The end of the Summer concert season was unusual — there’s something about catching a favorite music group at a State Fair. The Doobie Brothers, who I haven’t seen live since the mid 80’s, appeared here after two warm up groups. They took the stage with 5 people in front and 2 full drum sets: 3 guitars, 1 keyboard, 1 sax. While two full drum sets is unusual, the Doobie Brothers have been doing this for years.
The Doobie Brothers — who are affectionately known as “The Doobies” in reference to, well, doobies — have had a huge following among people from northern California, like yours truly. They got their start in San Jose, CA, and are often compared to the group Moby Grape, the band through whom the original members Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston were introduced to each other.
In their earlier years they attracted a rough audience, and had a following among some of the Hells Angels groups whom they played for regularly in the Santa Cruz mountains. And band co-founder and leader Patrick Simmons is known for his predilection to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and many of the songs celebrate rocking down the highway.
Their 1973 album “The Captain and Me” put them firmly on the map with hits like “China Grove” (my favorite, also featured in the movie “Field of Dreams“) and “Long Train Runnin’ “, which a band I was once in performed regularly. But it was their 1974 hit “Black Water” that was their first #1 single.
The next year saw Michael McDonald join the group as singer, keyboardist and songwriter — to replace Tom Johnston who had fallen ill. “Takin’ It to the Streets” and “It Keeps You Runnin’ ” became hits during this period, and later the #1 “What a Fool Believes” earned them a Grammy.
Only one member of the original band, from what I could tell, was there — Patrick Simmons. Tom Johnston does tour with them now, but he was not there for this concert. They began with their favorite
- Rockin’ Down The Highway
and the bass, played by Skylark, was deafening, you could feel your clothes shake. Indeed, they played at ear bleeding volume. I used paper towels as ear plugs. By the way, earplugs are always a good idea for live concerts… at least until they play your favorite song. I used to routinely do this with The Who, until they played “Pinball Wizard.”
With the Doobie Brothers, it wasn’t so much sound as it was a “wall of noise” coming at you.
They returned from an extended jam session with the more recognizable
- Jesus is Just Alright
this song was originally done by The Byrds. Here, the evangelist spirit remained, if not the old harmonies.
They did a change up with some instrumental Hawaiian Slack Key guitar by Pat Simmons and guitarist Joe Satriani.
Guy Allison on the keyboard picked up the song from there, followed by the sax, which led into
- Takin’ It To The Street
Oh, how we miss Michael McDonald on vocals.
Pat Simmons, lead singer and guitarist wrote many of their original hits and is the only original member who has been on all their tours and albums. He doesn’t have the presence of Tom Johnston, and has trouble hitting the notes on some of the melodies. Next was
- The Power of the Blues
with lots of jamming by the band. When they all lined up to perform, it seemed like a cross between the Foggy Bottom Boys and ZZ Top.
- Take Me In Your Arms (And Rock Me)
the old Motown hit was next. They could play it wonderfully, but alas could no longer hit all the notes.
- Little Bitty Pretty One
an unusual song for a Doobie concert had Pat Simmons eponymously saying of the open air venue “Something smells good out there.”
- Black Water
came next, that bluegrass harmonic treat which hit #1 in 1975, and here it was nicely done, with Joe Satriani on the fiddle and Pat Simmons on lead vocals. As this was done in Pueblo, Colorado, he added a few lyrics
“Colorado moon won’t you keep on shining
Old Black Water, keep on rolling
Pueblo moon keep on shining on me”
He asked for us to join in on the mellifluous harmonization at the end
“I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland/Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand.”
“By the hand, take me by the hand/Pretty momma, come and dance with your daddy all night long”
while Skylark led us on
“Honky tonk, Honky tonk/Honky tonk, with you all night long”
They left the stage at the end of the show, to be followed by the requisite encore
The song that everyone was waiting for, including yours faithfully came next after a long, electric instrumental
- China Grove
that song about a town in Texas that mentions the samurai sword — Japanese, not Chinese, but no matter. Finally came
- Listen To The Music
beautifully done, with very nice harmonies indeed.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian