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DailyBoom Your Old School Music Authority

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Exclusive Interview: The Doobie Brothers Tom Johnston Talks Touring with Steely Dan and New Music to Come

(Photo: Andrew Macpherson)

We are flashing back to some of the best of the best content here at DailyBOOM.


When I was growing up in the late seventies The Doobie Brothers were truly a staple in my house. My dad was WAY into classic rock and for two hours each night (like it or not), I was given the kind of musical education that will truly last for my entire lifetime. The older I get, the more I realize just how much I love songs like "Long Train Running" or "China Grove" and it's not just because the bands' four Grammy's and 48 million records sold tell me that I should. I genuinely appreciate the intricacies of their work.

 The Doobie Brothers are spending their summer on the road co-headling a tour with Steely Dan, a combination that sounds like nothing short of perfection to me. While their styles are technically different, they compliment each other fantastically. Somewhere between tour stops in Utah and Colorado, Tom Johnston, founding member/lead vocalist/guitarist, gave me a few minutes of his time to discuss life on the road and new music to come from The Doobies.

(Photo: Andrew Macpherson)

Cate Meighan: I know that you've been out on tour with Steely Dan for a while now. How is that going?

Tom Johnston:  We've been out on the road for about a month and a half now and we've got another month and a half to go. The crowds have been great and I'm happy to see that they're embracing a wide spectrum show like this. There's quite a difference in our musical styles, but somehow they seem to really compliment each other and I think it's great. We've played with Steely Dan as recently as last year, but this is the first actual tour that we've done with them in many moons (laughing). We played with them back in the 70's and now Donald (Fagen) has got something really great going on with a very large group of exceptional players and they put on a great show. The crowds have been very into it and vocal- dancing around having a great time and so it has been a lot of fun interacting with the crowd.

CM: It seems to be a great summer in general for rock tours and the fans are truly excited about the shows coming to venues near them.

TJ: I think besides being a great escape mechanism, the idea is always for people to just come out and have a great time. Forget about your troubles for a little while and just immerse yourself in the music. In this case, they know songs from both bands so it's not like their going to a show where they won't know a portion of the music. They're already familiar with it and it's already a bit of a comfort zone for them. We're very fortunate to still be on the road and doing this after so many years.

CM: Are you seeing a variety of different generations at your shows now?

TJ: We generally see people at our shows ranging from their 30's to their 60's, but we're also seeing some kids who are big fans of both bands and really into the music. That's gratifying when you realize that you've reached that many people with your music and that it means something to them. It's nice when they decide to take the time out of their busy lives to come and see a show. I think it's great when people go back and check out music from the past and the ability is definitely there, most notably by downloading it. That has become the go-to way for most people to listen to music and it has changed the way that music, be it old or new, is presented to the public.

CM: Everything changes and evolves over time so how has life on the road changed for you over the years?

TJ: In the 70's we flew, I mean early on we were in a Winnebago (laughing), but then we flew. Quite frankly that was great and I loved it. Nowadays it's all buses and it has been since we reformed back in 1989. That's basically how most people tour unless of course, you're in the top echelon because then you've got a private jet. We're not there just yet so we're on a tour bus like most everybody else.
We play an hour and a half every night and then Steely Dan comes out and I think that they play for about two hours. After that, we all head to our buses and hit the road for the next town. It's not nearly as glamorous as people often think (laughing).

CM: It's not all glamorous, so what keeps you out there on the road?

TJ: It's the playing for sure. I'll always love playing the most and then interacting with the crowd. The best moment of the night for me is always when the crowd starts responding. When they're singing the songs and they know the words. To me, that interaction is what it's all about and it makes all of the traveling worthwhile.

We're very fortunate to be able to do this because there is a demand for this show. People want to see the bands that are out on this tour and so it's a joy to get out there and play every night. I guess people look at it as a job, but we really don't see it that way because it's more of a privilege to get paid for doing what you love.

(Photo: Kelly A. Swift)

CM: I know that the band has been working on new music. Is there an update on the status of the next project?

TJ: It's really in progress and I have no idea when it's going to come out. We started working on some things last year and we've also been writing on our own. One song is semi-recorded for demo purposes. I'm not anxious to get off this tour, but when I get home I am looking forward to going back and working on the new stuff. I think it's imperative that we put out new material.

Technology has really changed how we do things too. In the old days, you had yourself and a guitar. You came up with chord changes and lyrics. Nowadays with the software that exists you can have your own studio in your house. You can lay down the track- play the drums, you can play the bass,  the keyboards. Then you can also play guitar right into the computer and you can sing into the computer as well. Back then, you would grab maybe a drummer to work with and take a song as far as you could. Then you would bring it to the studio with a producer and the whole band so that everybody could come up with parts. The producer would come up with ideas and the song would come to fruition that way. Now with all of the technology, you can walk in with a complete idea of what you have in mind. It doesn't mean that it won't get changed, but you're able to present a much more detailed version of what you're trying to do and I absolutely love it.

(Photo: Kelly A. Swift)

You still have to start with a good idea though. You need chord changes and an idea of where you want the song to go. That part of it is still the same.

The writing process is a bit different for me now though because I used to write alone. Now I'm realizing that to do it with other people that have ideas when you're stuck, is a real blessing. It moves the process along and they may have some really great ideas that I would never have thought of, so it's great. Sometimes when you're writing alone you find yourself running into a wall, for whatever reason,  that you just can't break through. Then when you get with someone else they'll break that wall right down for you which is fantastic. I'm looking forward to getting as many songs written as possible and then choosing what songs to use and getting them out. I think it's imperative for a band to keep moving forward. It doesn't matter how long you've been doing this, you still need to stay as fresh as you can. I think if you rest on your laurels you're giving up something, so moving forward helps to make it all valid for me.

CM: How far in advance do The Doobie Brothers plan their next career moves?

TJ: Well planning a few months ahead happens, like now we know that we'll be out on the road this summer with Steely Dan. Then in the fall, we have another tour and in the interim, we know that we're going to be working on new stuff. We're busy all the time, doing different things in different places but I can't imagine ever planning a whole year in advance. Life kind of handles itself sometimes and you just have to go with it.

(Photo: Andrew Macpherson)

Keep up to date on everything that The Doobie Brothers have going on by bookmarking their official site. Check out their tour dates here and grab some of the bands' merch too!