In my self-appointed, largely ignored role as The Commissioner of Rock & Roll I am often called upon to provide an opinion, mediate a dispute, and generally regulate some of the finer points of the music industry to ensure certain rules are not violated, musical commandments are not broken, and the purity and essence of the art form is maintained. One very important aspect of this position is to provide a ruling as to what happens to a band name once the lead singer catches the dreaded LSS disease (lead singer syndrome) and leaves the band for seemingly greener pastures, band members quit, are fired, or die due to drug and/or alcohol abuse, or the drummer loses a limb.
The first major ruling for this band-name committee was to set a precedent on what would happen to the band name should certain band members decide to splinter off and form their own group. It was decided that if more than one key member leaves the band the band name would be retired forever. Using the departure of Jefferson Airplane original members Jack Cassidy and Jorma Kaukonen, who left to form Hot Tuna as a precedent, it was decided that Jefferson Airplane would become Jefferson Starship thus cementing and never tarnishing the legacy of the original band. The rule then was written that if more than one key member of the band leaves that the band name would be retired and the remaining members if they chose to carry on would do so using a new moniker.
Unfortunately this committee was too enthralled with the bribes that were coming their way as a means of securing favorable decisions in the form of groupies, multi-colored pills, leafy substances and quadrophonic stereo systems, to put any teeth in these rulings by imposing policy breaking penalties. Thus, The Doobie Brothers were still The Doobie Brothers even after the very picture of Un-Doobieness, Motown singing, soul sucking, Michael McDonald joined the band turning the one time Santa Cruz party band into a lame Baby’s sounding cover band.
The band Journey has made such a mockery of this rule going from Greg Rolie to Steve Perry to Steve Augeri and finally to Arnel Pineda on vocals and still retaining the original band name, that this particular edict is now known forever as “The Journey Rule”. And the Beach Boys, well let’s just say we are not on speaking terms.
One of the more significant rulings of the committee was in 1997 when Michael Stipe of R.E.M. petitioned to retain the band name after the departure, for health reasons, of drummer Bill Berry. Following close scrutiny of prior precedent setting requests including the Pete Best to Ringo transition, and the spontaneous combustion of most of the Spinal Tap drummers, it was decided by unanimous decree that drummers were like Pamela Anderson’s breasts. They are fun to look at, an exciting and integral part of the body as a whole, but can be easily replaced by a drum machine and the Anna Nicole Smith edition of Playboy.
Recently we were approached by Both the Hall and the Oates camps separately to render a decision as to what should happen to the Hall & Oates brand now that the two blue-eyed soulsters have gone their separate ways. After little debate, zero soul searching, absolutely no trepidation, followed up with a consultation with Andrew Ridgely, it was decided that Daryl Hall can continue to record and tour under his own name, but since no one knows or cares what Oates’ first name is anyway, he would record and tour under the name “Oates”, or if he would prefer, he could go by the more historically accurate name, “That Guy That Used to Play With Daryl”
But I digress……………………………….
The Doobie Brothers “Stampede” was effectively their last will and testament, and marked the end of a great swampy, country-blues, hard-working, neighborhood party playing, live performance band before they “jumped the shark”, sold their souls to the devil, and moved forward with a new sound when lead singer Tom Johnston, after being side-lined and on hiatus with a stomach ailment, was “Wally Pipped” out of the band. Michael McDonald, not content with driving one band, Steely Dan, into mediocrity and AOR obscurity now had his sites on the band from the hills above Santa Cruz.
This union was like when one of your buddies is dating a girl and wants to get married to a girl the rest of the posse can’t stand. At the bachelor party he asks you guys what you think of her. Unfortunately, collectively you and the guys are neither stoned enough, drunk enough, and have not had enough lap dances to tell him what you really think, so you neglect to tell him that despite her passion for certain orally inclined activities, this does not outweigh the reality that she is a soul sucking, diva bitch, besides the fact that all of those fun sexcapades stop when you get married anyway. In other words, the rest of the band should have told Jeff “Skunk” Baxter that he could to go to hell and his buddy “Motown” Mike could not join the band.
“Stampede” was essentially then the swan song for the band as we know it and what a swan song it is. Jeff “Skunk Baxter was added to a group of already stellar musicians to create what many consider to be The Doobie Brothers best work and an almost musically perfect work of art. The countrified rock & country soul sound that was honed playing street parties in the Santa Cruz Mountains was primed and ready. The first song “Sweet Maxine” opens the curtain with a piano intro followed by the signature “China Grove” style dual guitars, the lightly graveled voice of Tom Johnston with the rest of the guys kicking in on background vocals, in others the classic Doobie sound.
“Neil’s Fandango” is a delicious autobiographical song that essentially tells the story of the band with a rousing guitar and piano interlude in the middle.
“Texas Lullaby” has a certain Sweetheart of the Rodeo feel to it and is a perfect example of western ballad-noir.
The fourth song on the album “Music Man” has some soul DNA it which makes sense as it was produced by the great Curtis Mayfield. Listen closely at about the 3:20 mark and tell me there is not a little Superfly in this excellent tune.
The musical interlude “Slat Key Sequel Rag” allows you to get a beer or freshen up your smoke, which ever you prefer. This is California based music after all.
Break over, you get “I Cheat the Hangman” with Patrick Simmons’ songwriting at its best and the at the time lovely Maria Muldaur performing chanteuse duties in the background. This finely produced orchestral epic weighs in at just under 7 minute and is a powerfully strong tune.
The seventh song on the album “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” is back to the classic Doobie’s song structure which is a very good thing.
The Spanish classical guitar style demonstrated on “Precis” is just 59 seconds of Skunk Baxter showing off while the 9th song on the album “I Been Workin’ on You” has almost a B.T.O feel to it right down to the song title.
“Rainy Day Crossroad Blues” is my favorite song on the album and features Ry Coode adding sonic slide guitar texture to this up-beat number.
The boys go all .38 special on us with the rocker and closing song “Double Dealin’ Four Flusher” which in my head I know is not about the bands decision to add Michael McDonald to the band instead of waiting for Tom Johnston to heal up shortly after the release of this album, but in my heart I am going to continue to believe it is.
This marriage of Michael and The Doobie Brothers even though it may have been originally a marriage of convenience has certainly made both parties a lot of money with “second harvest” follow up efforts like “Takin’ it to the Streets” and especially “Minute by Minute”.
Ultimately money can’t buy happiness and as the Beatles told us Money can’t buy you love, and in this case it certainly didn’t buy mine. And just for the record, the proposal on the table for the Post Tom Johnston era of the band was to simply drop the word Brothers from the band name and to become simply “The Doobie’s”
Unfortunately, as another set of musical icons that was allowed to keep the full Rolling Stones name after Brian Jones died because Keith Richards was already in the band and was a better guitar player, have taught us……………………You Can’t Always Get What You Want.