The Doobie Brothers: Biker Boogie Gone Mainstream

The story and songs of these SoCal rockers

The Doobie Brothers perform during Blues Fest 2017

 Brian Rasic / Contributor / Getty Images

The Doobie Brothers rose from the ashes of one of history's most acclaimed hippie groups to keep the dream alive with feel-good hits like "Listen to the Music," "China Grove," and "Black Water." In the ptocess, they became instrumental in turning the SoCal sounds of the Sixties onto '70s AM gold. But when an unlikely event split the group in two, they reinvented themselves as soft-rock hitmakers, giving them new life with leader Michael McDonald and classic R&B "yacht rock" songs like "What a Fool Believes" and "Takin' It to the Streets."

The Doobie Brothers' 10 biggest hits

  • "Black Water"
  • "What a Fool Believes"
  • "Listen to the Music"
  • "China Grove"
  • "Long Train Runnin'"
  • "Takin' It to the Streets"
  • "Jesus is Just Alright"
  • "Minute by Minute"
  • "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)"
  • "Real Love"

Styles Pop rock, Classic rock, Country rock, Boogie, Soft rock, Blue-eyed soul

Claims to Fame

  • Brought country-rock, folk-rock, and boogie jams to pop radio with their slick synthesis of sounds
  • Their trademark harmonies are considered some of the best of the era
  • One of the first interracial bands to become superstars
  • Heroes to the bikers of Southern California
  • Switched sounds midstream to create a soft version of blue-eyed soul that was widely imitated
  • Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and vocalist Michael McDonald were masters of their instruments who were much in-demand on 70s sessions

Core Doobie Brothers Members

  • Tom Johnston (born Charles Thomas Johnston, August 15, 1948, Visalia, CA, lead vocals, backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, keyboards, harmonica (1970-1977)
  • Patrick Simmons (born October 19, 1948, Aberdeen, WA): lead and rhythm guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals, banjo, flute (1970-1982)
  • Michael McDonald (born February 12, 1952, St. Louis, MO): lead vocals, backing vocals, keyboards (1976-1982)
  • Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (born Jeffrey Baxter, December 13, 1948, Washington, DC): lead guitar, backing vocals (1974-1978)
  • Tiran Porter (born September 26, 1948, Hawthorne, CA): bass guitar, backing vocals (1972-1982)
  • John Hartman (born March 18, 1950, Falls Church, VA): drums, backing vocals (1970-1978)
  • Keith Knudsen (born February 18, 1948, LeMars, IA; died February 8, 2005, San Francisco, CA): drums, percussion, backing vocals (1974-1982)

Early Years

The founding of the Doobie Brothers had its genesis in folk-rock powerhouses Moby Grape, who imploded shortly after their landmark debut album but were set to reunite in 1969 after the return of founding genius Skip Spence. Drummer John Hartman traveled to California specifically to join the reunion, but when it fizzled, Spence instead introduced Hartman to guitarist Tom Johnston; the two formed a folk-rock band that at first went by the unfortunate name of Pud. With the eventual addition of singer/songwriter/guitarist Patrick Simmons, the group began moving in a harder direction; noting the band's preference for marijuana, a friend jokingly nicknamed them the Doobie Brothers. The name stuck, and the band had soon built up a following among SoCal biker groups with their good-time boogie and country-folk roots.


Noting the following, Warner Brothers signed the Doobies in 1970, but their eponymous debut album flopped badly, despite a few regional hits penned by Johnston. With 1972's follow-up Toulouse Street, however, producer Ted Templeman found the perfect AM-ready sound to coalesce the band's many influences around, and the result was a major hit with "Listen to the Music." For the next four years (and four albums) the group ruled the airwaves, being slick and catchy enough for pop, progressive and rootsy enough for rock, and hard and bluesy enough for the arenas -- the arrival of ex-Steely Dan member Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on guitar in 1974 only added to the band's formidable talent.

Later Years

However, not long after, Johnston contracted a bacterial infection and stomach ulcers from the constant touring, and Baxter suggested his former Steely Dan sideman, Michael McDonald, to temporarily take his place. McDonald soon became the lead singer, bringing with him a sweeping change in style to a keyboard-based blend of jazzy soft rock and blue-eyed soul that would define pop in the last half of the 70s. The band became so successful, in fact, that all original members except Porter and Simmons soon departed, with Johnston becoming upset at his lack of input in the new sound. McDonald left for a solo career in 1982, effectively disbanding what was left of the Doobies, but the band reformed for a successful reunion album and tour in 1989. Johnston leads a version of the group that still performs and records today.

More about the Doobie Brothers

  • Other members have included Dave Shogren: bass, guitar, backing vocals (1970-1972); Michael Hossack: drums, percussion (1971-1973); Bobby LaKind: percussion, backing vocals (1977-1979); John McFee: guitars, violin, vocals (1979-1982); Chet McCracken: drums, percussion (1979-1982) Cornelius Bumpus: saxophone, flute, keyboards, vocals (1979-1982)
  • Simmons has been the only constant member through all the band's incarnations
  • Often toured with the Memphis Horns, studio horn section of Stax, as their backup
  • "Black Water" was originally not intended to be a single, and was only released as one after radio DJs began spinning it
  • "Takin' It to the Streets" has been used as a theme for several US Presidential campaigns, most recently Ron Paul's 2012 campaign
  • McDonald co-wrote Carly Simon's hit "You Belong to Me" (which the Doobies covered) as well as Van Halen's "I'll Wait"
  • Jeff "Skunk" Baxter refuses to disclose the origin of his famous nickname
  • Michael Jackson has claimed he added backing vocals to the group's "What a Fool Believes" and "Minute by Minute"