It’s been over five decades, and the Doobie Brothers are back rockin’ down the highway.
The Grammy-winning ensemble responsible for classic hits like “Listen to the Music,” “Black Water,” “Takin’ it to the Streets,” “China Grove,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “Minute By Minute,” and “What a Fool Believes” is bringing its 50th anniversary tour to Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Sunday, July 17. Founding members and guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston have reunited with singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist John McFee to revisit the effortless musical exploration, catchy hooks, and crisp three-part harmony that cemented their careers and led to more than 50 million records sold.
The chart-topping veteran musicians who could seamlessly bob and weave through bluegrass, country, pop, rock ‘n’ roll and blues originally planned to tour in 2021 to commemorate the release of their self-titled debut album, but postponed their outing because of the pandemic. Picking back up on rehearsals for the North American run in May, the act that originated in San Jose, California, in the late 1960s prefers not to call the current tour a celebration, but an observance for their massive catalog.
“We’re spotlighting 50 years worth of recording and being out there in the public eye,” Simmons said, “so this year is us more or less coming back to it.”
The Doobie Brothers’ 50th anniversary shows are the first tour that’s actively featured McDonald since he left to pursue his successful solo career in 1982. The former Steely Dan background vocalist came to the group in 1975.
McDonald elevated the Doobie Brothers’ acoustic, jam band-flavored sound by crafting and incorporating elements of R&B, jazz and gospel that helped take the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees into its next phase after Johnston stepped away due to complications from a bleeding ulcer.
“He was another person that loved harmony and what it brings to the music,” Simmons said. “That’s a signature for us. We’re still doing that, and we always will.”
“It’s been a long time since Mike was really involved in what we’re doing,” Simmons adds. “That’s another real highlight and bonus for the audience and all of us.”
Simmons and Johnston published the Doobie Brothers’ first ever memoir, “Long Train Runnin: Our Story of the Doobie Brothers,” with writer Chris Epting last May. The autobiography fully chronicles the band’s origins, its rotating membership, musical evolution, massive success, and struggles with illness.
Simmons made numerous attempts to tell the Vocal Group Hall of Famer’s story throughout the years but always ended up shelving or trashing whatever drafts he wrote. Epting finally convinced the group’s two senior members to tell the band’s story after he co-authored musician John Oates’ book, “Change of Seasons,” in 2017.
Simmons and Johnston agreed but thought it was necessary to include some perspectives from the surviving bandmates and members of their touring crew.
“A lot of it was rewritten by Tom and myself,” Simmons said. “It really was a personal journey for us, but it really came together because of Chris. We had some good input from the other members.”
“It grew to be much more detailed as we went forward,” Simmons adds, “but we’re pretty happy how we ended up and what we got.”
Despite postponing their long-awaited reunion tour, the Doobie Brothers, minus McDonald, went back into the studio and released their 15th album, “Liberte” in October 2021. Working closely with producer John Shanks on the project, the Doobie Brothers’ delivered a 12-track collection of modern rock cuts that preserved their vocal chops.
Making “Liberte” was an opportunity for the Doobie Brothers to recreate the same magic, collaborative spirit and consistent harmonies with Shanks that they formed in their heyday as a best-selling act with their go-to producer, Ted Templeman.
“John recognizes what we value,” Simmons said. “Part of the reason we got signed in the first place was we had a signature sound.”
“We tried to incorporate everybody’s abilities and input, but it was always important to us to have great harmonies and vocals. We tried to incorporate all of the music we listened to because we just loved it.”
Simmons, 73, and the rest of the Doobie Brothers still feel like kids taking their string of timeless hits to the streets again. Playing and selling out arenas and amphitheaters again has stirred up some optimism from the band that originally earned its following playing dives and biker bars to keep broadening and attracting its cross-generational audience.
There’s also hope that McDonald will bring his blue-eyed soul back for more shows post-tour and potentially record another full-length project with the three core members. In the meantime, the Doobie Brothers are just enjoying the fruits of their longevity.
“We’ve been doing all of these things together,” Simmons said. “We’re enjoying it, continuing to do what we do, exploring new territory, and giving us a young outlook on life and where we’re going. We’re still looking forward to future endeavors.”
The Doobie Brothers: 50th Anniversary Tour
7:30 p.m. July 17. $29.50-$129.50. Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. concerts.livenation.com.
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