The Doobie Brothers have been entertaining audiences across the world for more than 40 years. In 2010 the band released World Gone Crazy, their first album in a decade. They continue to be an inspiration with their recordings and their rigorous tour schedule.
CityBeat caught up with guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston by phone this week. Johnston discussed the changes the band has seen through 40 years of Rock n Roll and what guides the creative process of the band. They will be performing at Riverbend at the PNC Pavilion this Sunday alongside Chicago.
CityBeat: You guys have been touring on the road for over 30 years. Do you ever get tired of just being on the road?
Tom Johnston: You get tired of travelling. You don’t ever get tired of playing. The playing part is what makes you come out here in the first place. I think Keith put it the best, Keith Knudsen, “You get paid for all the time it takes to get to the town and then you play for nothing.”
CB: You have seen music change over the years in recordings from albums to 8-Tracks to tapes to CDs to MP3s and iPods. Do you think it sounds better or worse today, the classic analog vs. digital question?
TJ: If you have hearing like mine, it really doesn’t make any difference. There is basically the school of thought that digital recordings aren’t as warm as analog. I can’t really tell you the difference when I am listening to it. Maybe if I did a mix there would maybe be a difference in analog that I could tell the difference. They have really come a long way with digital recording. They have ways of mixing digital recordings now so it sounds more like analog. Some people still buy albums if you can get them. People are still putting albums out. In fact, this last album we put out, World Gone Crazy, there was over 14,000 actual albums put out with the CDs, and by that I mean actual vinyl records for the people that want to hear it in analog.
CB: How many guitars do you have and what is your favorite to play?
TJ: Oh boy. I’ve got a lot of guitars. Basically, everything I use on the road is PRS and that is what I play live. I use two basic guitars live that I trade off and I have a Martin acoustic that I play as well live. It is pretty much all about Paul Reed Smith right now. At home I have a Stratocaster and I have some older guitars I have had for a long time, an old Les Paul, an old 335, a couple Strats and a Telecaster. But live and when I am out on the road, it is strictly Paul Reed Smith.
CB: When you began and wrote the early hits and songs for the band like “Rockin’ Down the Highway”, what were your early inspirations?
TJ: My inspirations at the time of writing a song like that had pretty much been put in place from playing since I was 12 on the guitar and picking up singing when I was 15. Most of my early stuff came from Blues and R&B and Rock & Roll by the guy I consider the King of Rock & Roll, that was Little Richard and people like Jerry Lee Lewis. Later on, that changed, I got into Hendrix and Cream and quite a few other people I am not going to be able to think of right now. David Mason albums, old Fleetwood Mac albums, you know from the ’70s, just a lot of stuff going on then. As far as players, Albert, Freddie and B.B. King were huge in my guitar playing. I call them the Three Kings, that’s basically how a lot of people refer to them. There are a lot of singers that influenced me. James Brown was definitely one of them.
CB: Have you had a single issue or incident that has ever changed the way you approach music?
TJ: If I ever did, I am not really sure when it was. I know the first time I ever watched, one of the few times I actually got to watch, James Brown live was 1962 in Fresno and that was pretty much a life altering event, musically. I had never seen anything like that. It just blew me out of the water. I couldn’t believe someone could work that hard that consistently and put on just an incredible show. That was a big event in my life.
CB: Over the years, you have had some health ailments with your voice and other things. How do you stay healthy on the road now?
TJ: I take care of myself. Back in the old days it was the Rock & Roll lifestyle, that wasn’t really healthy. But the biggest sideline I ever had was stomach ulcers which I developed in high school but it fully bloomed when I was out on the road in 1975 when I actually had to leave the tour. That is really the only health issue I ever had, but it was a bad one.
CB: Do you consider yourself or does the band consider themselves spiritual in any way and did it ever play a factor in your music or writing?
TJ: To be honest with you, no — at least not in the secular way of any specific religion. It’s not that we are not a religious band, it is just everybody has their beliefs about the world and mankind and how we got here I suppose but it is certainly nothing we would talk about.
CB: After all these years, I assumed you guys would talk about everything.
TJ: We talk about a lot of stuff but that isn’t one that pops up. Actually it popped up this morning. I was just giving my views on Buddhism and thinking it was a little more realistic since it is based on mankind’s shallow man as opposed to strictly about a specific deity and things having to be done a certain way. But those are just opinions and I don’t really follow it that closely; I don’t think anybody in the band does, to be honest with you.
CB: Do you guys take on different leadership roles within the band?
TJ: Yeah, to a point. It is basically when we are recording. When we are playing, it kind of happens naturally. Recording it is pretty much whoever writes the tune will be leading if you will, but other people come up with ideas for the tune so it is pretty much always a group effort.
CB: Are there any current Rock bands or new Rock bands on the scene right now you would like to collaborate with or work with?
