The Doobie Brothers ruled the airwaves in the 70s and beyond with hit songs such as “China Grove,” “Listen to the Music” and “Black Water.” Over the years, the group has continued to release new material and tour steadily. Currently, they are preparing for the release of a collaborative effort with some of country music’s biggest names lending vocals and instrumental talent to the Doobie’s best material. Lagniappe caught up with guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston to talk about this exciting project.
SC: You know, you can’t really listen to radio these days without hearing at least one Doobie Brothers song. What do you think it is about your music that still finds a place with modern listeners?
TJ: It’s a hard question to answer. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had radio support for our music for years. That’s been great, and it’s been extremely helpful in many ways. As far as how the songs have withstood the tests of time, the recipe for that, to me, is something that is hooky that for some reason sticks in people’s minds. In a lot of cases, I know people come up to me often and say that a song got them through a rough time, or they associate it with their college years. They associate it with something that they did in their lives. It could big, or it could be small. It could have been fun, or it could have been a drag. Some guy went into the Vietnam War, and our music helped him get through it. It could be some gal that says that she got married listening to our songs. They all have something in common in that something that touched their lives is associated with a song.
SC: You’re on the road with Peter Frampton. A lineup like The Doobie Brothers with Peter Frampton is such a classic arena rock lineup. What’s it like being on the road with this tour?
TJ: I think it’s great. We’ve actually toured with Peter before. The gigs have been going well, and musically, it’s been going great. His music and our music is not synonymous in that it sounds just alike, but they’re not very far apart either. Peter has written some classic tunes himself. I think he’s also the possessor of the fourth biggest selling live album ever. I think people have a lot of songs between the two bands that they listen to and they go, ‘Oh wow! I was doing this when this song came out,’ like we were talking about. I think that’s all good. He’s also a really nice guy, so it helps.
SC: You’ve been in the studio with this collaborative effort that you’ve done with some notables from country music. How did this project come about?
TJ: The project itself was started and stopped with another company about a year and a half ago, I guess. Then, we were approached by David Huff (Hunter Hayes, The Band Perry) in a hotel room. We were on the road, and he came and visited us. He came to us with the idea, and everybody thought it would be a cool thing to do. We had never thought of that ourselves. At the same time, we didn’t know there were people in the country genre that were fans of the band. He thought it would be a really great idea for us to pair together with a bunch of big names in country music. It was all driven by Gary Overton at Sony. It turns out that he’s a big Doobies fan. The first concert that Gary ever went to was a Doobies concert in 1972 in Phoenix, Ariz. He’s been the driver behind promoting this through the company and getting it done that way.
David produced the album. The artists picked the tracks. It’s a best-of, if you will, but it’s re-done by incredible Nashville players in the studio, who were incredibly good and fast. We had three guitar players going at one time, and Michael McDonald playing keyboard on his tunes. So, we would go in and cut the track using one or two takes, and it was done. It had guitars, drums, bass and pedal-steel, and it was phenomenal. I’ve never done anything like that before, and I was just blown away at how efficient and good they were. Then, we had the artists themselves come in. Most of the time, we weren’t there to witness their performances. I was in L.A. when Blake Shelton did his performance. I got to see Chris Young do the vocal on the song he did. So, it’s been an interesting project and having heard the results, I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised.
SC: Can you give us a preview of which artist is doing what song?
TJ: I can give you a preview except for the songs that they’re singing. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know (laughing). That’s the way it is. Here are the people who are on the album though. We got Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith, Chris Young, Charlie Worsham, Sara Evans, Jared Nieman, Amanda Rivera and Love & Theft. As far as people who played on the album, we have Vince Gill and Dann Huff, who are both phenomenal guitarists. Dann is an incredible producer as well. He does Keith Urban’s albums and a lot of other people that I’m not aware of. Hunter Hayes does some guitar work on it. It’s quite the lineup. We were kinda blown away that these folks would be interested in jumping on board with us, but they were eager to do it.
SC: Is there a title for the album?
TJ: I can give you the title! The name of the album is ‘Southbound.’
SC: When can the public expect it?
TJ: It’s due out Nov. 4. It’ll be on the Sony label. I think it may be Arista who are pushing it.
SC: What can the crowd expect from your set in Orange Beach?
TJ: It’ll be a conglomerate of stuff from ‘72 through 2010. In this case as co-headliners, our set is 75 minutes long. So, we’ve had to cut down on the tunes. It’ll include songs that people will be familiar with. You have to play those, unless you want people upset. Because of the time limitations, we can’t do everything, so we try to give them a good cross-section of everything. It’s really been a great set, and people have been responding to it well. We’ll have a good show, and Peter puts on a great show. All the way around, it’ll be a great event.
Peter Frampton and The Doobie Brothers
Date: Saturday, July 19, 8 p.m.
Venue: The Amphitheater at The Wharf, 4673 Wharf Parkway, Orange Beach www.theamphitheateratthewharf.com
Tickets: $16-$71 available through Ticketmaster