Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Doobie Bros. keep on truckin'

The Doobie Brothers are anchored by founding
members Patrick Simmons, left, and Tom Johnston.


Venerable California rock band the Doobie Brothers played their classic hits and new material at the Island Resort Casino in Harris last weekend.

My wife Sue and I along with our friend Wendy Pepin attended the May 20 concert, looking forward to seeing a band with 30 charting hits in the 1970s and 80s.

There were more than a few motorcycles in the parking lot and a number of folks sporting Harley-Davidson gear, evidence that the band's early fans remained loyal.

The Doobie Brothers were formed in San Jose, Cal. as a quartet in 1970 and both Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons remain from the original line-up.

Of course the band members weren't related at all and took their name from the slang word for a marijuana cigarette.

Now in their early 60s, Johnston and Simmons anchored the concert with their well-honed vocals and impeccable guitar playing.

Although many musicians have been featured in the Doobie Brothers recordings over the years, the two founding members composed most of the group's best-known songs.

For their local shows, the Doobie Brothers comprised John McFee (guitar, violin, harmonica, vocals), John Cowan (bass), Gary Allison (keyboards), Mark Russo (saxophone), and the drumming duo of Ed Toth and Detroit native Tony Pia.

The eight-man band began with "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)." A big hit for the Doobies in 1975, the song was originally recorded by rhythm and blues singer Kim Weston ten years before. Featured on the "Stampede" album, the song was written by the Motown team of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland.

Simmons, his long gray hair flowing out from a black cowboy hat, shared vocals with Johnston on the opener.

Concert staple "Jesus Is Just Alright," a Top 40 hit from 1973, slotted next. The band delivered a faithful version of the song which was the last chart entry for the Byrds in 1970, showcasing their soaring harmonies and Allison's keyboard work.

The Simmons composition "Dangerous" followed as the singer and guitar player led the band through a powerful rendition of his song. Originally released on the 1991 studio album "Brotherhood," the track was included in the biker film "Stone Cold," starring Brian Bosworth. As Simmons sang about the dangers encountered by a Harley rider, McFee added some tasty dobro licks to the track,emphasizing its swampy southern rhythms.

For the next song it was Johnston's turn in the spotlight, as the group performed his hit "Rockin' Down the Highway," another road anthem. The song first appeared on the flipside of the "Jesus" single. Johnston stepped to the edge of the stage for a guitar solo to the delight of the audience.

"Thought we'd come by and play a little rock and roll for you," Johnston told the crowd.

Simmons provided the vocals for "Clear As The Driven Snow," a track included on the "Captain and Me" album, released in 1973.

Next, the band highlighted four songs from 2010's "World Gone Crazy." Their first new studio album in ten years was produced by Ted Templeman, who worked with the Doobies during their hit-making years. (Making a cameo appearance on the long-player is Upper Peninsula resident and Little Feat member Bill Payne, who played a B-3 organ on a number of tracks for the Doobie Brothers in the 1970s.)

The group played an embellished version of Johnston's "Nobody" from the fresh CD, although the song originated years ago. An earlier version of "Nobody" was released as the band's debut single, but failed to chart. The song became a moderate hit when it was re-released in 1974.

"Far From Home," featuring McFee's violin, and the album's title track followed.

The psychedelic "Chateau" completed the brace of new songs and served as a salute to Chateau Liberte, a California biker venue the band played during their early days.

Concert-goers seemed to appreciate the new offerings.

The Doobies returned to their hits with "Takin' It To The Streets," a favorite from the 1976 to 1983 era when singer and keyboardist Michael McDonald was in the band. A No. 3 hit, the McDonald composition brought about a hundred fans to the front of the stage.

Bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson II received a nod when the band performed his 1955 song "Don't Start Me (to) Talkin'." Williamson's take was a No. 3 hit on the R&B chart. Simmons told the crowd, "To get rid of the blues, you have to play the blues."

The band remained in the 1950s with "Little Bitty Pretty One. The song was a hit for R&B singer Bobby Day in 1957 and as long been a concert staple for the Doobie Brothers.

With lots of original material remaining, the band stayed with their own songs for the rest of the program.

The audience cheered with the first notes of "Black Water," the chart-topper from 1975. Simmons sang lead on his signature tune, about the band's love for New Orleans. At one point he substituted "Michigan" for "Mississippi" in the song's original lyrics. The crowd sang along to the tune's familiar refrain: "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand."

Johnston's "Long Train Runnin," a Top Ten from 1973 followed. McFee added a harmonica break while Russo played a catchy sax solo.

The band kept the energy level high during a three-song encore.

Fans cheered and clapped along as the band broke into 1973's popular "China Grove," another track from the "Captain And Me" album.

Johnston, Simmons, McFee and Cowan stood at the edge of the stage at one point during the hard-rockin' "Without You" which often receives extended treatment in concert.

To end their program, the Doobie Brothers returned to the beginning by playing their first hit, "Listen To The Music." When released in 1972, the song soon entered public consciousness, provided a blueprint for future hits and remains relevant to this day.

The 17-song set concentrated on the band's 70s hits and skipped over such 80s favorites as "Minute By Minute," "Real Love" and "The Doctor." Their second No. 1, "What A Fool Believes," was also missing in action.
Still, the band has too many hits to squeeze into a 90-minute show.

On tour this year to support "World Gone Crazy," the Doobie Brothers-- with a long history behind them-- show no sign of letting up.

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