TJ: I think John Mayer is an incredible guitar player. I really enjoy his work. Another one is Bruno Mars — I think he is extremely prolific as a song writer and pretty amazing. There is a band called Mannish Boy, which is a Blues group. I really like those guys. They are new. Most people aren’t going to know them. They aren’t Pop or anything like that. They are simply a Blues band but they are really, really good. There are more, I just can’t think of them right now. There are more people I think are really good out there that would be fun to get in the studio with. It would be fun to work with Christina Aguilera or Cee Lo Green. It would be fun to work with anyone from Maroon 5. We recently worked with Luke Bryan for that TV show on CMT called Crossroads and we had a ball doing that.
CB: I love Luke Bryan and his music. He has kind of blown up recently.
TJ: He is a good guy. He is a really good guy. We had a lot of fun doing that show. Everybody was just having a lot of fun.
CB: Do you have any creative outlets or hobbies outside of playing music?
TJ: It’s outside of the band in a sense but I write music for a hobby. I love writing. I do it all the time. I have a little studio at home. A lot of the stuff I write would never be used by this band. I am starting to branch out and write with other people now too, which is something I haven’t done as much. I have always kind of just written my own songs. I have started taking the steps to go out and write with some other writers who are very prolific and very much involved with the Pop scene or the Country scene or whatever else. I just really started doing that before we came out on this tour. When we finish this tour this year, I will go back to doing that some more. It was fun. It was a new place to go. It is exciting to get in and work with someone else because they help you find a lot of stuff you don’t know you have and I think you do the same for that person. You come up with songs that you would never come up with if you were just sitting there by yourself.
CB: Do you use social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to stay connected to your fans?
TJ: There is Facebook and Twitter and all that stuff on our website. I don’t do any of that stuff. For whatever reason it hasn’t called me. I don’t have any need to be in touch with people or stay in the limelight or find out what is going on. I am kind of a private guy and I would like to keep it that way rather than blast it all over the universe. I don’t belong to Facebook. I know tons of people who do it and that’s great. From a business point of view, it is a really smart way to go. From a website point of view, it is a really good tool for getting your music out there, events out there, where you are going to be, maybe even staying in touch with other musicians, things like that but mostly I do that on the phone. Twitter, I have never even used Twitter. I know people do it all the time but I have never gotten involved with it.
CB: I still use a telephone because I prefer to talk to people.
TJ: It is alive and well in the younger generation. That’s how they communicate.
CB: My last question is do you have any fond Cincinnati memories over the years?
TJ: Yeah, playing at Riverfront Stadium, playing at where we are going to be playing this Sunday which is right on the river, Riverbend. We have played there lots of times. I was just talking to a gentleman a little bit ago about playing in Blue Ash the last time and a tornado came through and shut the show down and we never got a chance to go out and finish it. We have been playing Cincinnati since we started so we are talking 40 years of playing Cincinnati.
CB: We look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
TJ: Thank you very much. We are looking forward to being there and it will be a gas as always. This show with Chicago has pretty much been sold out everywhere we have gone. The crowds have been great and it is a good combination. The two bands, we get together at the end and do an encore of everybody in both bands playing at the same time and it is pretty powerful.
After Lollapalooza created the "package tour" craze in the ’90s, most of the tours collapsed, faded away or adjusted, including Lolla itself. But the folks behind The Warped Tour figured out how to make it work (mostly by not overpaying bands or treating anyone like prima donnas) and Warped is by far the most consistent and longest running big package tour around. It returns to Riverbend this summer.
The fest brings its usual eclectic lineup of Punk, Metal, Hip Hop and Indie acts back to Cincinnati on July 31. Tickets go on sale April 6 at 10 a.m. (a week from today) and are just $35 (plus ticketing fees). Click here for more on tickets.
The lineups change throughout the Warped jaunt as acts come on and off the tour. Here's who's on board for the Riverbend stop. (Lineup is subject to change.):
Main Stage: Taking Back Sunday, All Time Low, New Found Glory, Streetlight Manifesto, Yellowcard, Piece The Veil, Four Year Strong, Of Mice and Men, We The Kings, Breathe Carolina, Miss May I, Falling In Reverse, Blood On The Dance
TBD Stage: Every Time I Die, Mayday Parade, blessthefall, Chelsea Grin, For Today, Memphis May Fire, Motionless In White, Rise To Remain, Sleeping With Sirens, The Ghost Inside, Vampires Everywhere!, Title Fight
Tilly's Stage: Senses Fail, Vanna, Polar Bear Club, We Are The Crowd, Man Overboard, A Loss For Words, Funeral Party, I Fight Dragons, Machine Gun Kelly, Oh No Fiasco
TBD Stage: Echo Movement, G-Eazy, Stepdad, The Constellations, Ballyhoo!, Champagne, T. Mills, Tomorrows Bad Seeds, Mod Sun, The Green, Amyst
Ernie Ball Stage: iwrestledabearonce, Born Of Osiris, Chunk! No Captain, Fireworks, Transit, Cold Forty Three, The Scissors
Kevin Says Stage: Make Do And Mend, Matt Toka, Tonight Alive, Skip The Foreplay, Sick of Sarah, Mighty Mongo, Captain Capa, I Call Fives, Hostage Calm, The Silver Comet, Twin Atlantic, The Darlings, Dead Sara
Acoustic Basement: A Loss For Words, Koji, Brian Marquis, Rocky Votolato, Transit, Owen Plant, Anthony Raneri
Ourstage.com is also sponsoring a stage this year and local bands are encouraged to sign up for a chance to play their hometown Warped (and possibly even join Ourstage.com's stage for 22 dates). Click here for details.
