Michael McDonald thankful for 'one more shot' to tour with Doobie Brothers for 50th anniversary

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

It’s a year later than planned, but these days, what isn’t?

In 2020, The Doobie Brothers conceived the ideal gift for fans – a 50th anniversary tour featuring Michael McDonald, John McFee and founding members Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

The pandemic bulldozed that campaign, but the quartet is “going about our business as if everything is happening as planned,” Johnston told USA TODAY as the band rolled through rehearsals in Los Angeles last week. “I’m not thrilled about touring with everything with COVID, but I also want to go out because we haven’t been on the road in a year and a half.”

Johnston shared that he suffered from COVID in February 2020 and was out of commission for about a month.

Pandemic repercussions: Garth Brooks, Neil Young cancel shows

“I thought it was just a really bad flu, but it was pretty nasty,” he said. “And that was the early version (of the virus). So as soon as the vaccine was available, I was banging on the door.”

McDonald, in a separate interview with USA TODAY, echoed Johnston’s cautious optimism, while noting that the vaccinated band will “stay within our bubble” on tour.

“It’s so precarious, this whole situation (with COVID) nationwide, so we don’t know what to expect. But we’re going to take it one day at a time,” he said.

The Doobie Brothers - from left, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston, John McFee and Michael McDonald - are celebrating 50 years with a tour featuring McDonald.
The Doobie Brothers - from left, Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston, John McFee and Michael McDonald - are celebrating 50 years with a tour featuring McDonald.

The 49-city tour kicks off Sunday at the Iowa State Fair before wrapping in late October; more than a dozen shows on the 50th anniversary outing have bounced to 2022 for scheduling purposes.

Possessing one of the most gilded catalogs of the ‘70s and ‘80s, The Doobie Brothers long ago earned the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction that finally beckoned last year. Their first No. 1 hit, “Black Water,” arrived in 1974. Five years later (1979), the band would strike the top again with the McDonald-fronted “What a Fool Believes.” Before and after their No. 1s brought “China Grove,” “Listen to the Music,” “Minute by Minute,” and numerous other pool hall jukebox staples until their last major hit in 1989, “The Doctor.”

The core trio of Johnston, Simmons and McFee will continue the Doobies’ legacy with the Oct. 1 release of “Liberté,” the band’s 15th full-length album named for the Chateau Liberté in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where The Doobie Brothers played often when based in San Jose, California. (A self-titled EP featuring four of the dozen tracks on the new album is available now.)

Recorded with producer John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Stevie Nicks), the songs on "Liberté" are "really creative in a different direction than what you’ve heard of the Doobies in the past,” Johnston said.

The Doobie Brothers - from left, John McFee, Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston - will release  their 15th full-length album, "Liberte," on Oct. 1, 2021.
The Doobie Brothers - from left, John McFee, Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston - will release their 15th full-length album, "Liberte," on Oct. 1, 2021.

McDonald isn’t part of the new recording, but his rejoining the band for a series of live shows was an idea first floated by Johnston about 13 years ago. At the time, McDonald was preparing the release of his eighth solo album, “Soul Speak,” and couldn’t commit to the road.

“In the back of my mind, I always wondered if I’d get one more shot to go on tour with the band,” McDonald said. “I still feel like some (of my solo songs) would have been great Doobies tracks. Like ‘Half Truth’ (from 2017’s ‘Wide Open’ album). Leading up to now, when I’d play with the guys, I always felt like the drunk who wandered on stage who had written some songs. But it’s been fun for me to rehearse with the band. I think I even made the mistake thinking that some things would be easier than they turned out to be! But it’s good for us to have a stake in something musically.”

Johnston still appreciates McDonald’s “hilarious” personality and praises him as an “incredible singer and player,” while also acknowledging how McDonald’s tenure in The Doobie Brothers – starting in 1975 with periodic pop-ins through the decades – transformed the band’s sound.

“Michael really came in and took the band in a different direction and it was a very successful direction,” Johnston said. “When you go on tour, you have all of this different material to choose from and can give people all aspects of this band.”

The Doobie Brothers’ extensive hit list will drive the spirit of their live shows, but McDonald is also honing his accordion and mandolin skills to play ‘70s album tracks “Spirit,” “South City Midnight Lady” and “Clear as the Driven Snow.”

“One of the things that has been a hallmark of the Doobies’ career long before I joined them is the diversity of their songbook. They were the most unlikely people coming together to make music and make an interesting fusion of musical styles,” McDonald said. “The most fun thing about our show is a wide variety of songs. And somehow, we’ve always found a way to thread it all together live.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael McDonald joins Doobie Brothers for 50th anniversary tour