The Doobie Brothers

By Blackett, Matt | Guitar Player, July 2011 | Go to article overview

The Doobie Brothers


Blackett, Matt, Guitar Player


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SINCE THEIR LATE-'60S FORMATION in San Jose, California, the Doobie Brothers have seen a staggering string of hits, a huge number of bandmembers, and a phoenixlike ability to endure. They are best known, from a sonic standpoint, for interesting, complementary guitar parts that rock, boogie, groove, and occasionally transport the listener to swamps, bayous, parks, trains, and highways. Delivering those memorable riffs are the funky/bluesy/rocker Tom Johnston (think "China Grove" and "Long Train Runnin'") and folky fingerpicker Patrick Simmons (Mr. "Black Water" to you). The glue that has held those guitars together since 1979 is the self-professed "new guy," John McFee, a Swiss Army Knife of a multi-instrumentalist whose massive body of preDoobie work includes playing lead on Elvis Costello's "Alison."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Together, these three Hermanos Doobie have an uncanny knack of finding the parts and tones that work together like gears meshing, which is precisely what they have done on World Gone Crazy [HOR], the band's first studio album in a decade. Driving electrics, ringing acoustics, and slinky slide work adorn the 11 tracks that have this classic American band back on the radio and rockin' down the highway on tour.

Ted Templeman produced you for the first time in a long while. What does he bring to the table?

Johnston: He was a huge help in choosing the songs. I played him a bunch of tunes, some of which I hadn't even thought about using. Ted encouraged me to develop them and a couple ended up being some of the best songs on the album.

McFee: I played on Ted Templeman's first hit record as a producer, "Wild Night" from Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey album. What I liked about him then and now is that he's always thinking about the big picture for the arrangement. I appreciate that as a guitar player. We'll talk about a general approach and I'll start playing. He usually lets me follow my own instincts for a while. Then, if he wants to hear it in a more finely tuned direction, he'll say so.

Simmons: He has really good ears. There were times when I was cutting a track thinking I was playing it the way I did on the demo. Ted would say, "It just doesn't sound like it did yesterday." We'd listen to the previous version and sure enough, I'd be playing it differently. When you're fingerpicking, if you shift the pattern a little bit, it can change the groove of the track. Ted recognizes when something is different and puts us back on track and that's very, very important.

Talk about the song "Law Dogs." Who's doing what?

Johnston: That song is really kind of a departure. We've never done anything like it before. I wrote that on slide and I'm not a slide player, per se. John played Dobro and I played the acoustic slide on his Collings. We tracked at the same time.

It doesn't sound like much of a departure to me.

McFee: It's funny. I don't think Tommy realizes how strong his particular brand is--his voice and his bluesy rock approach. That's what I hear on "Law Dogs." He thinks it's a big departure because it's got a loop on it, but it still sounds like a funky Tom Johnston thing.

You guys have always employed acoustic guitars on your records, but it seems like there are more of them on this one. What were your go-to acoustics?

Johnston: I played a Martin and a Collings and I still use a Neumann U87 or a U67 to mic them.

Simmons: I played an Epiphone Texan that I've owned since I was about 16 or 17 years old. I also used a Line 6 Variax Acoustic. My main acoustic sound was a guitar made by a guy here in Maui named Steve Grimes. …

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