We at Roots are not accustomed to being coy or keeping secrets. But we’ve had this mystery show for May 13 on the books for weeks, and y’all may have been mystified, miffed or just meh. But in any event, we broke the news last night that our Wednesday show will feature two extra-long sets by The Doobie Brothers, with special guests, plus an opening set by Jim Hurst, guitarist extraordinaire.
We have a little bit of a thing with the Bros. Doobie. As you may know if you’ve followed our adventures, John Cowan has been the band’s bass player and valued support vocalist for a couple of stretches of time, including recent years. And we are huge Cowan-heads, given that he’s one of kingpins of newgrass and one of the finest singers in the world. So back in 2011, our stalwart producer and talent momma Laurie Gregory inquired of her old friend John if his musical buddies would consider playing our little old barn dance on the radio for a house of about 500 people? To our delight they said they’d love to and we had a big time at the Loveless with certified rock stars singing some old faves.
I certainly have a spot in my heart and nostalgia bones for the Doobie Brothers. The simply owned FM rock radio in the years I became aware of music. “What A Fool Believes” is one of the greatest singles ever, and “Black Water” was an early hint of swampy folk harmony that presaged my love of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Later on in my college dance/party band, our version of “China Grove” was ever popular (and incredibly fun to play). So personally and professionally, this Wednesday’s special event with the Doobie Brothers will be satisfying. They’ll play two 40-minute sets, one acoustic and one electric. And the special guests that we know about include Béla Fleck, Dan “Man of Constant Sorrow” Tyminksi and celebrated country guitar slinger Casey James. We wouldn’t be surprised by other surprises.
The Doobie Brothers website offers a tight summary of their complex evolution, while for a fully detailed account of their personnel changes since 1970 see their Wikipedia entry. Founding members Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons are the core of today’s band, along with John McFee, who joined on in 1978. There were the Michael McDonald years of course in the 70s heyday, and lately that golden-throated Nashville-based singer has been joining his old colleagues here and there. “The sound of the band is the same,” Simmons says, “Tom and I are still involved in writing the songs and arranging. It brings the sound of the early ‘70s back to the forefront. Tommy and I now have been working together longer than any other time the band has been in existence, steadily working every year, touring.”
The most recent project put the band squarely in the Music City mindset, re-recording many of their big hits for the first time, with the help of a bunch of giant country stars, including Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Toby Keith and Hunter Hayes. MCR Alum Amanda Ramirez of Johnnyswim is also a featured voice, covering the sumptuous song “You Belong To Me.” The project is called Southbound and it’s a great reminder that the Doobie Brothers has been doing rock rootsy and right for quite a long time. We share the general bewilderment that the Doobs are not yet in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and hope to see that remedied soon.
Also on our bill is a guy I’d be jumping up and down about on any given week. The show will open with a set by guitar master Jim Hurst. Twice an IBMA guitar player of the year for his work with Claire Lynch and his duo with bass player Missy Raines, his range goes well beyond bluegrass. He’s a delicate finger picker who knows the legacies of Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. Of late he’s been focused on his solo shows, which I’m excited to see. He has a fine and intimate new album called Looking Glass that puts us very close to his guitar and voice for some superb original songs. He’s been a prominent instrumentalist for so long that it’s good to be reminded what a consummate performer and artist he is.
We had to wait until the Doobie Brothers’ Saturday night show at Fontanel was underway before we could release the news and tickets for this Wednesday. But now that we have, they’re going fast. So try to join us for an atypical but exciting show and, you know, listen to the music.