Modeled roughly on the three-guitar, three-part vocal harmony sound of the seminal San Francisco band Moby Grape, The Doobie Brothers were founded in San Jose, California in 1970. The blending of the folk-style finger-picking of Pat Simmons with the rough-hewn rock licks of Tommy Johnston, whose soulful lead vocals gave the band its initial distinctive sound, helped to define what would become known as the California sound of the '70s.
The band's self-titled 1971 debut album, The Doobie Brothers, yielded no hit singles, but the subsequent Toulouse Street of 1972 burst out with Johnston's "Listen To The Music" (#11) and "Jesus Is Just Alright" (#35) in the last three months of the year. The third album, The Captain and Me (1973) established the Doobies as concert headliners on the strength of the hits "Long Train Runnin'" (#8) and "China Grove" (#15) (both penned by Johnston).
The fourth album, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974), included "Black Water," the band's first #1 record which eventually sold more than 2 million copies, and was the first hit to feature Simmons as lead vocalist (he also wrote the song). By 1975, with the release of Stampede, which included the remake of the Motown classic "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)" (#11) and the addition of former Steely Dan guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, The Doobies had become one of the most popular rock bands in the country.
That same year, when illness forced Johnston out of The Doobies lineup, Baxter suggested another Steely Dan alumnus to fill his spot, and Michael McDonald was drafted. His presence was felt immediately as The Doobie Brothers scored a platinum million-selling album in 1976 with Takin' It To The Streets, propelled by the title-tune single "Takin' It To The Streets" (#13) written by McDonald. In the summer of the year, the band backed up Carly Simon on her version of the McDonald composition, "It Keeps You Runnin'," which hit #46 on the chart; ironically, the Doobies' own version of the song released five months later did even better for them, hitting #37.
Johnston returned briefly to help record the next album, Livin' On the Fault Line (1977), but for all intents and purposes McDonald had taken over the lead vocal chair, launching a second golden era of hits for The Doobie Brothers. "What A Fool Believes," a song McDonald wrote with Kenny Loggins, gave the band its second #1 hit. It was included on Minute By Minute (1979), whose title tune "Minute By Minute" (#14) notched up another hit, followed in turn by "Dependin' On You" (#25). In September, the Doobies appeared alongside Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and others at the all-star MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) Concert, and were prominently featured in the "NO Nukes" concert film released the following year.
1979 also found Baxter leaving the Doobies, to be replaced by steel guitarist John McFee, a veteran of Clover, the Marin County country-rockers who not only backed up Elvis Costello on his debut album (before the Attractions were formed), but also nurtured the early career of singer-songwriter Huey Lewis. 1980 began with The Doobie Brothers nailing three GrammyÆ awards for "What A Fool Believes" (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Vocal Arrangement) and a fourth GrammyÆ going to Minute By Minute (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Duo/Group). The year ended with a new album, One Step Closer, and another pair of hits, "Real Love" (#5) and the title tune "One Step Closer" (#24).
The Doobies embarked on their final tour in 1982, highlights of which were released the following year on the double-LP set, Farewell Tour, which included Johnston's guest appearance with the band at U.C. Berkeley's Greek Theater. The musicians then went their separate ways, with Johnston, Simmons and McDonald all releasing successful solo albums. The band would reconvene once a year for a traditional concert at the Lucille Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto, not far from their hometown of San Jose.
Five years passed, until twelve alumni of the Doobies (with Johnston and Simmons but without McDonald) reformed for an 11-city tour that raised more than $1 million for a variety of charities, including a fundraiser at the Hollywood Bowl for the Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation that was the second quickest sellout in the venue's history, second only to the Beatles. The tour culminated on July 4th in Moscow, at a peace concert featuring Soviet and American rock bands.
The tour re-ignited interest in The Doobie Brothers both from the audience's viewpoint and the musicians themselves ñ and the band finally returned to the recording studio for Capitol Records. The resulting album, Cycles (1989), included a major new hit, "The Doctor" (#9), a chugging, driving song that returned the signature sound of the early Doobies to the radio. A second album was subsequently issued by the reunited band, Brotherhood (1991).
All 12 past and present members of The Doobie Brothers came together in October 1992, for two shows to raise money for a trust fund for the children of the band's percussionist Bobby LaKind, diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died on Christmas Eve that year.
But with over two decades worth of great music to feed their hungry fans, the five core members ñ Johnston, Simmons, McFee, drummer Mike Hossack and drummer/vocalist Keith Knudsen ñ have continued to rock, playing 47 dates with Foreigner in the summer of 1994 alone. This included tours of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The 1996 summer tour featured The Doobie Brothers with Lynyrd Skynyrd.