2015 CD REVIEW
THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
ZAC BROWN BAND STIR BLACK WATER
“Well, I built me a raft and she's ready for floatin'/ Ol' Mississippi, she's callin' my name/ catfish are jumpin', that paddle wheel thumpin' / black water keep rollin' on past just the same.” - Black Water - Pat Simmons.
The Doobie Brothers duets tribute album Southbound will have extra sales stimulus down under during March when recording partners Chris Young and Zac Brown Band play to large crowds on their return here.
This surfeit of songs from 45 years of recordings were ripe for revamping by an eclectic posse of country artists at the peak of their game.
The legendary Doobies , formed in San Jose , California , in 1970 after members met in 1969.
They have now sold more than 40 million albums in a controversial career that brought them here on several tours despite a hiatus from 1982-87.
Shotgun Willie Nelson, now 81, was guest vocalist on I Know We Won - his co-write with guitarist and co-founder Patrick Simmons - on their 24th album World Gone Crazy in 2010.
The choice of the world's best known dope smoker Willie was fitting for the band that took its name from slang for a joint.
But Simmons was initially sceptical about how their 25 th album would sound.
“I wasn't worried about the other artists,” Simmons revealed.
“I was kind of worried about what our input was gonna be because we're not really country guys. I mean we have some country roots but our thing has been more contemporary rock stuff. So, it was really about what we were gonna bring to it, and it worked out. You know, even the stuff that wasn't so country, by virtue of having the artists, kind of gave a country tinge to the least likely tunes. The sonic thing they created was kind of unique. They stuck to the original form of the songs, but their different instruments together gave a different tinge to the project."
Fellow co-founder Tom Johnston elaborated.
"It was brought to us by David Huff, a producer on the album," Johnston revealed.
"He and Fred Croshal cooked this up. As it was told to me, Fred said, 'You have such a catalogue of songs that could fit in the country genre. You should try this.' David brought it to us while we were in a hotel room on the road and asked if we would be interested in doing it. We asked who he had in mind, and he gave us a couple of names, and I said, 'Sure, if you can get them."
Johnston loved the fresh approach.
"It was interesting from the start - the fact that we never re-recorded any of this stuff. If we were going to do that, to do it in a different genre was one of the selling points, because if we were just going to redo them, what would be the point? We all agreed it would be a good idea, then we got in the studio, and it turned out great."
Johnston said watching the musicians do their thing was a highlight of the recording process.
"They are so good, and they worked so fast. Two takes, and it was done."
The band kicked off with Georgian gauchos Zac Brown Band as vocal and instrumental guests on another Simmons staple Black Water .
“Their vocals are undeniable,” Simmons confessed.
“When I heard Zac Brown Band would be recording Black Water with us, I couldn't think of a more perfect bunch of guys to be working with. They are so much like us in so many ways. Vocal harmonies are a huge part of both our band's musical styles. And I knew they would bring just the right sound to the vocal parts in the song. We share a love for Southern blues and gospel that is obvious. The fiddle part that the band's Jimmy De Martini played was right on the money. He captured the spirit of the original, but brought his own special chops to the arrangement, and knocked it out of the park. Zac's vocal was made for the song, and is so natural and effortless; it just kills me every time I listen to it.”
Studio guests complimenting Doobies and Zac Brown Band include famed fiddler Aubrey Haynie and pedal steel ace Dan Dugmore.
"Country has definitely incorporated some elements that were once considered rock - like distortion on guitars and some of the sonic elements - but some of the music like Black Water would be at least Americana, if not out-and-out country,” pedal steel guitarist John McFee added.
“So there's always been that element in the music, and that's one of the reasons that some folks probably thought this would be a good idea, and actually would work - which it did."
SARA EVANS AND MICHAEL MCDONALD
“But what a fool believes he sees/ no wise man has the power to reason away/ what seems to be/ is always better than nothing/ and nothing at all keeps sending him.” - What A Fool Believes - Michael McDonald-Kenny Loggins
Black Water segues into Tom Johnston classic Listen To The Music featuring Oklahoma star vocalist Blake Shelton and young Louisiana singing actor and April Australian tourist Hunter Hayes on guitar.
Missouri born belle Sara Evan adds a soulful feminine touch to What A Fool Believes , penned by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald who joined in 1975 and embarked on a solo career after their hiatus before boomeranging for this disc.
Evans confessed it was a hard song to sing.
“I probably would have written it differently today,” McDonald confessed.
“I'm always toying with the idea of lowering keys a half step and if I ever lower one, that's going to be the first one that comes down. You certainly couldn't tell it was the least bit difficult for her to sing. She still sings it better than I do.”
The punchy passengers on Long Train Running - another Oklahoma star and 2014 Australian tourist Toby Keith and Huey Lewis on harmonica - kick Johnston 's song into top gear.
McFee, a member of San Francisco group Clover before he joined the Doobies, was instrumental in getting a famed former band-mate to lend his talents to Southbound .
“We were talking about who to get to play harmonica on Long Train Running which Toby Keith was doing the lead vocal on,” he recalled.
“So I said, ‘What about Huey Lewis? You know, he's an old band mate, old buddy.' David Huff liked the idea. So I called up Huey and, you know, he didn't have enough sense to say no.”
TENNESSEAN CHRIS YOUNG REVISITS CHINA GROVE
“When the sun comes up on a sleepy little town/ down around San Antone/ and the folks are risin' for another day/ 'Round about their homes/ the people of the town are strange/ and they're proud of where they came/ well, you're talkin' 'bout China Grove/ Oh, China Grove.” - China Grove - Tom Johnston.
