The Doobie Brothers are an American band that has been active for 50 years.
Fans love the way they tinge their rock music with folk and blues sounds. Their silky harmonies also set them apart.
The group owes those to its vocalists, including several lead singers.
Let’s check them out!
The Story of The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers began in 1969. Lead singer Tom Johnston and drummer John Hartman played in a California rock duo named Pud. Then, they began working with bassist Dave Shogren and guitarist Patrick Simmons.
The men decided to form an official group, and soon they were popular across Southern California. Curiously, Hell’s Angels’ bikers were big supporters of the group.
Their self-titled debut in 1971 didn’t get a lot of airplay or sales. They came out swinging the second time with hits like Listen to the Music. However, their second album Toulouse Street was their breakthrough album.
The Doobie Brothers had a fun boogie vibe. Their music also took on some soft rock influences when Michael McDonald joined. Through him, their sound expanded while retaining its focus on harmony and relatability.
Who Have the Lead Singers Been in The Doobie Brothers?
The Doobie Brothers had three lead singers. Tom Johnston was their original lead singer, though Patrick Simmons sang lead on some songs.
In the mid-70s, Johnston took a medical leave. The band brought in Michael McDonald, a singer, songwriter, and keyboardist who brought his soft rock style to the ensemble.
The Doobie Brothers eventually had all three men in the band at once. Having three singers helped them to hone their three-part harmonies even further.
Of the three lead vocalists, McDonald is the only one to succeed as a solo artist. He co-wrote and collaborated with other artists, including Patti LaBelle, Kenny Loggins, and Van Halen.
McDonald also sang in Steely Dan as their lead vocalist on tour. He’s traveled with the band off and on, including reunion shows. Additionally, he began singing on some of their studio recordings.
Splitting Up and Reuniting
The Doobie Brothers broke up in 1982. The members felt a lot of pressure and wondered if fame had changed them. Unlike many bands, there’s no evidence that they split with a lot of bitterness or drama.
In fact, they came together to play a benefit for Patrick Lakind, the band’s roadie-turned-percussionist. He’d been diagnosed with cancer, and the group helped with his medical bills.
After playing that show for him, the band decided they were ready for reunion tours. They’ve kept touring, though the members of their backing team frequently change.
How Many Other Members Are in The Doobie Brothers?
The original lineup of the band featured Tom Johnston on vocals and guitar, Patrick Simmons on lead vocals and guitar, Dave Shogren on bass, and John Hartman on drums.
The Doobie Brothers brought many members in and out for live shows and recordings. Altogether, at least 28 people have played with them.
They’ve always had a range of instrumentation. In addition to the usual guitar, bass, and drums, they’ve brought in players on saxophone, pedal steel, banjo, and mandolin.
A few members of The Doobie Brothers attempted solo careers. Johnston and Simmons both released solo work, but neither ever made a splash that way.
Best Known Doobie Brothers Songs
Black Water was their first number one hit, and it’s from their 1974 album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. Unlike many of their other hits, Patrick Simmons sings lead on this song.
In addition, Simmons wrote the song. He came up with the guitar riff but didn’t develop it until the band took a trip to New Orleans. Simmons went to see as much Dixieland and Delta blues as he could there. That trip certainly inspired the lyrics, which reference the land of Dixie and bayous.
Listen to the Music is another big hit. Johnston wrote this song to celebrate the power of music. The upbeat sounds and party vibes indeed brought people together and still do. The song also features the perfect harmonies that were essential to their sound.
The Doobie Brothers released Listen to the Music ahead of their Toulouse Street album in 1972. At the time, they’d worried their career was about to end after dismal album sales. After this song, they took off.
What a Fool Believes was also a big song for The Doobie Brothers. Michael McDonald sang lead co-wrote this classic light song with Kenny Loggins.
In fact, it’s an early example of so-called “yacht rock.” Yacht Rock refers to soft rock songs from the 1970s that focus on pleasant melodies. People often mention Michael McDonald’s music as an example of yacht rock. And this song certainly brought the style to The Doobie Brothers. They released this song in 1978 on their Minute by Minute album. It was a #1 hit.
How Did They Get Their Name?
It’s not a coincidence that the band name includes a synonym for marijuana. Keith “Dyno” Rosen, a friend of the group, suggested the name because its members, well, smoked a lot of doobies. The guys agreed it was a silly moniker and planned to change it. They never found any other names, though.
Do The Doobie Brothers Still Perform Live?
In 2022, The Doobie Brothers will be performing 50th-anniversary shows, and Michael McDonald will be there.
They’ll be playing large venues in June and July, starting in Florida. Their first show will be on June 2 in West Palm Beach at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre.
Pro Tip: Tickets for their current tour will sell fast. Buy yours soon!
Doobie Brothers in Harmony
If you listen to the music (see what we did there?) of The Doobie Brothers, you’ll notice the variations and harmonies.
The Doobie Brothers have had three lead singers who performed and recorded together. Rather than discarding lead singers and finding a completely new sound, they, well, found harmony amongst them.