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Photo: Doobie Brothers | By Jim Axelrod, CBS Mornings | Considering they’ve been playing the riff for half a century, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, but knocking the rust off never sounded so good, as this band tuning up in a rehearsal hall in Burbank. “A band like ours,” said Patrick Simmons, “is a little different than a lot of bands, I think.”

The Doobie Brothers are more than a “little different,” selling more than 50 million albums over the last 50 years.

Correspondent Jim Axelrod said, “You can count on one hand and maybe have a few fingers left over the number of bands that have had that kind of longevity?”

“Right. I think we all feel pretty lucky,” said John McFee.

While other members have come and gone over the years, Simmons, McFee, Michael McDonald and Tom Johnston – the core four Doobies – are all feeling pretty fortunate to still be playing together, and are not about to let the kind of festering resentments that broke up other bands (and threatened theirs) keep them from celebrating their Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame careers with a 50th anniversary tour.

McFee said, “I think, as dinosaur bands go, we get along better than a lot of ’em, too, you know?”

“Dinosaur bands?” said McDonald.

“Ouch!” laughed Johnston.

“That is a hell of a term you just coined,” Axelrod said.

“We’ll have a fight about that later,” McDonald laughed.

Their story begins in 1970, in San Jose, California, where Johnston and Simmons met playing guitar. Jamming led to booking some gigs, which then meant they needed a name. Simmons recalled, “This guy said, ‘You guys should smoke so much weed, you should call yourselves the Doobie Brothers.’ ‘Yeah, right. That’s gonna fly!'”

Their hard-driving rock appealed to a crowd of bikers and hippies in northern California, as they reeled off a string of hits: “China Grove,” “Black Water,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway.”

Axelrod asked, “So, these years, ’71, ‘2, ‘3, ‘4, ‘5, like, everything’s going great?”

“Yeah, it accelerated each year,” Johnston replied.

It was all anyone who’s ever strapped on a guitar and chased the rock star dream could imagines, which is exactly when the trouble started.

“All the obvious stuff – drugs, booze, women,” Johnston said.

“There really is no way for a bunch of guys in their twenties that are now having out-sized success to handle all of that gracefully, is there?” asked Axelrod.

“That’s true. We didn’t!” Johnston laughed. He was the first casualty, sidelined by a bleeding ulcer as the band was on tour. “I had to leave the band, unfortunately. I mean, I’d had the ulcer since high school.” The rock star lifestyle, he said, “exacerbates the whole problem.”

The Doobies needed to find someone fast. A few of them knew a keyboardist who was playing clubs in and around Los Angeles. McDonald said, “At that point, I was playing the Trojan Room in Glendale, yeah!”
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