Doobie Brothers' Tom Johnston: "It's All About American Music"

The Doobie Brothers, but with no doobies.
The Doobie Brothers, but with no doobies.
Courtesy of the band.

When we spoke with Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, the singer and guitarist was relaxing in Miranda, California. Not that he had much downtime; Johnston just came back from Orlando and next the band was on to stoping that included Boston, Texas, California, then a rock cruise with Alice Cooper and Blue Oyster Cult. Finally, tomorrow night, the Doobies land in sunny South Florida to perform at the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre.

Johnston stays true to his West Coast roots in his music, but not just because he was born there. "It's not so much about being born in California, but where you were brought up," he explains. "I was born in the central part. Speaking for myself, I listen to a lot of blues, R&B, got into early rock and roll, Hendrix, all that stuff. Geographically, where you live has a lot of influence."

Of course, it only makes sense that the Doobie Brothers' sound is a melting pot of sorts, much like America itself. "It's all about American music," Johnston said of its style and sound. "So that's why I call it an American band. One thing about this band and where it stands is the amount of diversity in the background from the band members." Diversity within the lineup aside, the range of influences and skills of Doobie members are reflected in the band's 2014 release Southbound.

The album features the group's songs sung by the band and country music stars such as the Zac Brown Band, Blake Shelton, Toby Keith, and Sara Evans. "It was a lot more fun to do than we thought it was going to be," said Johnston of the project. "It was great to see how many [more] people were fans of the band than we thought."

Johnston, however, was careful to emphasize that Southbound was not a tribute album, but rather a collaborative one. "This is more or less a 'best of' with a couple of the songs from one end. This is the first time we ever recutted them, and the only reason we recutted them was because of the platform we were given to do this... We had a lot of fun doing this!" Johnston also added that the participating musicians were "very good artists" and "incredible performers."

Being a band since the 1970s, the Doobie Brothers have seen changes in the world of music involving the industry itself as well as various shifting band members. Johnston acknowledges the changes and the benefits of streaming stations such as Spotify. Though they don't pay musicians, he states that it allows artists to gain both an audience and exposure. "As far sales go, there is no sales," elaborates Johnston on the negative side of streaming music. "All that goes away."

 

In regards to the various changes in the band's lineup and the potential repercussions that came with it, Johnston said, "I have to say that we had a lot of people passing away or changes for other reasons over the years... The biggest change was once and that was when I left and Michael [McDonald] came in. It was not bad, just different. The band got a huge amount of awards and Grammys... In terms of switching out drummers and things, it was not too different."

The one thing that remained the same over the decades was the infamous name. "The truth is, the band didn't come up with the name," confessed Johnston. "We were playing crowds and we didn't have a name. One day, a guy [Keith Roseman] was in the house [John Hartman and Johnston lived in] and said, 'I think you guys should be called the Doobie Brothers,' and we said, 'That's a dumb name, we will come up with something better.' But, we never did." In a way, we're glad they didn't.

As far as the legalization of pot goes, Johnston is indifferent. "I don't really think about it much, I don't use it," he said. "I'm not against it; I know there is a lot of good uses for it in the medical side of it to help with seizures, cancer, etc. I think they should explore it a lot more, and they have been exploring it more.

As far as legalization, I don't see how it's worse than drinking... I think its fine. I'm not on a soapbox about it, but it's fine."

In terms of new music, Johnston states that the band is planning on releasing more music. "We have been talking about doing a new album in the upcoming year, but that hasn't been completed in that submission. We've been touring, but we need to do the songwriting. We have been talking about this since 2010." Anything Doobie related, we're in. In this instance, we're speaking solely about the band.

The Doobie Brothers at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 25, at Pompano Beach Ampitheatre, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach. Tickets cost $39 to $79. Visit Ticketmaster.

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