Doobie Brothers: 'We've always managed to land on our feet'

Doobie Brothers: 'We've always managed to land on our feet'

CHAMPAIGN — The Doobie Brothers — those who have not left the brotherhood — still get huge responses from the crowds who've loved them since their heyday in the 1970s and '80s.

"We've been very fortunate in our hits — they're very singable, and people sing them back to us when we play them," says Tom Johnston.

You know their songs from his era: "Long Train Runnin,'" "China Grove," "Black Water," "Listen to the Music" and "Jesus Is Just Alright."

You'll probably be hearing all of them Wednesday at State Farm Center.

Johnston, 70, is a founder,lead vocalist and songwriter for the rock group — and especially guitarist.

He had health problems mid-band and was on-and-off with The Doobies before he took off for his solo career. That's when the Michael McDonald era began with new hits, like "Takin' It To The Streets."

For four decades, he's had an off-and-on career with The Doobie Brothers.

Three of them are mainstays: Johnston, Patrick Simmons on guitars and vocals, and John McFee on guitars and fiddles. They have a large backing group.

Johnston is known for both his lead guitar and vocal role in the band, as well as percussive acoustic guitar.

"We've got a great band, all our styles. I've played harp (harmonica) a lot early on, like 'Long Train Runnin.' John does it on the tour," Johnston said.

The Doobies got off to a slow start in San Jose, Calif., the co-founder said.

"The first album didn't do that well, but at the time we thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. There was a lot of acoustic stuff; we wouldn't have played it like that on tour."

The band jelled thanks to its harmonies, he said.

"There are three voices on 'Rocking on the Highway' and that worked, so all the songs we wrote always had harmonies," Johnston said. "What makes The Doobies kick: we came from blues and rock, I came from R&B and we also had some jazz influence."

They still have the energy to do about 80 shows a year; last year, they were on tour with Santana in Australia and this year with Steely Dan.

"We've always managed to land on our feet," Johnston joked.

Though the band broke up in 1982, a benefit for Vietnam vets five years later got several variations of the band together, with four drummers, two keyboards and songs from all of the performers, Johnston said.

Johnston has some work on the side.

"I've done a couple of solo albums and been going ever since," the multi-instrumentalist said. "It's been a great ride, with the audience keeping our energy up, and that's why we're out there."

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