When do the Doobie Brothers cease being the Doobie Brothers?

Special to Lowcountry LifeOctober 19, 2012 

Not many bands can call themselves active 40-plus years after they released their debut album. But, then again, not every band is the Doobie Brothers. In fact, some may argue that the Doobie Brothers aren't even the Doobie Brothers, considering just two of their current line-up were around when they formed in 1970.

Tom Johnston -- who wrote and sang on some of their biggest hits, including "Listen to the Music," "China Grove" and "Rockin' Down the Highway" -- is one of them, but even he wasn't a Doobie for a number of years in the mid-1970s. Today, however, Johnston is back leading a new incarnation of Doobies, but without their most famous alumnus, Michael McDonald, who hasn't played with them regularly since the mid-'90s.

Set to headline the South Carolina State Fairgrounds on Oct. 20, we spoke to Johnston about his desire to continue making new music, the Doobies' confusing lineage and when a band no longer has the right to call itself that band.

Question. When would you say was the heyday of the band?

Answer. If you're referencing the highest point in our career, it was probably the '70s. But, then again, as far as touring goes, we're getting just as much response and getting demand for the band to play as we did then. So it's all in the perspective of how you look at it, I guess.

Q. Some older acts don't like making new music anymore sensing that fans are only coming to hear the hits. What's your take on that?

A. Personally, I like to do new music. We just had a new album out (2010's "World Gone Crazy"). It's important to me as a musician and also as a songwriter. It keeps you fresh and keeps you on top of the game.

Q. Over the years, there's been a slew of line-up changes with the Doobie Brothers. You weren't in the band for a while in the '70s. Do you have any idea how many different members there have been over the years?

A. Oh boy. Let's see, at least four or five different drummers. Four different guitar players that I can think of. Two bass players. No, five bass players. Only a couple keyboard players. I mean, Mike (McDonald), being one of them. We've had the same keyboard player since '96 (Guy Allison) and then we've had three sax players. There's been a lot of guys.

Q. How many founding members does a band have to lose before they can't call themselves that band?

A. It's like calling yourself a tribute band if you only got one guy left. No, that's not even right. If you got one guy left, I guess you can consider it that band. If you got no original guys, then it becomes a tribute band. We have two (himself and guitarist Patrick Simmons) and kind of three (multi-instrumentalist John McFee joined in 1979) original guys. It's not a hard and fast rule but, you should have some of the original members if you're going to call yourself that band.

Q. Would you recognize any of the former members if they were walking down the street?

A. As long as they're still breathing, yeah (drummer Michael Hossack died in May 2012 at age 65). There's a couple I haven't seen in a heck of a long time. There might be a slight question mark on maybe one. But I think I'd know.

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