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For the Doobie Brothers, It's Still the Playing That Matters

Pop Music * The group, which disbanded in 1982 and re-formed six years later, has a new album and a boxed set of its songs covering 28 years.


NEW YORK — Despite the title of their new album, "Sibling Rivalry," there have never been any brothers--or anyone named Doobie--in the Doobie Brothers.

The personnel changes have been so frequent since the rock trio, now a quintet, was founded in 1969, you'd need a score card to keep track of them all.

The Doobie Brothers, who were at the height of their popularity in the 1970s with such No. 1 hits as "Black Water" and "What a Fool Believes," have a new CD out and a four-CD retrospective set.

Band members were so in demand for interviews this fall that they broke up into two groups to handle the media. Patrick Simmons, Michael Hossack and John McFee were talking in one room of a hotel suite, while original lead singer Tom Johnston and Keith Knudsen held forth in another.

"Before I was in the band, I was a fan," said McFee, who joined in 1980. "I always thought the Doobies were one of the best bands."

Work on the new CD started before compilation of the boxed set, "Long Train Runnin': the Doobie Brothers (1971-1999)," which was released by Rhino in September.

The idea for "Sibling Rivalry" was to present the sound before 1974, when musician-singer Michael McDonald joined. McDonald set the tone until a 1982 breakup. The band re-formed in 1988.

"The whole reason we got back together in the first place was to do a reunion show for the Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation," said Hossack. "That kind of got things started. And our former producer wanted to do a record with the original band."

"Sibling Rivalry" was released in October by Pyramid Records. For the first time, the band produced its album, with each writer being strongly involved in the production of the songs he wrote.

"I think everybody made suggestions," Simmons said. "I have to say, for my own tunes, I think the other guys have as much to do with completing the song as I do. You can make suggestions of what to play. In the end, it is their performances that really make it. What you hear in your mind is changed by the way it comes out."

When it came to choosing the 13 songs for the CD, which includes "Ordinary Man," "Jericho" and "45th Floor," the band members didn't argue, McFee said.

"We tried to pick the best songs," Hossack added. "We looked at each song on its merits. It didn't matter who wrote it."

When people think of the Doobie Brothers, he said, they think of the hits "Listen to the Music," "Black Water," "China Grove," "Long Train Runnin'," "Takin' It to the Streets" and "What a Fool Believes."

"A lot of people think of soulful guitar playing, rhythmically not exactly James Brown, that chucka-chucka guitar playing, is something people have associated with our band," Simmons said. "We've been associated with blues influence, opposed to real pop. And the vocal blend identifies us. We have an emphasis on harmonies."

The quintet went "a little bit further" on the new album, he said.

"It's a little more thoughtful lyrically. We have written some socially conscious songs; there's more of that going on in this record. I think we moved on to a more experimental direction in some songs, with some fusion, contemporary rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop happening."

The Doobie Brothers play about 90 shows a year. They started touring the United States at the end of May. Before that, they played New Zealand.

"We've been all over the world at different times," McFee said.

"The highlight of being on tour is getting up on stage and playing," said Hossack. "Getting there and leaving are hard work."

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