Doobie Brothers to pass through CT as 50th anniversary sparks new tour

Founding member Tom Johnston talks set lists, reunions and how the band's name is now a misnomer ahead of concert at the Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater in Bridgeport.

Photo of Daniel Figueroa IV
The Doobie Brothers.

The Doobie Brothers.

James Bozzi/Live Nation

More than 50 years, ago a group of northern California friends needed to name their band before a gig. Another friend suggested they name themselves for the funny flower they were all so fond of.

That place holder name — The Doobie Brothers — is now etched into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and rides the ether on the signal of classic rock stations nationwide. Even if the unrelated “Brothers” no longer partake.

“Nobody in the band came up with that name. A guy living in the house on 285 S 12th Street thought it would be a good moniker for us because it kind of indicated what we were doing at the time,” founding member and singer/guitarist Tom Johnston said. “Nobody’s doing that anymore and they haven’t been for years, but at the time we said, ‘fine. Yeah.’ We all figured it’s not going to last, we’re going to have to dump this and get a new name. But we never got around to doing it so it’s still there and we don’t ever think about it. It’s just there.”

The Doobie Brothers will bring its brand of genre-defying rock to the Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater in Bridgeport on Sept. 11 as part of the band’s 50th Anniversary tour. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the tour a few years. But the Doobie Brothers launched the belated anniversary tour in 2021, with a break for a quick Vegas residency between legs.

The tour features original singer Johnston, as well as Michael McDonald, who took over singing and primary songwriting duties when Johnston left in 1977.

McDonald joined the band at the suggestion of Jeff Baxter. Baxter, a graduate of Watertown’s Taft School, played with McDonald in Steely Dan before joining becoming a Doobie. When a persistent ulcer Johnston had since high school sidelined him on a tour for the album “Stampede,” McDonald was brought in. But Johnston’s health issues reduced his role on the follow up “Taking it to the Streets.” That album featured more McDonald-influenced material and softened the fuzzy rock tones that had made the Doobies popular among motorcycle groups like the Hell’s Angels.

“We kept going. But by then I decided by ’77 that I would take some time off and get really healthy. The band kept going and had a lot of success. Michael come in and he became the focal point and had some really great songs and some very successful stuff.”

The Doobie Brothers formed in California in 1970 and quickly launched into a seemingly endless cycle of touring and recording that brought them right up to 80s. The Johnston years produced hits like “China Grove,” “Black Water” and “Listen to the Music,” While the McDonald era was marked by songs like “Takin’ it to the Streets” and “What a Fool Believes.”

The group disbanded in 1982, but a one-off reunion in 1987 to support Vietnam Veterans brought a Johnston-fronted Doobie Brothers back to full-time status. And while McDonald has joined the band for a few corporate events and special occasions, he’s joined the anniversary tour full time. That means it’s the first time fans will be able to hear songs spanning the Doobie Brothers’ career sung by the same voices that made them famous.

Johnston’s solo career included a few albums and a song on the hit “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. McDonald scored hits like the Grammy-winning “Yah Mo B There” and “I Keep Forgettin’” which was heavily sampled by hip hop artists Nate Dogg and Warren G on the song “Regulate.”

“When we got together to do this tour, we spent two weeks making sure we know the songs, then we put the setlist together” Johnston said. “It’s just interspersing songs of Michael’s in with what we already have. It worked out great. The crowds love it. Whatever we did we did it right.”

Tickets to the Doobie Brothers 50th Anniversary tour are available at Tickets range from $59-$420.