The Doobie Brothers in a World Gone Crazy
The Doobie Brothers has a 40 year legacy of presenting the world some of the greatest rock and roll anthems to be played on the radio airwaves – with massive hits ranging from the haunting Black Water, the smooth Minute By Minute, to the rowdy Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me) and well beyond. World Gone Crazy marks the next exciting chapter to the Doobie story, featuring many a new tune that will undoubtedly become classics for both the diehards as well as a whole new generation of fans. Their 13th studio album, World Gone Crazy features their strongest lineup to date, as well as vibrant guest appearances by former Doobie Bro Michael McDonald and the legendary Willie Nelson. It was an honor to speak with founding Doobie member Tom Johnston about a wide range of topics, including the new album, playing the older songs, the Hells Angels, and a band called Pud. Read on…
Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in The Doobie Brothers, and tell me what your favorite song is on this new album.
This is Tom Johnston, I play guitar and sing with The Doobie Brothers. And my favorite song is – I really don’t have a particular favorite song – I like a lot of the songs on this album.
It’s hard to pick one…
Yeah, yeah it is. It is! One day, I might like one song more than the other and that might change the following day. So it’s kind of hard to say specifically what song that would be.
Tell me about the title and song World Gone Crazy and what inspired you to call the entire CD that?
The song itself is basically about New Orleans and a guy that works for the government – he works in the streets and basically he’s singing about not wanting to have to live in the streets. It all came out of the drum pattern and the piano parts – it had a very New Orleans feeling. And it got used for an album title just because I think it seemed to fit – because the world is kind of a nutty place right now. And I think that’s kind of how it got chosen.
How do you think World Gone Crazy compares to the classic Doobie Brothers recordings?
I would say this is the best album we’ve done since the early 70’s. I could say that confidently. It’s was better than anything we did in a while. Without putting anything down, I just want to leave it at that. Everybody in the band is very happy with the way this came out – musically, sonically. We tried some different directions –went some different places so it’s not a rubber stamp of what we’ve done before. And everybody feels good about the record.
Tell me about the single Nobody and what inspired you to re-record the song?
That was our producer’s idea. Ted (Templeman) wanted us to redo that song because he thought it never got a fair shot. So we basically tore it apart, put it back together – kind of built it slowly basically around the chugga-chugga guitar part. And John (McFee) came up with this really cool picking part over the top of it and that worked very well. And then we added a different drum part and a different bass part. We had John playing slide dobro on it and then there’s a thing at the front end that Pat (Simmons) came up with as far as chord changes go – and then John played a slight dobro over that as well. And bingo, you get that song! And it’s considerably better than the original.
What was it like working with Michael McDonald again on the song Don’t Say Goodbye?
You know – I wasn’t there. I’m sure it was a lot of fun. That was done in Hawaii and I was not involved when that happened. The same could be said for Willie Nelson (who did co-vocals on I Know We Won), because that was also done in Hawaii. I live on the Mainland, so I wasn’t there for either one of those incidents. But I know Mike so I know it was a lot of fun. Mike’s a good guy – fun to work with. And I know Willie, and he’s a lot of fun to work with as well. So I’m sure Pat had a good time.
It’s been ten years since the last Doobie Brothers album. Do you think it will be another ten years before we hear all new Doobie music?
(Laughs) I really have no predictions on that. Right now I’m only concerned with this thing and how it does. We’ll worry about that when the time comes. I’ve definitely got a lot of tunes, but I don’t know how soon we’re going to be doing another one.
Do you enjoy playing the classic Doobie Brothers songs?
Yeah, I do – you mean live obviously. I do, because they always inspire the crowd. Any song that gets the crowd up and rocking – then I like the song and I don’t care what song it is. When we play live – the most fun is getting a response from the crowd – and that always requires playing chestnuts. But they also like the new stuff – which has been VERY satisfying to the band, because it was not always that way in the old days. They’re responding to all the new tunes as well the older ones.
How do you feel about your previous album Sibling Rivalry and will you be playing any of those songs live?
