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doobies.jpg (66924 bytes) In January of 2001

The Doobie Brothers' Tom Johnston 

talked to Cottage Views about the first

Doobie Brothers Record in Ten Years.

Sibling Rivalry - out now on Pyramid Records

    The Doobie Brothers, now fronted by founding fathers Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons, along with longtime members Michael Hossack, Keith Knudsen, and John McFee, have finally released their latest work, Sibling Rivalry, on Pyramid Records, after a ten year hiatus from the recording scene.

    Since their last studio album, Brotherhood, in 1991 the group have been steadily working, touring the world over, and collecting a backlog of material and songs to utilize in the future.  By the time the group had enough down time to actually enter the studio the amount of songs they had gathered far outweighed what could possibly be recorded. 

    Narrowing the record down to the thirteen songs on Sibling Rivalry may have been hard work, but the finished product is a shimmering collection of classic Doobie Brothers style.  From the guitar driven chug of the first single "People Gotta Love Again," to the folky County Pop of "Leave My Heartache Behind," this kindred competition has paid off.

    The lead-off single, "People Gotta Love Again," reached #3 on the Classic Rock Radio charts.

INTERVIEW WITH TOM JOHNSTON OF THE DOOBIE BROTHERS

JANUARY 31, 2001

Michael Cimino:  How have you been?

Tom:  Busy!

MC:  Well, welcome back.  Itís a real pleasure to hear your new record. 

Tom:  Iím glad you like it.

MC:  Itís ten years.  How come itís taken so long?

Tom:  Well, weíve been on the road most of the time, to be honest with you.  And, we just didnít get around to doing it.  We had to get hooked up with a label and it took us at least five years to get this thing done.  Most of the work was done in about six months, but, you know, leading up to that  - writing a lot of songs, throwing a lot of songs out, all that kind of stuffÖ 

MC:  In the last ten years the whole industry has changed. 

Tom:  You got that right! 

MC:  What do you think your biggest obstacle is going to be for getting your message across?

Tom:  Getting somebody to hear it.  The way radio is now, getting played is a bitch.  We got airplay on the first single and we did okay but itís all strictly on classic format.  You canít get anywhere else.  The only other way to reach the public is via AC, which is Adult Contemporary, which means you have to have a Soft Rock piece.  We have something like that being released.  We also have another Rock and Roll one being released.  With the first one we got up to #3 on Classic Radio, but doesnít mean a lot, really,  because youíre not hitting that large an audience.  Itís certainly not a record buying audience, most of them anyway. 

MC:  When I first listened to the disc I immediately realized the diversity of the group.  There is some rocking stuff and then there is some other jazzy pieces reminiscent of the latter incarnation of the Doobies, a little Michael McDonald influence, don't you think?

Tom:  I wondered if some people might go there.  It really doesnít.  All that stuff that is more laid back is really not Michaelís style.  Itís just stuff that was written by either Keith and Guy, or in one case John and Guy, and then Pat wrote a whole lot of stuff like that.  Why I donít know, but it really doesnít have the Michael McDonald feel, but it is a laid back thing.  And then thereís the Hip-Hop thing that I did, Jericho, which isnít like anything like anybodyís done before in this band before.  I just wanted to give that a shot.  Thatís probably my favorite track on the whole album to be honest with you (laughs). 

MC:  Do you still think we can change the world through our artistry?

Tom:  That was what I believed in 1969, í70, í71, í72.  Thatís what ďListen to the MusicĒ was all about.  I donít have that naÔve view anymore.  Iíve got to be honest with you, I think you can have an influence but I donít think you can change the world, no.  The world right now is a scary place.  The world has changed a lot in ten years, as well.  The music business kind of reflects what is going on in the world.  Big business has taken over the entire industry. 

            We were at Warner Brothers for so many years you could walk in and talk to CEO, or the president, or the vice president, or whoever you wanted to, and just sit down and yak with them.  It was great.  And it was run by a lot of people who were either producers, or ex-musicians.  It was a musical oriented company working with musicians.  Now it is all lawyers and business guys.  Theyíre just suits.  They donít give a shit about the music.  As long as it makes money theyíll chew people up and spit Ďem out.  Itís very noticeable when you listen to the stuff thatís on the radio. 

            There is a lack of people who sing melodies.  Depending on which area you want to go to, there is a lot missing in the music world as far as Iím concerned.  A lot! 

            I donít believe what I once did; that if all of the leaders in the world got together and sat down, and in those days Ďsmoked a jointí Ė as I used to think, and listened to the music theyíd figure out that weíre not all that different.  Itís just not that way. 

