The Doobie Brothers have begun work on their next album, but the group’s John McFee has also reached back into his way-back past for another project.
McFee was a member of Clover, the San Francisco Bay Area band best known as Elvis Costello‘s backing band on his 1977 debut album My Aim Is True and as the launch pad for Huey Lewis & the News. The group released a pair of studio albums before breaking up in 1978, but now McFee is re-recording songs from both sets with help from original members Lewis, keyboardist Sean Hopper, Alex Call and drummer Mitch Howie, as well as Costello.
“It’s cool for me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” multi-instrumentalist McFee tells Billboard. “We had done two albums for the Fantasy label that we were never happy with because we were too young to really know how to make records, and Fantasy assigned a producer to work with us who was a brilliant guy and a nice person and fun to work with but had never produced a record before. We felt like we had some good songs, some good ideas, but we weren’t happy with the records. So this is a chance to do it again.”
McFee has selected 12 songs from the two albums, while Costello will sing on a bonus version of Call’s “Mister Moon” for which McFee wrote and performed a string quartet arrangement. Original Clover drummer John Ciambotti passed away, but his daughter Gia Ciambotti — who’s worked with Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, Chicago and the Graces — appears on the album, along with drummer Pete Thomas from Costello’s Attractions and Imposters bands.
“If I do say so myself, it’s going to be a really great project,” says McFee. No release date has been set yet, but McFee is hoping the “Clover family” will get together for some live shows once it’s out. “We’ve been talking about it,” he confirms, adding that guitarist John Jorgenson has volunteered to be part of any dates as well. “It’s a matter of me actually finishing this thing; it’s really basically done, but I’ve got to get the packaging ready and finalize everything, so maybe some time a little later this year on a Doobies break we can do some shows.”
The Doobies are currently on tour with Chicago for the summer, but the group has also been in the studio starting work on a new album — its first since the country-flavored Southbound in 2014 and of original material since World Gone Crazy in 2010. The group has recorded four songs so far — two written by Tom Johnston, two by Pat Simmons — with current keyboardist Bill Payne from Little Feat on board. “We’re looking to get a new project going and hopefully get it out probably some time early next year,” McFee says. “It sounds kinda like the Doobie Brothers; what’s cool is from the inside sometimes it’s hard to always judge exactly what’s going on and everything, but I know that our family and stuff, when they heard it they went, ‘Wow, this really sounds like classic Doobies.'”
The Doobies break from the Chicago tour this weekend to play at the Classic West concert Saturday (July 15) with the Eagles and Steely Dan at Los Angeles’ Dodgers Stadium, with a second show July 29 at Citi Field in New York. But McFee laments that the group is “barely able to be there” due to its touring schedule. “We’re really having to charter a jet to fly in and out and get from the show before it to the show after it, so there’s not gonna be a whole lot of a chance to probably hear the other groups, unfortunately,” he says. “But I really wish I could stick around. There’s a lot of interconnectedness. I wish I could stick around and see the whole two days’ worth. For [Classic East] I’m hoping to be able to see more of the whole thing.”