We’re not playing any songs off that live at this point. I don’t think it stacks up to what we’re doing like the other stuff. Sonically it was a really good album – that was the one we did without a producer and I think would have been wiser to do it with a producer. It kind of spun out as far as the people who were singing on it and tunes and all that. We needed something that was cohesive – something like what he had now.
What do you think your producer Ted Templemen brings to the overall Doobie Brothers sound?
One of the most important things from my perspective – and I emphasize that because I’m sure everybody has different feelings about that – but the song choice. Choosing the tunes before we went in, because that’s extremely important. When somebody else takes over the reigns, then that takes the responsibility off of the band. And he had great ideas with lyric direction – that was really helpful. And drums – he had some involvement with the drumming. But this album – more than any album before – this album was as much produced by the band as it was by Ted. It was a mutual experience if you will.
Tell me about your appearance on the show What’s Happening?
I wasn’t on that show, I’m sorry to say. I had left the band in 77 – right before they did that show. I got to watch it…
What did you think when you were watching it?
I thought it was kind of funny, really. It was interesting to watch.
What was it like performing for the Hells Angels during the very first part of your career?
You know – they used to come over to our house for a little bit and hang out. It was just like everybody else man – they were out to have a good time. It wasn’t like we were playing specifically for them – we played for everybody – they might be in the crowd, but there were also a lot of other people who were in the crowd. Most of the time that was up at the Chateau – it was only able to hold probably 500 people – and that was really straining the seams of the building if that. But they were very colorful and we had good times with them. They used to come by the house a little while there and hang out. Mostly it was fun – we had a good time with them. There were a couple of spots when things got a little hairy, but that was part of the deal – and back in those days, nobody thought too much about it.
Is it true that the original band name of the Doobie Brothers was Pud?
Well, that really wasn’t the Doobie Brothers. That was myself and John Hartman – he was the original drummer for The Doobies. Originally Greg Murphy was the bass player and then it became Dave Shogren – who was the original bass player for the Doobies. And then eventually we added Pat – and we were playing with Skip Spence as well from Moby Grape. Pud and the Doobies are kind of a separate thing – people lump those together, but they really aren’t the same as the Doobies.
Well that’s cool. I’m very grateful – and I’m sure that your fans are as well – that you’re still not called Pud.
I’ve definitely heard that before! (Much laughter)
What do you think has kept The Doobie Brothers going for 40 years strong? What is your secret?
I would say that everybody loves the playing live part – and airplay of course helps because it keep people hearing us on the radio. We’re been very fortunate to have songs that have stood the test of time and still get played a lot. And then playing for a lot of a people live on a regular basis every year helps as well. I think that’s probably the two main factors for this band. And as far as us sticking together – it’s because everybody is still having a good time doing what we love.
Are there any current bands of today that you like?
I like Muse – there’s a few bands – you caught me at a bad time – I’ve been up since the crack of dawn here doing at lot of interviews and I’m kind of brainless right now. (Much laughter) I like John Mayer – I’m kind of blanking out right now. I like Christina Aguilera and I like Beyonce. As far as bands so, there’s so many that I have a hard time keeping track.
Do you have any messages for Doobie Brothers fans out here in the Los Angeles area?
I really hope that they get the album and enjoy it. It’s the best thing we’ve done in a very long time. And everybody that I’ve talked to that’s heard it so far – and a lot of them are very musically knowledgeable also musicians themselves – are really, really impressed with it – really digging it. So I’m hoping that other people will get a chance to scope it out and take the time to listen to it. I’m very happy with the whole thing and I’m really excited about it.
The Doobie Brothers circa 2010 consists Guy Allison on Keyboards/Vocals, Michael Hossack on Drums, Tom Johnston on Vocals/Guitar, John McFee on Guitar/Strings/Vocals, Marc Russo on Saxophones, Pat Simmons on Vocals/Guitar, Skylark on Bass/Vocals, and Ed Toth on Drums. Be sure to check out World Gone Crazy, now available from HOR Records!
(Interview by Kenneth Morton – Photography by Richard McLaren)
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