            Some people have done spiritual music since the get go, and especially nowadays itís all about Ė and thereís nothing wrong with this when I say this part  - itís all about feeling good, and right here right now, and the hell with later.  Rock Ďní Roll has, kind of, always been about that.  That part is okay.  That part is not wrong, but the lyrics and the way itís being put acrossÖ   A lot of the lyrics are pabulumÖ  The people who can sing are so busy doing vocal calisthenics that theyíll never sing a melody.  Rap, to me, is a complete waste.  Nobody should have bothered to come up with that one.  And me, being an R&B oriented guy, Iím frustrated because I grew up listening to all the R&B greats, and Blues greats, and I still do.  To me itís frustrating because they always had the best music, as far as Iím concerned.  Hands down, the best music.  And now, the Afro-American community is turning out crap.  Itís depressing for me because thereís no new Otis Redding, thereís no Aretha Franklinís, thereís no new James Brown, thereís no Temps, thereís noÖ  on and on and onÖ  thereís no ďoh, thatís such and such.Ē  You hear the first couple of notes and you go, ďI know who that is.Ē  It could be anybody.  You could put on ten different groups and they all sound the same.  Which is what my parents used to say to me about Little Richard.  Really that is the case.  Vocally, there is nobody who stands out and you can say, ďThatís such and such.Ē  I donít hear anybody who hits me that way.  There are people out there who can really sing but theyíre not going anyplace with it. 

MC:  Itís all about production.

Tom:  I think music needs a renaissance.  I think it needs to turn around.  I donít want to say it canít get worse, because surely it can, but with people like Eminem, and Korn, and Marilyn Manson, who offer no hope whatsoever to the kids who are listening, and who are impressionable, find it there way to be rebellious, it makes me sad.  Iíve got kids which has changed my whole outlook on life, Iíve got to tell you, in a big way.  Theyíre at the age, especially my son who has just turned 13, heís at the age where this stuff, well, he has been for two years, and Iíve tried to talk to him and not sound like my parents sounded to me.  Itís like, ďChristopher, music is supposed to give you a message and hopefully make you feel good.Ē  Even if itís rebellious, like Hendrix Ė raucous, like Cream Ė if you really want to get out there, those guys could really play.  They really knew their instruments.  They were movers and shakers in the forefront of guitar playing.  And their lyrics were cool, and their songs were really cool and they really went somewhere.  Now, you talk to me about these guys like Blink 182, or Korn, or Rage Against the Machine, and Iím sorry, Iíve listened to that stuff and it leaves me befuddled.  Itís scary.  A lot of itís about everything from suicide to getting loaded.  A lot of stuff that kids donít need to hear.  Thereís enough of that in real life, you donít need to hear about it. 

MC:  Your new album is very diverse with everybody pitching in ideas.

Tom:  We produced it ourselves and that was a good thing in some ways and not the best thing in some ways.  I think we turned out a really polished album as far as sound goes, sonically.  We got one of the best mixers in the world to mix it and he did a great job.  And it was recorded really, really well.  All done on ADATs and using computers.  I think we would have been a little better off if we had used somebody, and we did use somebody for a little while, for guidance on tune selection.  I think we put out too many songs and I think we did a little too heavy on the light stuff. 

MC:  Thatís what I was hinting at before.  I didnít want to say that the record sounded like Michael McDonald but there are a lot of AC songs included.

Tom:  Weíve even got easy listening Jazz on there. 

MC:  Do you think his influence is still affecting the band?

Tom:  No.  When he was in the band, yeah, you better believe it.  He turned the band around 180 degrees from where it was.  He is a very talented guy.  It was a very classy kind of music they were making after I left the band.  Actually, while I was still in the band, but then I left in í77.  Where Michael took the band was just as popular with a whole lot of people  as what was going on before, and with a different set of people usually.  He reached a lot of people.  Michael is a incredibly talented guy.  Heís got a new album out too and the funny thing is he has gone the opposite direction if you listen to that.  Heís got some ballads on it and stuff but heís got some funk things and some stuff that heís never tried before.  Thatís kind of cool.

MC:  Was it your differences in musical opinion that made you leave in í77?

Tom:  Not at all.  It had nothing to do with Michael.   I didnít leave because of Michael.  I left because I was toast.  I needed to get away from the band.  I had an ulcer and I almost bled to death.  It was just time to get away from the whole thing.  So, I took two years off and got very healthy and then went and did two solo albums and then after that toured on them, and then after that I played in a local band here in Marin County and didnít do a lot until we got back together in í87 to do that reunion thing. 

            Weíve been working steadily since í89.  the only year we didnít do a lot was í92 and that was mostly because two guys left the band and we needed to replace them.

MC:  Michael did tour with you at one point, didnít he?

Tom:  Yeah, in í99 he did a summer tour with us. 

MC:  Any reason why he is not on the new record?

Tom:  Well, heís not in the band.  We look at it like this;  whoever is in the band doing all the shows is who is on the record.  Itís nothing against Michael.  We do about five dates a year with Michael, all corporate dates, and we still see him all the time and weíre still on real good terms with him.  It has nothing to do with that.  Heís doing his solo thing career and he doesnít want to do a Doobie Brothers thing and we want to do our Doobie Brothers thing and we donít want to give people the impression that Michaelís still in the band, because heís not, and he hasnít been involved in anything weíve done (studio-wise) for the last eleven years, almost twelve. 

