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Jeff Moehlis

Jeff Moehlis: Listen to The Doobie Brothers in Paso Robles

The band will perform at the California Mid-State Fair on July 25

The Doobie Brothers will be performing at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles on July 25. From left are Marc Russo, John Cowan, Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, John McFee, Ed Toth, Guy Allison and Tony Pia.
The Doobie Brothers will be performing at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles on July 25. From left are Marc Russo, John Cowan, Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, John McFee, Ed Toth, Guy Allison and Tony Pia. ()

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

The Doobie Brothers, who have been rocking audiences since the early 1970s, will be visiting our extended neighborhood with a performance at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles next Friday, July 25.

Click here for more information on the show.

And why not make a weekend out of it? My suggestion: Go to the concert Friday night, and stick around for some wine tasting (Pianetta is one of my faves), dinner at Artisan and a spicy margarita at Fish Gaucho.

Doobie Brothers founding member/singer/songwriter/guitarist Tom Johnston talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show.

The full interview, which includes more on the origins of The Doobie Brothers and information about their upcoming album, which features lots of today's country music stars, is available by clicking here.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?

Tom Johnston: You'll be catching the full-boat show that we put on. It covers all eras of the band, from the front to the back. That includes the last album that we put out in 2010, which is World Gone Crazy. We're doing a couple of songs off that. It's a high-energy show. It's been going over very well everywhere we've played. We've been on the road the summer with Peter Frampton, and still are, and Boston. But we're also doing quite a few shows on our own, and this will be one of them.

JM: Things really took off for The Doobie Brothers with the song "Listen to the Music." Can you tell me a little bit about the origins of that song?

TJ: It was just another one of those late-night sessions with myself in my room on 12th Street, on acoustic guitar just playing and playing and playing. I came up with an idea for some chord changes, and put those together and wrote the words out, which is something I didn't normally do. Normally it was just the chord changes and the words came later. In that particular song, I wrote the words the same night as I wrote the chord changes, and the feel for it rhythmically and all that, and called our producer Ted Templeman at a very late hour, woke him up and played the song for him over the phone. I said, "This could be a single." It's the only one I've ever really called in my entire life.

We took it in the studio and it stayed pretty much true to what I had written, and the words stayed the same, the chord changes stayed the same, the rhythm structure was the same. It was just, of course, recorded professionally and sounded a lot better. But that's where that song came from.

The lyric ideas were basically focused on the idea of world leaders utilizing music rather than words to hash out their differences, and realizing that as humans they had a lot more in common than they thought. You get politics out of the way and just let the music do the talking, which was a very utopian ideal. Pretty unrealistic, I'm afraid. But it was a good idea at the time, it seems like.

JM: My favorite Doobie Brothers song is "China Grove." What's the story behind that song?

TJ: That's another one that I came up with playing on acoustic, and then I grabbed John Hartman and said, "We've got to go try this electric." I said, "This is going to be a great rock 'n' roll song." I didn't pick it for a single or anything, but I said, "I think this will be a great track to develop." And we got down to the basement and just cranked it up. It was probably very late at night. I'm sure our neighbors were ready to kill us. But we went ahead and worked on it, and worked out the basics to it, if you will.

And then we got it in the studio and developed it from there, musically speaking. I didn't write the lyrics until Billy Payne — who played on a lot of our tracks, the keyboard player from Little Feat, phenomenal keyboard player, he played on so many of our tracks for quite some time, actually, on a lot of our albums — he came up with a piano lick that was somewhat oriental in nature, as far as the sound, and that's why I got the idea for "China Grove," and then the lyrics about the crazy sheriff and the samurai sword and all that sort of thing.

But in reality, when we were touring in like 1972, we were touring in a Winnebago, we were driving it ourselves, and we drove right down that very road that goes into San Antonio. There's actually a road sign that says "China Grove" and I must've seen it. I didn't recall doing it, but I'm sure that it lodged into memory somewhere, and just was brought back out when I started writing the song. There really is a China Grove. There's a couple of them, actually. There's the one right outside San Antonio. There's also one in, I think, North Carolina.

JM: Do you have any crazy tour stories you're willing to share from the early '70s? Or is that better left unsaid?

TJ: Oh yeah, there was a period of time where, you know, televisions used to go flying out the window, and go-carts ended up in swimming pools, and people would have rent-a-car door wars, just a lot of crazy stuff. All of which has gone by the wayside. None of that goes on anymore. Those were all just growing pains — that's what I look at them as. All that stuff occurred early on. Like I said, it's gone by the wayside. People don't do that anymore.

If you ever saw the movie Almost Famous, the plane scene, where the plane's going down and everybody starts going "Oh my God!" We actually experienced that. That exact thing happened to us outside of Detroit in a really bad thunderstorm with a lot of lightning, and we lost an engine. We had an extremely good pilot. They didn't crash, and we didn't either. But we had a very similar experience to that, so watching that movie really was like going back in time.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

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