When the Doobie Brothers called it quits 10 years ago, singer Michael McDonald hoped there would be excuses to hold reunion concerts.
"It's always fun to play with the guys and to play the band's songs," he said. "That will always be part of my identity, one of the best bands I ever played with, and more than that, one of the greatest groups of people I ever worked with."
But the excuse for the band's two upcoming reunion shows is not anything McDonald would have wished for. The 12 musicians who played in the several versions of the group--one of the most popular American rock acts of the '70s--are getting back together to help out Doobies percussionist Bobby LaKind, who is suffering from terminal cancer and has used up his financial resources on his medical expenses.
The concerts--Sunday at the Greek Theatre and Monday at the Concord Pavilion in the Bay Area--will benefit a trust fund that has been established for LaKind's two young sons.
"We're losing a good friend, and our concerns, like his, are with his kids and who he is going to leave behind," McDonald said. "But, without being too morbid about it, it's a chance to celebrate a lot of years together and help out Bobby."
The benefit was organized by Bruce Cohn, who managed the Doobies since 1969, through their evolution from Northern California biker-bar band to smooth funk-pop kings. It's only the second time all 12 Doobies have reunited--the other was for a series of 1987 concerts, including one at the Hollywood Bowl, benefiting a Vietnam veterans' fund.
"Over the course of 22 years we managed not to lose anybody," Cohn said. "We've come close a couple of times, but most bands have lost members to drugs or plane crashes. We've had 12 members and I've always prided myself in keeping everybody alive and going. Then this came up, and Bobby being the kind of guy who didn't really put any money away, it struck me right away that his family was going to be in trouble."
LaKind was hardly the most visible member of the group--that honor would go to the three lead singers: Pat Simmons (the only member of every version of the band), Tom Johnston (a founder who quit in 1978, but returned for a reformation in 1989) and McDonald (who joined in 1975 after playing with Steely Dan). In fact, LaKind originally wasn't even a musician.
"He came in as a member of the lighting crew," said Doobies drummer Keith Knudsen, who was then and remains LaKind's best friend. "He would later come on stage and play congas on two or three songs, and then we hired him as a sideman and in the late '70s he became a full member."
No one seems to be romanticizing the band's history--McDonald, Knudsen and Cohn all spoke of feuds and fights that were as numerous as the hits. But the impending loss of a colleague has renewed bonds.
"Bobby and I had some crazy times, some very funny times, most of which probably wouldn't be printable," McDonald said. "He was--is--a good-hearted guy and he deserves a bunch of friends to come out for him."