Doobie Brothers’ 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour Spawns New Album With ‘Some Ferocious Tracks’

The Doobie Brothers‘ 50th anniversary reunion, which is heading into its third year of touring, is yielding some new music as well.

Co-founders Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston tell Billboard they’re both stoked about the band’s next album, which it’s finishing work on with Michael McDonald. The singer/keyboardist was with the Doobies from 1975-1982 and has been back in the fold since anniversary tour was first announced in 2019 and then delayed by the pandemic.

Produced by John Shanks — who also handled 2021’s Liberte, the band’s first set of new material in 11 years — it will be the Doobies’ first album with McDonald since One Step Closer in 1980 and the first Doobies album to include McDonald, guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston since Takin’ It to the Streets in 1975. McDonald also sang backing vocals on the Doobies’ 2014 album Southbound

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“We probably kicked (a new album) around a little bit, but not a lot,” Johnston says. “Those things just start. They just sorta happen. This whole band has been like that; things just happen through the years — songs, albums.”

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Simmons, the lone Doobie Brother to be part of the band’s entire 54-year career, shared the news with fans via a social media post.  “It’s very exciting,” he tells Billboard. “At one point I said, ‘Hey, we’re doing all these dates… As long as we’re doing this it would make sense to do a record. I think people would really get a kick out of that.’” With a chuckle he adds that, “We have yet to find out whether they’ll get a kick out of it or whether we’ll get kicked for it.”

The latter is unlikely, of course. McDonald’s tenure with the band — coming after he worked with Steely Dan — was among its most successful. Brought in to help the Doobies while Johnston was suffering burn-out, McDonald contributed hits such as “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “You Belong to Me” (co-written with Carly Simon) and “Real Love.” The triple-platinum Minute By Minute album in 1978, meanwhile, was the Doobies’ sole No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and won three Grammy Awards including Record of the Year for the hit “What a Fool Believes.” 

Simmons says he’s particularly happy to have himself, Johnston and McDonald — as well as fourth Doobies principal guitarist John McFee — fully engaged together on the new album. “It’s nice that Tom has an opportunity to interact with Mike musically because they have so much in common as far as their love of R&B and the people they admire,” he explains. “They never really got a chance to interact in this way before, so it makes me happy to see that happening. It’s more than the sum of our parts, I think.”

Each of the main Doobies, collaborating with Shanks, have contributed several songs to the set, which has no announced title and release date yet — although Simmons says the goal is to finish recording before the summer tour begins June 15 in Seattle. “I would put it half, maybe 60 percent where we’re at now as far as completion,” Simmons says. “The songs are done. The arrangements are pretty close.”

He’s particularly stoked about a gospel-flavored track called “Walk This Road” that features lead vocals by both McDonald and Johnston as well as guest Mavis Staples. “John Shanks had assumed I knew Mavis was singing on it, and I had no idea,” Simmons says with a laugh. “I hear this voice and I’m going, ‘What the…? Tommy is really killing it;’ it didn’t’ really sound like him but he has that quality to his voice. But it was Mavis, and… the three of them singing, I’m telling ya it just floored me. And there’s a bunch of other great tracks, just some killer — for me, anyway — great songs on this record, some ferocious tracks.” 

Johnston, meanwhile, predicts that, “This one’s probably a little moreso diverse because Michael is involved in all the tunes, but that’s fine, man. It’s an extension of what we’re doing on the road.” 

In addition to the album, McDonald is publishing What a Fool Believes: A Memoir, co-written with Paul Reiser, on May 21. He also contributed to 2022’s Long Train Runnin’: Our Story of the Doobie Brothers, which Simmons and Johnston helmed. 

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Simmons says of the continuing Doobies reunion. “We’re having a good time. It’s kind of continuing what we’ve been doing for the last 50 years and we still do things the same way for the most part, but having Mike on board again is great. I think it’s just having great artists, great creative people and talented guys that write the material… and then we have a great band. We’ve always had really great musicians, great singers. I think that really helps with how people perceive the band at any given time. It’s as strong now as it ever was.”

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