The Doobie Brothers Stampede (1975)
In most ways, I find it the most satisfying album to come out after Toulouse Street, much better than The Captain And Me, and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. The acoustic-electric charm that was present with Toulouse Street was the abundance of folk, jazz, R&B, swampy country, and rock all fused together into a “sound” which experimented with throughout the album in such a way that it never left you wanting for more. The Doobie Brothers would shift tempos, chord progressions, mutate the beat and warp the melody sometimes shifting total genre in a song.
These have always the been the best elements of their music, continued on The Captain And Me but not so much on an album which generally became more electric and save for a handful of songs, most of the material on Captain utilized formulaic 70’s rock. Vices…Habits started to lean more to what is found on Stampede and with the release of this 1975 mini-cult classic, fans like myself were back in the saddle with the Doobies where we loved them. On Stampede they diversified those elements of their sound even more than ever before, grabbing up chunks of the genres outlined above (from Toulouse Street) and infusing more country-rock, folk, and a heaping helping of hot funk!
If you know what “Creole” or “Gumbo” mean, when you get your hands on Stampede you have a musical Creole all stirred into the most wonderful Gumbo you could ever taste!
Johnston and Simmons both wrote more eclectic songs on Stampede which captured the diversity and genius of their best early works, Toulouse Street as a whole, “Clear As The Driven Snow”, “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman”, “Ukiah”, “The Captain And Me”, “Spirit”, “Black Water”, “Daughters Of The Sea”, and “Flying Cloud”. This was the material that really set The Doobie Brothers apart from their 70’s contemporaries, as they, unlike other classic 70’s acts, were one group which really fused together the elements that gave birth to this music.
The Bay Area of Northern California was, through the latter part of the 60’s and into the early 70’s, an encampment of musical ideology that utilized “fusion” in the creative spark. And that applies beyond the common genre of fusion jazz. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Country Joe & The Fish, and Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, were all vanguards of fusion rock in the counter-culture movement. Rock, blues, jazz, folk, gospel, R&B, far-eastern, latin, and other world-wide elements of music were infused into contemporary music and experimentation was the measure of success. In 1971, The Doobie Brothers drew all the best elements of this front line together to make a successful sound that was unique in its own right and polished to a winning accessibility. 1972’s Toulouse Street was the perfect presentation of this and in reality, the two follow-ups to that album fell short of recapturing the magic. Stampede succeeds where those two came up short.
Also, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter finally fully became a member of the band on Stampede, adding that incredible third guitar with its unique steel jazz sound. When all three guitarists get cranking on songs like “Neal’s Fandango” the explosiveness is unmatched even by standard bearers like The Allman Brothers or The Eagles. When Little Feat’s Bill Payne cuts in with a jazz piano bending the melody and turning it on its head, or when Superfly Curtis Mayfield tops a song with Memphis Horns and Motown Strings, or when Ry Cooder adds a bottleneck guitar to three jammers already in overdrive, and when Maria Muldaur caps dissonant and haunting strings and horns with a plaintive wail, you have a masterpiece as a finished product. This may be The Doobie Brothers best work of art, sincerely under appreciated!
STAMPEDE starts with an ol’ timey vaudeville piano (courtesy of Bill Payne as are all the piano keys) that jumps right into the “signature rock” of Tom Johnston, but this time, Tom mixes it hot and then downbeats the song half way through with some gospel backing kicked up with keen guitar licks and you know that Tom is back in the driver seat leaving the hamburger rock melodies (ie. Without You, Natural Thing) on the old plate and serving up a fresh steak! “Sweet Maxine” is kick-ass country rock, boogie, gospel, and rockabilly all rolled up into a big fat Doobie!
“Neal’s Fandango” cooks. There is no other way to explain it. Three guitars country boogie right through a song that has a firmly planted bass fingering and three-part harmony that starts in full highway speed and goes to warp drive. The electric guitar lead exchanges between all three, especially Skunk’s signature sound is immaculately conceived and executed. This is one of Simmons’ best compositions belying his jazz work with Skunk on the next album. The double-drumming here just adds to the pleasure and this is a prime example of what the Doobies are all about.
“Texas Lullaby” again demonstrates Tom’s best talents. He sings this old country home styled ballad with soul and heart. The strings envelope bass and country twang guitars with gentle caress and Pat and Tiran back him up nicely. Halfway through the song Tom lets Skunk play around a nice country-fried jazz lead before he finishes off the vocals to a pedal steel coda.
Then…Motown comes calling on the ranch. Tom’s “Music Man” goes soul right away with Curtis Mayfield flourishes and a funky R&B guitar accent. Choruses are gospel tinged and after two full minutes the string section and guitars carry the song to dizzying heights and exit. Another prime example of Doobie Brothers adventures in artwork.
Beautiful guitar work of Pat, Tom, and Skunk provides an intermezzo called “Slack Key Soquel Rag” (scored by Pat) before the Doobies go Motown again with the amazing cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s hit “Take Me In Your Arms”. With the same kind of revitalizing energy that they provided for blues covers on Toulouse Street, the Doobies hit the bull’s-eye dead center with this R&B classic. The Doobies really rock this one and when the guitar leads kick up the dirt, the result, with double-pound drums and bass, is anther of their best efforts. Released as a single, “Take Me In Your Arms” fell just outside the top ten but for album listeners this is just another chapter in the great adventure of Stampede.
For many fans, the centrepiece of Stampede is the incredible “I Cheat The Hangman”. Pat wrote this literally haunting ballad after reading Ambrose Bierce’s classic ghost story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” about a post civil war ghost who does not realize he is dead. The dual acoustic guitar melody, electric picks (Skunk haunts the haunting song with gorgeous accents), Bill Payne’s ethereal piano tinkling, eerie percussive effects, and frightening string overlays, build slowly into a terrifyingly beautiful story. The finale is compared to Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” by Pat and producer Ted Templeman, but one who is familiar with Alan Parson’s orchestral vision of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall Of The House Of Usher” on Tales Of Mystery And Imagination cannot help but draw a direct comparison to the work engineered and produced there!
“Précis” is a classical style guitar piece written and performed by Skunk. Another brief interlude before the final three songs chop more wood.
“Rainy Day Crossroad Blues” is another top form acoustic guitar blues work by Tom. Three guitars are now supplemented by the one and only Ry Cooder on bottleneck. It slides up and downbeats and shuffles itself right into your soul. The center stop gap with overlaid strings and pedal steel changes the hot shuffle to country ballad instrumental carrying the song to fruition and then Tom amps it up with a rocking soul “I Been Workin’ On You” complete with gospel choir backings (Venetta Fields three-girl unit that backed Take Me In Your Arms as well). The chord progression changes and lead guitar work in center field, leading to last verses with whistling develops another sure sign that Tom saved some of his best material for this album.
Pat Simmons’ “Double Dealin’ Four Flusher” finale rocks us right out of the album to hitting the play button for a second go. Pat wails vocals and guitar leads (shared with Tom and Skunk) while Bill Payne lays down honky-tonk piano boogie that just before the end of the song segues into a tight jazz improvisational piece and then jump starts the whole band into electric finish. The end result is The Doobie Brothers best overall album to share the spotlight with Toulouse Street, and the jazzy other side of the band, Takin’ It To The Streets coming up next.
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