MC:  Iíve, personally, been more into the more guitar oriented Doobies songs, so I was real glad to hear the first single, ďPeople got to Love Again.Ē

Tom:  If anything, thatís reminiscent of stuff that went on years ago.  Itís dressed up a little bit, but it has still got that feel to it. 

MC:  And Patís song, ďLeave my Heartache Behind,Ē reminds me of the old days.

Tom:  Son of Black Water as he calls it (laughs). 

MC:  One of the songs I want to ask you about is ď45th Floor.Ē

Tom:  I wrote that with Bill (Champlin).  Thatís kind of a statement on politics as the two of us view it.  People and politicians  who make up our aristocracy in the political world and arena and how they operate, and our disdain for them.  There are not a lot of politicians out there that I get warm and fuzzy about.  (laughs)  There is no politics in our music.  To make a somewhat musically snide remark is about as far as Iíve ever gotten.  I donít usually deal with it. 

MC:  With the political correctness of our current society, do you think the name of the band just goes over peoples heads now?

Tom:  Well, they donít associate it with that anymore and nobody in the band does that anymore, so itís just a name now.  Thatís all it is.  We were never flag-bearers for anything, although in those days it was sort of a lifestyle.  It was just the way it was back then.  It was something to latch onto  - ĎOh, I know who that is  - thatís the Doobie Brothers,Ē instead of Pud (laughs) which doesnít elicit any kind of feelings, I donít believe, and that was never a name that was used by the band.  That was just a band that formed and reformed until I ran into Pat and got together in that formation. 

MC:  How did you get the name Doobie Brothers?

Tom:  The oldest question (laughs). 

MC:  No, really.  Who came up with the name?

Tom:  A guy named Keith Rosen.  We called him Dyno.  He was living in the house on 285 South 12th Street where the band got itís start.  He came up with the name.  We didnít have a name.  We were just playing and he said, ĎWhy donít you call yourselves the Doobie Brothers?í and we said, ĎWhat the hell, we donít have a name,í and weíd heard of worse, so we did.

MC:  Did you think you were going to get some flak from the press for it?

Tom:  We didnít really care.  I was 22 at the time and I was paying the rent and having the time of my life.  I was a happy camper in those days.  (laughs)

MC:  The title of the disc, Sibling Rivalry, does it have a significant meaning?

Tom:  Nah, itís just a tounge in cheek thing.  Doobie Brothers/Sibling Rivalry. 

MC:  I thought it may have something to do with everybody fighting to get their songs on the record.

Tom:  I wouldnít say fighting, but we did sit down and listen to songs a  lot of times.  We got halfway through the album and threw most of it out, which is another reason it took a while.  Because we decided we didnít want to use those songs.  And consequently, there was...  nobody got mad and started screaming or anything like that, but at that time we had a guy who was listening to the tunes we sent him and he said ĎYeah, thatís a good song,í but he was nowhere around by the time we got finished with it. 

            When you produce it yourself, this is the first time we ever done it, you open yourself up to the wonderful world of politics which makes things less free flowing and sometimes less productive.  Although, I must say, I think we did a darn good job under the circumstances the way that we did this.  Iím used to working with a producer.  Iím used to working with Teddy.  Iíve worked with other producers, on Cycles and Brotherhood, but Iím used to working with somebody who would say, ďThis would be good, or that would be good,Ē or maybe have an idea or input on the song selections or what youíre doing with your lyrics.  Maybe those arenít the best ones you could write, or you could come up with something better.  ďMaybe it would be better if the chorus had this.  These songs are okay, but maybe you donít need all those, or maybeÖĒ  Any number of things, a drum lick, Ö

MC:  Sometimes itís easier to see things from an outside perspective.

Tom:  Itís a great thing.  And if people are upset then they take the blame.  It doesnít fall on the guy whoís trying to create the work of art. 

MC:  Is it much more satisfying to be a touring band instead of a recording unit these days?

Tom:  Iíd love to make another record on top of this one with a producer and see where that went.  Touring is great but it gets old.  I get really sick of traveling especially with having a family.  Itís hard to say what it would be like if I didnít have a family, but I got sick of it in the old days, soÖ  Itís a dichotomy.  I love playing.  I love to go out and play.  I love to be in front of a crowd.  I love to get people up.  I love to work an audience.  But, to do that you have to travel.  You canít do one without the other, until somebody comes up with the ďBeam me up,Ē thing (laughs).  When you go out for a month at a time after a while youíre just kind of in a daze.  Riding on buses all night.  Town to town doing 5 on 1 off.  After a while itís another frame of mind to be in.    

No portion of this interview may be used without permission from 

Cottage Views Classic Rock News © 2002 

  For more information go to www.doobiebros.com

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