Yes, there really has been a couple different versions of the Doobie Brothers, musically, and personnel-wise. And as far as I’m concerned, both were great bands, working in slightly different veins. All of them and more represented here on this nice four-CD set.
The first disc and a half show off the band under the helm of Tommy Johnston and Patrick Simmons. It’s blues-based rock, dipped with soul, with folk thrown in on the side. You’ll recognize the hits (an amazing number). The band’s first four albums are also represented by cool cuts you may not be familiar with.
By the middle of the second CD, Johnston has left and former Steely Dan keyboardist and backup singer Michael McDonald has joined ex-Dan member Jeff Baxter in the Doobies. The sound changes to a soul/jazz mix that highlights McDonald’s soulful vocals. More hits follow. And you know what? I really can’t stand “the old band was a lot better” argument. Both had lots to offer if you were willing to listen. Each version had some nice guitar work. Johnston was, and still is (as witnessed by new cuts by the re-formed Doobies), a formidable rock player. Simmons is an awesome fingerstylist. And Baxter’s work speaks for itself.
There’s also a disc of demos and rough takes that have never been released. It’s interesting, but there’s nothing spectacular here. The booklet, as always from Rhino, is done quite well, with several essays and great photos. A nice set. Recommended for anyone who considers themselves a rock historian or a Doobies fan.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Jan ’00 issue.