Doobie Brothers Feel Right at Home With Country Crowd

The Doobie Brothers
Jim Rink

The Doobie Brothers

Band talks new album 'Southbound,' featuring Blake Shelton, Sara Evans & more country stars.

This week, the legendary Doobie Brothers released a brand-new album called Southbound, which pairs the iconic band with some of the hottest stars of the country format, such as Blake Shelton, Sara Evans and Chris Young. At Wednesday night's CMA Awards, the group had two triumphant performances, showcasing their new country camaraderie.

"It was brought to us by David Huff, who is a producer on the album," Doobies member Tom Johnston told Billboard of how Southbound came to be. "He and Fred Croshal cooked this up. As it was told to me, Fred said, 'You have such a catalog of songs that could fit in the country genre. You should try this.' David brought it to is while we were in a hotel room on the road and asked if we would be interested in doing it. We asked who he had in mind, and he gave us a couple of names, and I said, 'Sure, if you can get them."

Johnston says he loved the idea of a fresh approach. "It was interesting from the start -- the fact that we never re-recorded any of this stuff. If we were going to do that, to do it in a different genre was one of the selling points, because if we were just going to redo them, what would be the point? We all agreed that it would be a good idea, then we got in the studio, and it turned out great." He said watching the musicians do their thing was a highlight of the recording process. "They are so good, and they worked so fast. Two takes, and it was done."

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The group's Patrick Simmons echoed Johnston's thoughts about the musicians in Nashville. "The sonic thing they created was kind of unique. They stuck to the original form of the songs, but their different instruments together gave a different tinge to the project."

Fellow Doobies member John McFee agreed with the assessment that some of the group's music might very well be considered country today had they gotten their start in recent years. "Country has definitely incorporated some elements that were once considered rock -- like distortion on guitars and some of the sonic elements -- but some of the music like 'Black Water' would be at least Americana, if not out-and-out country. So there's always been that element in the music, and that's one of the reasons that some folks probably thought this would be a good idea, and actually would work -- which it did."

One track that works particularly well is "You Belong to Me," which features Johnnyswim's Amanda Sudano Ramirez -- the daughter of Donna Summer. "Michael [McDonald] knew her when she was a little child. He had known her for years," said Simmons. "She's probably the most outside the scope of this. Michael had Vince Gill singing originally on it, and I don't think he felt that the two of them singing back and forth on 'You Belong to Me' was going to work," he admitted with a laugh. "So Vince played guitar on it."

Another of the younger generation that made an impact on the Doobies was Charlie Worsham, of whom Johnston said, "He's a bad boy. I was hanging out with Scott Hendricks and John Esposito at Warner Bros., and they were playing me some of their new artists. When he came up. I thought he was really good. I don't know anything about him or who he was, but out of all they played, he was the guy. They gave me the album, and I took it over to David, and I said, 'This is the guy that needs to do "Nobody."' He played banjo, mandolin, and his singing was incredible. He just knocked me out of the park. I was really happy with that one."

Southbound marks the first time since 1976 that leads Johnston, Simmons and McDonald were all involved with the Doobie Brothers. What was the synergy in the studio like with McDonald? "Every time we see him, even if it's been a year or two, it's like it has been no time at all," Johnston said. "It just feels like yesterday." McFee adds: "He's kind of talented too. He brings a lot to the party. It was good to get a chance to do some music with him again."

One aspect of making the album that amazed Johnston was that each of the artists and musicians had a story about how much they had listened to the Doobie Brothers' music. "That was humbling. We didn't know. We had no idea, and that started with the studio guys. Every one of them made a point to say something along those lines. That's the thing about being in this business from genre to genre, you don't get to mingle with each other -- particularly if you tour a lot. You sometimes get to find out that you had an impact on people that you didn't even know about."


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