Q&A with a Doobie Brother

A&E spoke with guitarist Tom Johnston who, 40 years and 30 million albums sold ago, co-founded the Doobie Brothers.

by Spencer Doar

What: The Doobie Brothers

When: 8 p.m., Saturday

Where: Treasure Island Resort and Casino, 5734 Sturgeon Lake Road, Welch, Minn.Cost: $38-48, Sold Out

Ages: 12+


Like a ’70s cop, Tom Johnston and his mustache soldier on. Though instead of laying down the law, the 64-year-old lays down guitar riffs with the same tenacity as when he was a 20-something playing biker bars.

Little did he know that the Doobie Brothers, which he helped found in the early ’70s in northern California, would go on to become rock icons.


I heard that the Doobie Brothers was an impromptu, jury-rigged name that just stuck.

True. We couldn’t come up with one. There was a guy who lived in the house with us who came up with the name. At that point we were still playing locally.

We had a guy in the house who said, “Why don’t you call yourself the Doobie Brothers because you’re always smoking.” Everybody looked at each other and said, “Well that’s really a stupid name.”


Ever thought of what it could have been?

Truthfully, I’ve never thought about it.


You have your hits — is there anything you get sick of playing?

No, I don’t, and I’ll tell you why. Every night you play a song that people react to. We change up the sets on a nightly basis, and some of the tunes are only a few years old because we had a new album out in 2010.

But a good amount of songs, four or five songs, you have to play every night because if you don’t, the crowd will be disappointed, number one. Number two, they always get a really good reaction from the crowd. When we play them and the crowd gets really into it — that’s what the whole thing is about. If the crowd’s really rockin’, then you’re really rockin’. That’s what keeps it fresh, that’s what keeps it fun to do.


What was it like being back in the studio for 2010’s “World Gone Crazy”?

Recording is recording. Mostly what’s changed is everything’s gone digital, so therefore everything’s on computers and software as opposed to doing it on tape. But other than that, the process is the process.


What were you like growing up?

I started playing guitar at 12, played in bands all through high school. As far as what I was like, I wasn’t some outstanding scholar — I was definitely not an outstanding scholar. I wasn’t an athlete. I was pretty much a music guy; it’s been a lifelong thing with me.


You had to leave the band for a period due to health problems. Your thoughts on touring?

Touring, its brutal — the travel part, it’s not the playing. But as far as national traveling, it’s grueling.

When I did have a problem, which was 30 years ago, everybody was not treating themselves as well as they should, shall we say.

It was also a much heavier schedule. We played 200-plus shows a year, and when we weren’t on the road, we were in the studio. It would wear everybody down. I had an ulcer and almost died. Everybody had something going on at one point or another.


What can fans expect from the set?

You’ll hear some stuff from the new album, some stuff we worked up — we’ve got a huge catalogue to choose from. We give them a little bit of everything from most eras of the band.