The Doobie Brothers at 50: Still takin’ it to the streets

The celebratory road show kicked off in August 2021, five decades after the release of the eponymous 1971 debut of the San Jose blue-eyed soul band.

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The Doobie Brothers (from left): Pat Simmons, Tom Johnston, Michael McDonald and John McFee.

The Doobie Brothers (from left): Pat Simmons, Tom Johnston, Michael McDonald and John McFee.

Clay Patrick McBride

There is usually a gold standard for any 50th anniversary, though in the case of classic rock act The Doobie Brothers, they’ve already been gifted that milestone several times over.

Not only do the “Listen To the Music” hit-makers have 14 gold albums to their name, they also have 10 platinum or multi-platinum albums. And their “Best Of” collection nabbed a rare RIAA Diamond status.

So, for their big 5-0, the band is content to mark the occasion by doing what they do best — hitting the road.

The Doobie Brothers 50th anniversary tour arrives at the Chicago Theatre on Wednesday, packing in a stacked, two hour-plus set list that will offer a highlight reel of their smooth-talking radio gems like “Takin’ It To The Streets” and “Black Water” that skillfully blend Southern-tinged rock, R&B harmonies, feel-good pop and rootsy folk. It’s a style reflective of the musical melting pot coming out of the Nor Cal rock scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s alongside contemporaries like The Grateful Dead.

Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers 50th anniversary tour

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.

Tickets: $119+

Info: ticketmaster.com

“It really gives fans a great cross-section of everything the band has done, all the way up until last October, when we put out another album,” Tom Johnston, the group’s longtime guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, said of the shows. “They can hear all aspects and all eras of the band. And the crowds have really shown up, not only in numbers but enthusiasm, and that’s been awesome to see.”

The celebratory tour kicked off in August 2021, five decades after the release of the eponymous 1971 debut from the San Jose blue-eyed soul band (that album of course featuring an ode to “Chicago”) and shortly after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in November 2020.

In that span of time, much has happened behind the music, with Johnston and fellow founding member Patrick Simmons reflecting on the stories in their just-released memoir “Long Train Runnin’.”

There was the time Johnston had to depart the band, in 1975, for health concerns, followed by a full breakup in 1982 that lasted five years, and, of course, the rotating cast of characters — most notably the on-again, off-again relationship with keyboardist/vocalist Michael McDonald (also of Steely Dan fame), whose soulful, smooth jazz influence further moved the needle for the genre-bending Doobies.

Though McDonald (who was originally brought on to help relieve Johnston) would go on to a solo career, there were no burned bridges, and he returns to the fold for the 50th anniversary tour for his first Doobie Brothers appearance in 20-plus years. That has been a big draw for many to have the gilded age of the band back together.

“Having Mike is with us — it takes on another special meaning, and It’s great playing with him again,” said Johnston, who said it only “seemed natural” to put together the celebratory affair and have McDonald as part of the ensemble, which also includes Simmons, long-ime band member John McFee, bassist John Cowan, percussionist Marc Quiñones, drummer Ed Toth and saxophonist Marc Russo.

The tour has changed slightly since it kicked off in 2021. Keyboardist Bill Payne left the lineup to head out with his primary act, Little Feat, putting McDonald square in the driver seat. The set list, which Johnston said was a mammoth feat to put together, also needed a tweak.

“Initially, when we were first going out, we got together, and we practiced really hard for at least two weeks,” he said. “We figured out the set list while we were doing so and pared it down to a little over two hours, including adding in six of Mike’s tunes. We have a catalog that’s big enough to facilitate that and a lot more. We could play for like five hours, but I don’t know anyone who wants to do that, and I know the promoters don’t want that.”

There are also a few selections from their latest LP, “Liberté,” released last October (their first original work since 2010’s “World Gone Crazy”), which Johnston said is unlike any other in their catalog.

“We did the whole thing with John Shanks [Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi],” he said. “He co-wrote every song, and every song was basically created and finished in two days. … It was the fastest I’ve ever worked. It was also in a different direction. And, for me, I love that.”

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