October 2015

The Doobie Brothers

’70s pop rock outfit the Doobie Brothers went through over 12 lineup changes in a decade and nearly as many influences to their sound. With folk, blues, country, jazz, and soul elements, vocal harmonies, two drummers, and a change in leadership in ’75, the band is best known for hits like “Listen to the Music,” “What a Fool Believes,” and “Long Train Runnin’.”

National Standards: 7, 8, 9, 11

Prepare: Have the class read Icon: The Doobie Brothers (page 18 of the student edition). The article tells the history of the Doobie Brothers, from formation to breakup to their late ’80s reunion.

Have the class listen to a Spotify playlist of the band’s greatest hits:

Key points in the article:

  • Tom Johnston and John Hartman laid the foundation of the Doobie Brothers in 1970, before a full lineup was completed by ’72.
  • 1972’s Toulouse Street was the band’s first big break, with hit single “Listen to the Music.”
  • Michael McDonald (previously of Steely Dan) joined the group in ’75 and took over creative direction when Johnston fell ill on tour and needed to be hospitalized.
  • The band continued until ’82 when they broke up, later reuniting in ’87, and continues to perform and record today.

Begin: Compare and contrast the sounds of the early Doobie Brothers (under the direction of Tom Johnston) to the late Doobie Brothers (with Michael McDonald). Discussion points may include:

  • The shift from folk/country influence to soft jazz rock and R&B
  • McDonald’s keyboard sound replacing Johnson’s layered guitar grooves
  • The band’s image at the end of the ’70s compared to the beginning of the decade

Develop: Play the following video of the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music,” recorded in 1975:

Then play this video of “What a Fool Believes” from 1982:

How has the band changed in the 1982 video?

  • McDonald’s leadership, songwriting, and distinct voice in comparison to Johnson’s
  • Lineup changes: Pat Simmons only remaining original member
  • Change in sound: soft rock, synthesizer/keyboard sound, in comparison to early ’70s groove

Expand: Early influences of the Doobie Brothers can be heard in artists like Moby Grape (of whom the founding band members were fans), Steve Miller, Quicksilver Messenger Band, the Grateful Dead, and Marvin Gaye. Have students trace the roots of the Doobie Brothers in this playlist of their influences: