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Doobie Brothers ready to "finally" be inducted into Rock Hall

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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The Doobie Brothers' Tom Johnston has heard the word finally "used a lot" recently -- mostly by fans who have waited years for the group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which, yes, finally, happens on Saturday, Nov. 7.

"We've talked about it -- not a lot over the years, but it comes up because the fans are always saying, 'When are you gonna be in the Hall of Fame?' And we hear that a lot," Johnston says from his home in northern Californai. "And of course there's no answer for that, because we don't know. But the fan support has been awesome, a huge part of everything.

"So that it's finally happening...yeah, it's great."

The Doobies are indeed the model of a band whose Rock Hall moment is long overdue.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first album this year, the group, formed in San Jose, was one of the world's most successful between 1972, when "Listen to the Music" hit No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, through to a temporary break in 1982. During that time the Doobies scored six platinum-or-better albums (1976's "Best of the Doobies" was certified Diamond for sales of more than 10 million copies) and 15 Top 10 hits.

The Doobies were ubiquitous on both AM Top 40 and FM rock radio and a fixture on the arena and amphitheater live circuit -- and still is the latter, driving record sales to more than 40 million worldwide. Director-actor and fan Judd Apatow notes during the upcoming HBO induction broadcast that "this was just a band where...every song was the greatest song you ever heard," and there are surely millions who concur.

"I think I speak for all the other guys when I say that it seems rather odd we haven't been selected before," Johnston, 72, notes. "But at the same time we don't take it for granted. It's a big deal. We're all pretty stoked."

Fellow singer, guitarist and co-founder Patrick Simmons, also 72, adds that, "We're proud of the band and love to see it recognized in any capacity that anybody wants to put forth. Something like this comes along and I just go, 'Yeah, we've been wishing it would happen' and our fans have been pushing and writing letters and everything. So, yeah, it really means a lot."

Equally excited is Michael McDonald, who joined the Doobies in 1977 after a tenure with Steely Dan to help spell an ailing Johnston. McDonald became a dominant force in songwriting and singing, contributing hits such as "Takin' It to the Streets," the Grammy Award-winning "What a Fool Believes," "Real Love" and "Minute By Minute."

"I always took great pride in the fact I got to write and sing for the band -- I didn't really expect that going in," explains McDonald, 68, who went on to a successful solo career post-Doobies and was going to rejoin the group for a 50th anniversary tour this year that was postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic. "I always remember that the band had really done the heavy lifting before I got there. These guys already had platinum albums lining their walls. So I was just glad to be along for the ride.

"But from day one the band was a very generous entity. They always embraced anything I could offer. I always appreciated that."

The Doobies have actually gone through 29 members over the years, with six others -- longtime multi-instrumentalist John McFee and former members Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, John Hartman, the late Michael Hossack, Tiran Porter and Keith Knudson -- part of the Rock Hall induction. The Doobies' co-manager Irving Azoff is also being honored this year with an Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performers.

"I think all of us share in that sense of pride of having been in the Doobies and been a part of that band and gotten to play that music for so many years," McDonald says. "For a lot of us it was a band we all admired before we ever joined it."

Simmons, the only constant member throughout the group's history, says that the lineup shifts have played their own part in keeping the Doobies alive. "The reason I'm still here and playing is I've always been surrounded by so many fabulous players," he explains. "Most band last a year or two, if they're lucky. To be part of a band like this has always been sort of, I felt, a gift -- not just musically, but the whole opportunity."

The induction offers Johnston, who's been back with the band since its 1987 reunion, and Simmons in particular an opportunity to reflect on its legacy. Though rock at is core, the Doobies' range is wide enough to embrace blues and gospel, Motown covers (a hit version of Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)" and, during the McDonald years, blue-eyed soul. "Black Water" from 1974, the group's first No. 1 hit, was Americana well before that was listed as a musical category, with fiddle and Arlo Guthrie playing autoharp and wind chimes.

Nashville was a center for Doobies influence, too; Back in 2014 the group was joined by admirers such as Blake Shelton, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, the Zac Brown Band and others on its most recent studio album "Southbound."

"You sure don't think about it when you start out," Johnston says of his band's impact. "I always think of the Doobies as AN American band, just a band that got where it is by working hard and putting out records and playing a lot of shows and winning people over that...I guess old-school way now, but we wouldn't know any other way to do it."

Appropriately, the Doobies have been staying busy during their enforced time off. The group had already recorded five songs with producer John Shanks for a new EP -- "There's some things on there we've never tried before," Johnston nots -- and since its planned spring release was postponed its started work on another five tracks that are in various stages of completion. They've also released a new box set, "Quadio," featuring quadrophonic mixes of four of its 70s albums, and have put together a series of at-home performance videos, including "Black Water" and "Listen to the Music" and a collaboration with Peter Frampton on Eric Clapton's "Let It Rain."

The Doobies have also made a couple of videos with McDonald for future release and took part in an all-star rendition of Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" with fellow Hall of Famers Dave Mason, Sammy Hagar and Mick Fleetwood.

"We've been pretty damn busy since this all hit, once we got up and running in this direction," Johnston says. "It's not the same as being on the road, but it's a great substitution and better than just sitting around watching days float by with nothing going on."

Johnston notes that the Rock Hall induction is "a bright spot" in what's been a challenging 2020, and neither he nor Simmons is lamenting that there won't be an in-person ceremony at Public Hall. "It is what it is," Simmons says. "The main thing is we were looking forward to playing and having other artists sit in with us. But we're happy we at least are being inducted.

"And at least it's something no one will forget, right? 'Hey, remember that Covid Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction?' People will remember it, for sure."

"The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2020 Inductions" premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, on HBO and HBO Max. Inductees include Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G., T. Rex, Irving Azoff and Jon Landau. Visit hbo.com or rockhall.com.

Web Site: www.rockhall.com

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