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Doobie Brothers keep that ‘Long Train Running’ into the Rocksino

October 9, 2018

Doobie Brothers keep that ‘Long Train Running’ into the Rocksino

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Tom Johnston apparently went to a lot of proms with his sister.

“It’s been whispered in my ear we’re going to get nominated this year,″ said the Doobie Brothers co-founder in a telephone interview before this week’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominations were revealed.

Alas, none of the many incarnations of the band that began in San Jose, California, in 1970 will be on this year’s ballot. But Johnston, who will bring his band to the Hard Rock Rocksino on Friday, Oct. 12, has a backup plan.

“If not this year, then next,″ he said confidently in a call his home in Marin County, Florida in mid-September.

Maybe. You gotta figure they’re due. After all, they’ve been eligible since 1996, and never even been nominated.

So, if you’re that sure, Tom, how’s the writing of that acceptance speech going?

“We’ll worry about that when it comes,″ he said, and then paused. “If it comes.″

The reality, though, is that while fans might gripe about the snub, it doesn’t matter to Johnston or his current or former bandmates, including Michael McDonald. Nobody would turn down induction, but Johnston, whose group is responsible for classic rock hits like “Long Train Running,” “China Grove” and “Black Water,″ among others, already feels like a winner.

“It’s changed a lot,″ he said, asked his original definition of success for the band. “It’s a funny thing. I didn’t think about all those things [like money or hits]. Success would have been getting enough gigs to pay the rent or gas for the car.

“We did an album and it was a really big thrill for us,″ he said. That was the self-titled “The Doobie Brothers” in 1971. Follow-up albums didn’t fare all that well, until “Stampede,” which was the final one before Johnston left the band and McDonald took over as lead singer, with “Takin’ It to the Streets″ in 1978.

“A lot of stuff was forced on us,″ Johnston said, explaining some of the turnover in the group. “I had to leave in ’75 due to a stomach ulcer. That precipitated Michael coming in to help with the tour, and then he started contributing as a songwriter.

“He only stayed with the band for a year after ‘Takin’ It to the Streets,′ ″ Johnston said, and thereupon followed several other lineup changes. Each one seems to have its champions among fans.

“People are going to do what they are going to do,″ Johnston said. “I don’t resent it. People do have strong opinions about it.

“Obviously, the one I’m in is the only one I can operate in,″ he said. “Not that I don’t think the others were good. I think it was great music.″

So egos aside, it’s all about the music and the fans. That’s why songs from the entirety of the Doobies’ catalog are on the set list.

“Really, to me it’s all about your interaction with the audience,″ said Johnston. “If the audience is standing up and singing with you and having a great time, there’s no way you can get mad at a song.″

It’s a matter of respect, really. If fans don’t hear certain songs – regardless of which incarnation of the band created them – they’re going to be upset. And Johnston won’t permit that.

Best of all, while he’s intent on giving credit where it’s due, he and the current roster refuse to rest on their laurels.

“I’m writing for an EP,″ he said. “It’s something we all feel [is necessary] in order to stay valid rather than living off yesteryear, which I don’t want to do.

“We’ve got to have new stuff out to play to keep growing as a band,″ Johnston said. “If you don’t, you deserve to be called ‘a golden oldie.’ ″

The operative word there is new.

“I’ve written a couple of songs with a guy from L.A.,″ Johnston said. “You don’t want to sound like you’ve always sounded.″

The rich harmonies and chunky guitar riffs that have always been part of the Doobie DNA will remain, but he’s focused on trying to expand his horizons, even at the age of 70.

Hey, it’s the best way to impress a prom date.

The Doobie Brothers When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12. Where: Hard Rock Rocksino, 10777 Northfield Road, Northfield. Tickets: $77.50 to $135, plus fees, at the box office, ticketmaster.com and by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

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