By Kurt Wolff
Imagining a Doobie Brothers song like “Black Water” in a country context isn’t too much of a stretch. And now it’s becoming a reality.
A staple of the 1970s and ’80s soft-rock era, the Doobie Brothers are now temporarily shifting gears — and formats — to record a country album in Nashville. In addition, the upcoming recording project will also be chock full of A-list country stars as guests. Names revealed so far include Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith, Love and Theft, Sara Evans and Jerrod Niemann.
The Doobie Brothers lineup will include bandmembers Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons and John McFee as well as Michael McDonald. The group’s former lead singer, McDonald left the band in 1982 but will rejoin the group for this project.
Much like Tuskegee, the best-selling, guest-star-packed 2012 Lionel Richie album that featured countrified versions of Richie’s biggest hits, the as-yet-untitled Doobie Brothers project will revisit some of the group’s best-known songs from their extensive catalog.
No track listing has yet been divulged, but during the 2014 Country Radio Seminar in Nashville last week, a select group of fans did get a taste of what’s to come. Bandmembers Johnston, Simmons and McFee appeared at a label showcase to perform several Doobie Brothers songs with country stars Paisley, Young and Evans. Songs performed that night included “Long Train Runnin,'” “China Grove,” “Black Water” and “Listen to the Music.”
“That was an interesting night,” Johnston told Billboard. “I met a lot of cool people and really enjoyed myself.”
Johnston went on to describe his experience working in Nashville so far. “Having been in the studio with both the studio guys and some of the artists, it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s been more fun that I ever could have imagined.”
This is not the Doobie Brothers first time flirting with Nashville. They performed a CMT Crossroads in 2011 with Luke Bryan, and even released a single to country radio, “World Gone Crazy,” in 2010.
Niemann agreed, telling Billboard that what he’d “like to accomplish” with this project is to show country fans “just how much influence the Doobies Brothers really have on country music today.”