So was McDonald familiar with Love & Theft before he sang with them?
“I wasn't but then I'm not familiar with anything anymore,” McDonald joked.
“I could be tied to a tree somewhere and be just as good as I am out in the public. I'm tragically unhip at my age. But it was great that they were willing to do it. They're a great young duo.”
Southbound marks the first time since 1976 that lead singers Johnston, Simmons and McDonald were all involved with the Doobie Brothers .
So what was the synergy in the studio like with McDonald?
"Every time we see him, even if it's been a year or two, it's like it has been no time at all," Johnston said.
"It just feels like yesterday."
McFee joked: "He's kind of talented too. He brings a lot to the party. It was good to get a chance to do some music with him again."
Texan Casey James enters the fray on Jesus Is Just Alright.
West Virginian crack guitarist-chart topper Brad Paisley drives the train on Johnston 's Rocking Down The Highway .
Another Missouri minstrel Tyler Farr fires up the Dozier and Holland staple Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me) and Kansas native Jerrod Niemann is on board for Simmons South City Midnight Lady .
VINCE GILL AND AMANDA SUDANO
“You belong to me/ tell him you were foolin'/ you belong to me/ you belong to me/ tell him he's a stranger/ you belong to me.” - You Belong To Me - Michael McDonald-Carly Simon.
Another Oklahoma native Vince Gill adds guitar to McDonald-Carly Simon tune You Belong To Me.
It also features powerhouse vocalist Amanda Sudano Ramirez - daughter of the late disco queen Donna Summer - of indie duo Johnnyswim.
“I only met her once when she was about 10 or 11, and I think she was being grounded at the time,” McDonald recalled.
So performing with Summer's daughter was bittersweet.
“It was, it was such a surprise when her mom got sick and was gone so quickly,” McDonald revealed.
“I don't think anybody was ready for that or even suspected that might happen six months earlier. But I know her mom would be and is so proud of her today because she's a formidable talent on her own. I know she's going to do great things.”
Simmons had a further explanation.
“Michael had Vince Gill singing originally on it, and I don't think he felt that the two of them singing back and forth on You Belong to Me was going to work," he joked.
"So Vince played guitar on it."
Simmons introduces the fitting finale - another Johnston tune Nobody with Mississippi singer Charlie Worsham, now 29 and famed as a murder victim in Big in the Phillippines episode of TV crime series Bones , as guest vocalist.
Worsham also sang Love Don't Die Easy in Bones and impressed Johnston .
"He's a bad boy. I was hanging out with Scott Hendricks and John Esposito at Warner Bros . and they were playing me some of their new artists,” Johnston revealed.
“When he came up. I thought he was really good. I don't know anything about him or who he was, but out of all they played, he was the guy. They gave me the album, and I took it over to David, and I said, 'This is the guy that needs to do Nobody .' He played banjo, mandolin, and his singing was incredible. He just knocked me out of the park. I was really happy with that one."
DOOBIES MARK 11
“Don't you feel it growin', day by day/ people gettin' ready for the news/ some are happy, some are sad/ oh, we got to let the music play/ what the people need is a way to make 'em smile/ it ain't so hard to do if you know how gotta get a message/ get it on through/ oh, now mama's goin' to after 'while.” - Listen To The Music - Tom Johnston.
The band's five year hiatus ended in 1987 a dozen former Doobies answered the call to play a benefit for Vietnam veterans in the San Francisco Bay area.
Demand was so high Johnston, Simmons, multi-instrumentalist John McFee and others continued in the nineties and beyond.
Johnston declares himself thrilled and bemused by this strange spin of fortune that, given the size of American country market, ignited a major new lease of life for the band.
''Everything about this band has been unplanned. It just happens. There's never a conceptual thing,'' he said.
''Right from the start, everybody just brought whatever they had.
''I was coming from an electric blues and R&B thing. Pat was more into fingerpicking and folk. John McFee, who's been with us since 1978, he actually has some country background. He's from Bakersfield if I'm not mistaken. Basically, we are an Americana band. Everybody is coming from a different place that gives the band the sound it has. You bind all those elements together and you end up with us.''
“You don't know me but I'm your brother/ I was raised here in this living hell/ you don't know my kind in your world/ fairly soon the time will tell/ you, telling me the things you're gonna do for me/ I ain't blind and I don't like what I think I see/ takin' it to the streets.” - Taking It To The Streets - Michael McDonald.
At least five of the 30 plus members of the Doobie Brothers have died during their long career.
Percussionist Bobby LaKind died on December 24, 1992 following his lengthy struggle with terminal cancer.
Original bassist Dave Shogren - unreported causes on December 14, 1999.
Saxophonist-flute player and pianist Cornelius Bumpus - heart attack on February 4, 2004 while in the air en route to California for a solo tour.
Drummer and activist Keith Knudsen - February 8, 2005 of cancer and chronic pneumonia.
And original drummer Michael Hossack died of cancer aged 65 on March 12, 2012, in his home in Dubois , Wyoming .
Hossack played with the group from 1971 to 1973 and rejoined in 1987.
His drumming is on early hits including Listen To The Music, China Grove and Blackwater.
He stopped performing with the band in 2010 while struggling with cancer.
Co-founder Tom Johnston said, "Mike has always been a part of my musical life and the life of the Doobie Brothers . He was an incredible musician".
Hossack grew up in New Jersey and served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.