The Doobie Brothers’ Tom Johnston recalls being nuts in the ’70s



By Steve Newton

The five members of the Doobie Brothers that pull into the Pacific Coliseum on Friday (June 7) will be the same five guys that posed nearly naked on the racy (for 1972) fold-out sleeve of the breakthrough Toulouse Street album. They’re also the same gang that dressed up in old-fashioned Western garb and hopped on a stagecoach for that album’s hit-filled follow-up, The Captain and Me.

But despite promotional claims to the contrary, this particular team—guitarist/vocalists Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, drummers John Hartman and Michael Hossack, and bassist Tiran Porter—isn’t the original Doobie line-up per se.

“They just call it that for convenience as much as anything else,” admits Johnston. However, it is the Doobies line-up that first achieved real success. “The first album didn’t do anything, but the second album, Toulouse Street, took off,” says Johnston, “and the people that were on that are the ones in the band now.”

So it’s almost the original Doobie Brothers. And as far as fans of pre-Michael McDonald tunes like “China Grove”, “Jesus is Just Alright”, and “Rockin’ Down the Highway” are concerned, it might as well be. But the five players out of San Jose, California who provided ’70s high-schoolers with some of radio’s finest driving tunes have also developed musically over the years, as can be heard on the band’s latest release, Brotherhood.

“We brought along a lotta new musical ideas when we got back together,” says Johnston, “ ’cause all of us had explored different things when we were apart. And then of course we used outside writing, which helped achieve even more of a different sound. We wanted to get away from the usual Doobie sound, because it’s not good to stay safe, so to speak. You gotta go out and try some other things.”

Johnston makes no apologies about the kind of the music the Doobies made in their heyday, however—or about the kind of money they made with hummable mega-hits like “Listen to the Music”, which recently surpassed two million radio broadcasts. That’s one tune that Johnston knew was going to be a hit as soon as he finished writing it.

“That’s the only song I’ve ever been correct about,” he laughs. “That’s the only song I ever said, ‘This would make a good single.’ I thought ‘China Grove’ might, but ‘Long Train Runnin’ ’? I said, ‘You’re crazy to put that out. You’re insane. That’ll never do anything.”

It did do something, though, as one of a string of hits that helped the Doobies sell more than 40 million albums world-wide. And Johnston claims that he wasn’t even striving for radio acceptance at the time. “We were just strivin’ to do anything! We weren’t striving for any particular audience, for any particular nothin’. We were just trying to make it, just get out there and get goin’.”

And what does Johnston appreciate most about the sizeable wealth he’s accumulated from a steady stream of royalty cheques?

“That it carried me over in the years when nothin’ was happening! Otherwise I’d have been out starvin’. I’m awful damn lucky to have gotten where I am, ’cause I threw a lot of money away in the ’70s bein’ nuts, like everybody else did. But I had a good accountant, and I quit bein’ crazy—in the latter part of the ’70s, anyway.”

2 thoughts on “The Doobie Brothers’ Tom Johnston recalls being nuts in the ’70s

  1. You guys are still my number one hero’s looking forward to seeing you again you might recognize me if you see me I know all. All the words I miss Keith and Cornelius. Scott

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