Classic Rock Review

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The Doobie Brothers Stampede (1975)

From amazon.com

the_doobie_brothers_stampede_frontStampede is the most under-rated of all Doobie Brothers albums. I found it in a cut-out bin (remember those?) not long after it was released in ’75, even though it charted to #4.

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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January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street (1972)

182607_1_fFrom dailyvault.com

Although it had its charms, The Doobie Brothers only hinted at what this band could accomplish, a fact proven on the sophomore follow-up Toulouse Street.

Positioned somewhere between Creedence Clearwater Revival and the early Eagles, the sound of this music draws on a variety of sources – blues, Caribbean, gospel – and gives it a Southern rock twist by way of California. That may seem a contrived way to describe all this but it’s accurate, and time has only sharpened the diversity of the music and how well it flows together.
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Heard with fresh ears in their album-length versions, classic rock staples “Listen To The Music,” the bracing “Rockin’ Down The Highway” and the gospel-inflected stomper “Jesus Is Just Alright” are better than you remember. The group interplay is solid and the vocal harmonies – a forgotten strength from these guys – strengthen these warhorses. “Jesus is Just Alright” in particular is still a joy to listen to, an infectious, non-pandering tune with great guitar work

The best song here is the title track, an acoustic paean to love, New Orleans, and the spell of a fading summer’s evening when something slightly mystical is in the air. An elegant flute solo divides the verses to round out the piece. A side note: When the band hand-picked their favorites for their Doobie’s Choice album, this one made the cut, but none of the aforementioned hits did.

The guys attempt a boogie funk hybrid on “Cotton Mouth” and a Caribbean feel on “Mamloi;” the former is moderately successful, the latter trite and irritating. A cover of “Don’t Start Me To Talkin’” is Allman Brothers lite, not too bad, while “White Sun” also bleats along pleasantly, the CSN&Y harmonies canceling out the goofy lyrics. Finally, the seven-minute “Disciple” plows through territory already covered for three minutes before turning into a guitar showcase; it obviously wants to be an Allman-esque epic but falls just short, though it sounds fine as it plays. “Snake Man” is a fun closer, a jaunty two-minute blues-inspired tune. One wonders if it could have been developed into something more, but alas.

Toulouse Street is miles ahead of the band’s debut and would only be bettered by its immediate successor, The Captain And Me. Worth checking out if you enjoyed the hits and wanted to dig a little deeper into the band’s back catalog. At the very least, try to get “Toulouse Street” somewhere and listen to it at dusk.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers 1st Album (1971) & Toulouse Street (1972)

MI0001786007MI0001907850From seaoftranquility.org

If ever there was a band that has proven virtually impossible to place in a specific genre then it has to be The Doobie Brothers who have been termed country, pop, soul, funk and rock over the course of their forty year history. These latest reissues courtesy of Edsel pair two albums apiece across four double CD sets taking in the bands first eight studio releases from the period 1971 – 1978.

The addition of a good selection of bonus cuts and detailed liner notes ensures that this is a project that has been given due care and attention, serving as both a comprehensive introduction for newcomers and offering value for money for long-term admirers.

The bands eponymous debut album (1971) featured the line up of drummer John Hartman, guitarists and vocalists Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston and the soon to be departed bassist Dave Shogren. Having spent some time touring around California the Doobies had developed a following amongst the Hells Angels chapters and the cover image shows them posing in leather-jacketed attire and looking suitably moody. Like so many debuts the music itself evidences a group that was still developing its sound and style and the overall feel is very loose and laid back with Johnston and Simmons trading acoustic licks on the ballads “Travelin’ Man” and “Closer Every Day” .

The album also marked the start of a long and successful partnership with producer Ted Templeman who has been at the helm throughout their career. Creedence-esque chugging rhythms are in abundance with lead track “Nobody”, “Greenwood Creek” and Randy Newman’s “Beehive State” amongst the other highpoints. Unreleased demos and an early version of later hit single “Long Train Running” (entitled “Osborn”) increase the total number of songs to a weighty twenty-one.

Commercial success came the way of the Doobies with Toulouse Street (1972) aided by the Billboard #11 chart single, Johnston’s “Listen to the Music”, that would arguably go on to become their signature song. Expanding to a five-piece Tiran Porter had assumed bass duties and the addition of Michael Hossack began the bands trademark “dual drummers” sound.

Toulouse Street is an altogether much heavier record than its predecessor as they shift through the gears on epic blues rock workout “Disciple” and the urgent “Rockin’ down the Highway”. Marking the differences in approach between himself and Johnston, Simmons two contributions are the reggae flavoured “Mamaloi” and stretched out harmonies of the title track. Elsewhere they diversify even further by adding horns to Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me To Talkin” and flirting with gospel on second single “Jesus Is Just Alright”.

Whilst the debut is certainly appealing in parts Toulouse Street proves to be the more consistent effort ensuring that the band were regarded as one of the most original new artists of the period. This review is just the start of our Doobies reissue coverage and the remaining Edsel releases will be featured here very soon.

March 9, 2013 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers The Doobie Brothers, The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street (1972)

MI0001786007From allmusic.com

Toulouse Street was the album by which most of their fans began discovering the Doobie Brothers, and it has retained a lot of its freshness over the decades. Producer Ted Templeman was attuned to the slightly heavier and more Southern style the band wanted to work toward on this, their second album, and the results were not only profitable — including a platinum record award — but artistically impeccable.

Toulouse Street is actually pretty close in style and sound at various points to what the Eagles were doing during the same period, except that the Doobies threw jazz and R&B into the mix, as well as country, folk, and bluegrass elements, and (surprise!) ended up just about as ubiquitous as the Eagles in peoples’ record collections, especially in the wake of the singles “Listen to the Music” and “Jesus Is Just Alright.”

But those two singles represented only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this group had to offer, as purchasers of the album discovered even on the singles — both songs appear here in distinctly longer versions, with more exposition and development, and in keeping with the ambitions that album cuts (even of popular numbers) were supposed to display in those days.

Actually, “Listen to the Music” (written by Tom Johnston) offers subtle use of phasing and other studio tricks that make its seemingly earthy, laid-back approach some of the most complex and contrived of the period.

Johnston’s “Rockin’ Down the Highway” shows the band working at a higher wattage and moving into Creedence Clearwater Revival territory, while “Mamaloi” was Patrick Simmons’ laid-back Caribbean idyll, and the title tune (also by Simmons) is a hauntingly beautiful ballad.

The band then switches gears into swamp rock for “Cotton Mouth” and takes a left turn into the Mississippi Delta for a version of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin'” before shifting into a gospel mode with “Jesus Is Just Alright.”

Johnston’s nearly seven-minute “Disciple” was the sort of soaring, bluesy hard rock workout that led to the group’s comparison to the Allman Brothers Band, though their interlocking vocals were nearly as prominent as their crunching, surging double lead guitars and paired drummers. And it all still sounds astonishingly bracing decades later; it’s still a keeper, and one of the most inviting and alluring albums of its era.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street | | Leave a comment