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Doobie Brothers at DTE, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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We met the Doobie Brothers back in 1971 with the group’s self-titled debut album, and we’ve been listening to the music ever since.

The group is still standing and active these days, after 14 albums. numerous personnel changes and stylistic shifts between rock and jazzy pop and even a slight foray into country with 2014’s all-star “Southbound” collaboration. But the hits -- “Listen To the Music,” “Long Train Runnin’,” “China Grove,” “Black Water” and so many others -- remain timeless and as fresh as they sounded when they were first released decades ago.

With the Doobies on road this summer with fellow 70s hitmakers Steely Dan, multi-instrumentalist John McFee tells us the group is hoping to add to that potent repertoire in the near future as well...

• Though the two bands’ sounds are markedly different, McFee, 67, says by phone from Chicago that the pairing makes for a complementary bill. “It’s going great. We’ve had really good audiences so far and everybody gets along. There’s a lot of interconnection through the years -- (guitarist) Jeff Baxter was part of both bands, (singer-keyboardist) Michael McDonald world with both groups, (saxophonist) Cornelius Bumpus as well, so there’s been a certain amount of back and forth just amongst members. And musically both bands are compatible; I think for both it’s always been about the music. The focus has never been about being rock stars or any of that kind of stuff. It’s just trying to make the best music possible, and there’s certainly a common thread when it comes to jazz leanings and things like that.

• McFee adds that there’s even a friendly relationship with Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen, who’s known for “a sardonic, somewhat curmudgeonly side of his general sense of humor. He’s his own man, for sure. But he’s really been nice and friendly in general to all of us, I think.”

• So what song would McFee most like to play with Steely Dan if he had the chance? “I hadn’t really thought of it that way before. I could be cool on a lot of their stuff -- ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,’ ‘Reelin’ In The Years.’ It would be really interesting on just about anything. Donald has this great sense of chord structures; He smoothly goes through these really interesting chord changes and stuff. I could adapt very well on any of those ore roots-oriented instruments (violin, mandolin, banjo). That would be fun -- by invitation only, of course.”

• The Doobie Brothers are working on new music now for what it hopes will be the first set of new Doobies material since 2010’s “World Gone Crazy.” “Our intent is certainly to make some new music,” says McFee, who’s also preparing a new package of re-recordings of songs by his previous band, Clover (with Huey Lewis), called “Homestead Redemption.” “We’ve cut about four songs just to get going and trying to get to see where we mean to head, what ideas we’ve come up with. We’ve got some time set aside this year, or around touring, to do some work, writing or getting in the studio, so we’ll see. It does feel good.”

• McFee adds that the Doobies, like many of their peers, understand that they’ve set a high standard with their previous work. “You’ve got to compete with your past in a certain way,” he says. “There’s an element of that that’s always gonna be there. But the band has always had the ethic of, ‘Hey, let’s not just put anything out. Let’s make sure we have something worth saying here, worth listening to. We put the pressure on ourselves, whereas back in the old days it was the record company that was, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”

If You Go:

• Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers

• 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 26.

• DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.

• Tickets start at $25.

• Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.

Web Site: www.313Presents.com

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