grape reunion. That opportunity never materialized, however, Spence introduced Hartman to guitarist and songwriter Tom Johnston, and the two formed a duo that eventually would morph into the Doobie Brothers. Johnston and Hartman began their musical life as “Pud” and they played around with various band line-ups (sometimes with Spence) and musical styles while finding gigs in and around San Jose. They were mostly a power trio (accompanied by bassist Greg Murphy) but on a few occasions, they performed using a horn section.
A year into the arrangement they welcomed new talents as singer, guitarist, and songwriter Patrick Simmons and bassist Dave Shogren joined the band. Simmons performed as a solo artist and had been playing with several area groups, including a brief period in an acoustic threesome with future Doobies bassist Tiran Porter.
The new version of the band then hit the streets for real and appeared in a whirlwind of shows across Northern California in 1970. With their rock and roll arsenal, party attitude and downright brotherly lovable demeanor, the band soon had a rather vocal and loyal following among local chapters of the Hells Angels. This got the group a standing gig at one of the bikers’ favorite spots in the mountains surrounding Santa Cruz. Over time an energy-filled collection of tracks from the nightclub shows became available in 1980 as Introducing the Doobie Brothers. Rumor has it that the band members sent demo tapes to various record label executives through the U.S. Mail, subverting the usual “A&R” process. The sessions in the mountains added to the clamor around the Brothers and this increased attention soon led to a 1971 contract with Warner Brothers.
Around this part of the band’s growth, their image was derived from their biggest fans—leather jackets and motorcycles. However, the group’s 1971 self-titled debut album came and went almost entirely unnoticed. It was then that the guys began using a second drummer, complementing Hartman’s drumming with skins veteran Michael Hossack during certain shows during the tours in support of their debut album.
In late fall of 1971, the band laid down several tracks in anticipation of their second album. With the addition of new producer Ted Templeman, the band wanted to expand their style with Shogren pulling triple-duty on bass, guitar, and contributions to some of the background vocals. As the recording schedule progressed, Shogren became involved in disputes and arguments with Templeman and ended up resigning his position with the group. At year’s end the void was filled by singer, songwriter and bass guitarist Tiran Porter, and second drummer Hossack became a regular. Porter and Hossack were journeymen travelers through the Northern California music community, as Porter previously played in the trio Scratch with Simmons. With a new and funky bass sound and husky baritone vocals, when mixed with the voices of Johnston and Simmons the rich three-part harmonies stole the show.
During the summer of 1972, following the release of their second album, Toulouse Street, the band accomplished both commercial and popular breakthroughs. The project allowed the band to put forward a more refined and diverse group of songs. A guest appearance on the album by Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne turned into a decades-long collaboration which covered dozens of recording sessions and a couple of weeks spent touring with the band in early 1974.
In the early part of 1973, the band put out their third album, The Captain and Me. With a couple of ‘Top 15’ singles, “Long Train Runnin'” and “China Grove”, the album added to the band’s popularity and rose on the record charts to end up at the seventh spot. The album cover features the band positioned in front of a damaged freeway on-ramp at the intersection of Interstate 5 and California Route 14 near Sylmar. The structure pictured is the remains of damage inflicted by the 1971 San Fernando earthquake. The same on-ramp collapsed once again during the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
As the band gathered during the summer of 1973 for studio recording sessions and rehearsals for the upcoming album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, drummer Michael Hossack threw in the towel, leaving the group due to the constant burnout of extended tours. The group recruited a new drummer, Keith Knudsen, who was also a songwriter and vocalist. In the final version of ‘Vices’, the drums of Hossack and the voice of Knudsen are both included. The band also took the time to appear on the debut episode of the new music program Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert where they performed a rowdy version of “Without You”.
In 1974 the Doobie family added another guitar in the person of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of Steely Dan fame. He came into the Doobie Brothers as third lead guitarist in the middle of their ‘Vices’ tour. He had previously worked with the band on both Captain and Vices and had already spent time playing with the band as a “special guest” during that year’s tour.
The group continued to grow and change over the years, releasing albums such as Stampede, Takin’ It To The Streets, Livin’ On The Fault Line, Minute By Minute and One Step Closer before eventually putting the band on ‘hiatus’ in 1981 when the group no longer had any of the original members. They got back together again for a 1982 Farewell Tour on the premise that the end of the Doobie Brothers had finally arrived. They last appeared in concert at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley where they were joined by founding member Tom Johnston for the final live performance of his rock standard “China Grove”. The concert included appearances by former Brothers Porter, Hossack and Harman for an extended version of “Listen to the Music”. Knudsen sang lead vocals while Johnston, Simmons, and McFee traded licks on guitar. The live album Farewell Tour followed in 1983.
The Doobie Brothers reunion almost never happened, and when it did it was unintentional. While in search of a cause to keep him occupied following his stint with drug addiction, drummer Keith Knudsen had become an active participant in the Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation. In early 1987, he persuaded many of his Doobie alumni to accompany him in a benefit concert on behalf of veterans’ causes. Nearly every single member showed up, including Jeff Baxter, Michael Hossack, Chet McCracken, Michael McDonald, Tom Johnston, John McFee, John Hartman, Cornelius Bumpus, Bobby LaKind, Pat Simmons and Tiran Porter. The gathering had no extra bass players as Willie Weeks, their usual bass guitarist had other commitments. The guys soon found out that the concert tickets were selling like hotcakes, so the planned concert suddenly became a tour through a dozen cities, beginning on May 21, 1987, in San Diego.
The third concert was at the Hollywood Bowl and it was reportedly the fastest event to sell-out the Bowl since The Beatles concert in the 1960s. The band performed tunes from all of their albums and displayed a vast array of instrumentation onstage which could have only been possible with the extended lineup. Skunk Baxter and John McFee played pedal steel and violin. “Without You” was performed with four drummers and four lead guitarists. Producer Ted Templeman took on the percussion duties and former lighting tech turned drummer Bobby LaKind got behind Knudsen’s drums when moved front and center onstage to join in the chorus.
The impromptu tour culminated at the Glasnost movement’s “Peace Concert” in Moscow, a 4th of July extravaganza that included Santana, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. In the fall of 1987, portions of the concert were aired on the Showtime cable network, highlighted by the performance of “China Grove”.
Over the years the Doobie Brothers have given the world some of the best, slightly Southern-style rock and passionate, soulful roll that the band had always worked to achieve. The results have been noteworthy, including sold-out tours and Platinum and Gold Record awards, and their best offerings are artistically unrivaled.
We indicated ‘Part I’ in the title because this piece could work into more about the road taken by the Doobie Brothers. From “Wheels of Fortune” to “It Keeps You Runnin'” the mobile themes of these singles plus those unforgettable moments from “Another Park, Another Sunday” or “Listen To The Music”, it is quite clear that their music catalogue should put them close to the top of the “Bands That Don’t Suck” list.
And it is no small wonder that thousands of extended-family fans absolutely love hearing the good time jams from the band while cruising: we’ve found fourteen songs and a pair of albums that have some sort of inference to driving and/or motorcycling. The most popular include “Rockin’ Down The Highway” and Takin’ It To The Streets, their 6th album, as well as a dozen more singles, and the ‘travel-music’ sidebar also extends to the cover of The Captain And Me.
These days the group is preparing for an upcoming tour of the Pacific with concerts in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. This summer the Brothers will ramble on Stateside with perennial favorites Chicago. Details regarding the tour and other band info can be found on their web portal. Long-time member Michael McDonald sometimes rejoins the happenings and his bits and bytes are found here. Ex-Brother Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter still thrills the masses and hangs out at his own Internet home on FaceBook.