The Doobie Brothers formed in San Jose, California in 1970, from the remnants of a band called Pud. The original line-up comprised Tom Johnston (vocals/guitar), Pat Simmons (guitar/vocals), Dave Shogren (bass), and John Hartman (drums).
They started out playing a brand of barroom boogie that drew good crowds. In 1971, they signed to Warner Brothers and released an eponymous debut album, produced by Ted Templeman. Bassist Tiran Porter then joined in place of Shogren, and second drummer Michael Hossack was added.
The Doobie Brothers shifted style to incorporate a West Coast guitar and harmonies-driven rock feel to their sound. This was evidenced on their second album, Toulouse Street which went gold and produced the hits Listen To The Music (#11), and Jesus Is Just Alright (#35).
The band struck platinum with their 1973 album, The Captain And Me which spawned the top ten hit Long Train Runnin’ (#8), and China Grove (#15). Keith Knudson then joined on drums in place of Hossack, and a fifth member was added in the form of keyboardist Bill Payne.
1974’s What Were Vices Are Now Habits yielded the band’s first chart-topping single. Black Water debuted on the US charts in December 1974 and bubbled to the top of the Hot 100 in March 1975.
In a continuation of a virtual revolving door policy regarding band members, ex-Steely Dan guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter came on board in place of Payne.
April 1975 marked the release of the Doobie Brothers’ fifth studio album, and the last for some time with Tom Johnston in the mix. Stampede sold in good numbers to reach #4 Stateside, producing the rollicking Take Me In Your Arms as a top 30 single.
Tom Johnston fell ill with a stomach ailment while touring in summer 1975 and had to pull out of the band indefinitely. On Jeff Baxter’s recommendation, Steely Dan session player Michael McDonald was drafted in at short notice. McDonald’s R&B/funk roots, powerful falsetto styled baritone vocals, and deft soulful keyboard playing would have a marked effect on the musical direction of the Doobie Brothers.
The first “McDonald era” album – Takin’ It To The Streets (#8) – hit the shops in March 1976 supported by the title track single (#13).
1977’s Livin’ On The Fault Line (#10) produced the single Little Darling (I Need You) (#48) but it would be the band’s late ‘78 album release – Minute By Minute (#1) – that would yield the biggest hit of their career.
Co-written by McDonald and Kenny Loggins, the single What A Fool Believes debuted on the US Hot 100 in February 1979 and by 14 April had supplanted The Bee Gees’ Tragedy at #1. The song cleaned up at the 1979 Grammy Awards: Record of the Year; Song of the Year, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists while the album Minute By Minute was awarded Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus.
A major personnel shakeup followed with the departures of Skunk Baxter and John Hartman for guitarist John McFee and drummer Chet McCracken and the addition of Cornelius Bumpus on saxophone.
1980’s One Step Closer (#3) contained the hit Real Love (#5) but would prove to be the final Doobie Brothers’ album under Michael McDonald’s stewardship. No new material surfaced over the following 18 months and in March 1982 it was announced that the Doobie Brothers had disbanded.
The Doobies reformed in 1988 with original members Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons and John Hartman alongside percussionist Bobby LaKind and bassist Tiran Porter. They released the album Cycles (#17), spawning a top ten single with The Doctor (#9).
1991 follow up album Brotherhood missed the mark and by 1995, Michael McDonald had rejoined the band – though he was gone again by 2000.
Sax man Cornelius Bumpus died of a heart attack on 3 February 2004 while on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. He was 57. Drummer Keith Knudsen passed away in 2005. Michael Hossack was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and died in 2012.
Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter