Michael McDonald’s Revival Of The Doobie Brothers After Tom Johnston

How can a band with two distinct and radically different sounds accompanied by two different leads carry the band’s legacy for over fifty years? Well, that is what The Doobie Brothers did perfectly, and even though there were fans who preferred one era more than the other, it is still a testament to their musicality that spoke to so many people around the world that Tom Johnston and Michael McDonald came together for a reunion tour.

The Doobie Brother’s history consists of what can only be described as three different eras. Initially, the journey began from 1970 to 1975 with the founder, guitarist, and lead vocalist Tom Johnston who brought mainstream rock n’ roll while featuring elements of folk, country, and R&B to curate the sound of the band. Everything was seemingly well, and from that era, hits like ‘Listen to the Music,’ ‘Long Train Runnin,’ and ‘China Grove’ came out of it.

In 1975, as their success grew and reached new heights, Johnston’s health deteriorated due to a bleeding ulcer, and he had to call it quits in the middle of the tour as well as the band, as he was in no shape to handle the rigors of the road. To replace him and continue the tour Michael McDonald came to the rescue.

In addition to wrapping the tour, the singer took over as the band was under a contract to produce another album, but Tom was not available. McDonald’s tone and sound were radically different, where he was more interested in soul music rather than what the band had built their career out of, but it also resonated with a diverse crowd of fans.

Although his sound changed The Doobie Brothers’ sound until their breakup in 1982, over the time that Michael was the lead, it was a very fruitful and successful time for the band. Tracks like ‘Real Love,’ ‘Takin’ It to the Streets,’ ‘It Keeps You Runnin,’ and ‘What a Fool Believes’ which became the number one single in the U.S.

Several years after the breakup, in a 1986 Los Angeles Times poll, the Doobie Brothers became the band readers most wanted to reunite after Led Zeppelin. By the time it was 1987, the band had reformed again with Johnston, and they have been going strong since then.

The band even went as far as to reunite with McDonald’s to celebrate the momentous occasion after just over 18 months of not being able to tour due to the pandemic. It kicked off its 50th Anniversary tour in the summer of 2021. Johnston gave insight to Goldmine last year about the preparation for the two-and-a-half-hour show.

Tom Johnston’s words about curating the show read:

“We spent over two weeks solid, about seven hours a day rehearsing to get all this together. The music, vocal rehearsals for the harmonies — all that kind of stuff. We really put a lot of work into this; I mean a lot of work, man. I had never played some of these songs before, so for me; it was a huge challenge.”

This reunion was almost a way for fans of all the band’s different eras to come together as some fans were on board with Tom’s era, where his instrumentation was a mix of hard rock and acoustic folk where it felt like you were listening to the track in a bar live. For others, Michael’s contribution was more of their speed, bringing a very listenable and radio-friendly sound with a jazzy undertone.

Although the two musicians were so different from one another, the fanbase rode on the journey with them throughout the years, even until their latest release in 2021 titled ‘Liberté,’ which marked their fifteenth full-length studio album and the band’s first album of original material in eleven years. Whether you appreciate McDonald’s efforts or Johnston’s, it is clear that they are still in the game as one of the bands that stood the test of time.