Five Finger Death Punch has one of the biggest and most exciting shows you'll find in Metal music right now. The band just released its third studio album, American Capitalist, which features the popular single “Under and Over It” and the song “Back For More,” featured in the latest game in the Madden franchise. FFDP are about to go out on its headlining “Share the Welt” tour with All That Remains, Hatebreed and Rev Theory (the tour comes to Indianapolis' Murat Egyptian Room on Nov. 6). CityBeat recently spoke with lead guitarist Zoltan Bathory and band newcomer and bassist Chris Kael at X-Fest in Dayton, Ohio, about the new album and why the band’s music moves a more aggressive crowd.
Those not in the know often knock Cincinnati for a dilapidated arts scene, as if a conservative political climate results in a conservative cultural one. Those who have read CityBeat over the years hopefully know that this is a myth. Cincinnati's arts and music scene is often right on time, if not a few steps ahead. Tonight's tribute to the Ludlow Garage (and Rick Bird's feature this week on the late ’60s/early ’70s venue) is just one example that bucks any misconception that Cincinnati is, always was and will always be a backwards, messed-up city with, say it with me now, "nothing to do."
Are you watching the Grammys alone tonight? Wishing you had someone there with you to enjoy the performances and award presentations help make fun of any and everything that deserves to be? Whether you're solo snarking, hanging out with a few pals, throwing your own Grammy mega-party or at the ceremony in person (we hear Taylor Swift is a big citybeat.com fan), join me tonight at this very cyber spot for some hot live blogging action. And when those witty comments pop into your head (or you become outraged with something I've written), feel free to post some comments of your own. The show airs live on CBS at 8 p.m.; pre-show red carpet festivities are probably going on now on E! And you can watch the program (and pre-show activities) through the Grammys site or through the Grammys YouTube channel.
Below is a little "pre-game show," addressing some of the more interesting story-lines this year, the saddest of which began just last evening when superstar Whitney Houston was found dead in her Beverly Hills hotel room. Even though her tragic death occurred just over 24 hours before the Grammys were set to begin, Houston's shadow will loom large over the ceremony, if not overshadow it completely.
On this date in 1993, Elvis Presley died. For real this time. This according to the tabloid Weekly World News, which has given the world such groundbreaking stories as the trials and tribulations of Bat Boy (half-boy, half-bat, of course), the capture of various mer-people (mermen and mermaids) and the secret romantic relationship between Saddam Hussein (former gay porn star … ALLEGEDLY) and Osama bin Laden.
Presley died from diabetes, according to WWN's exclusive report.
Alas, the King didn't stay dead long in the pages of the tabloid. In 2005, everything in the universe was back in its right place as the Weekly World News published the cover feature "Elvis IS Alive." Not only was he still alive, but he was going to run for President. I don't recall that actually happening, but they wouldn't print it if it wasn't true, right? Either the lame-stream media just ignored Elvis' campaign or the King was just gearing up for a 2012 run. I hear the Republicans need a viable candidate.
What's Elvis been up to lately? Last summer, WWN reported he was hanging out on Barack Obama's tour bus. As for Obama, the President's foes are apparently way off base with the whole "secret Muslim" thing. Among other things, WWN has reported that Obama is a — duh! — alien from outer space. Oh, and he won the "Who is a bigger enemy of dogs?" war handily by kidnapping "Republican campaign dog, Huckabee." Holding him hostage? Nope. According to WWN, the President "had a Huckabee burger.” (Actually, WWN seems almost reasonable compared to the "birther" movement. Now THAT'S scary.)
Until the next time Elvis dies, just remember the words of Mojo Nixon, poet and prophet:
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 14 birthday include ’50s/’60s Pop star ("Mack the Knife," "Beyond the Sea") Bobby Darin (1936); one of Rock's greatest bassists, Cream's Jack Bruce (1943); original drummer for legendary Canadian Rock trio Rush, John Rutsey (1952); frontman for British rockers The Cult, Ian Astbury (1962); guitarist for glammy Hair Metal heroes Poison, CC DeVille (1962); bassist for Alice in Chains, Mike Inez (1966); the still-alive half of Milli Vanilli, Fabrice Morvan (1966); one of the less-celebrated New Kids on the Block members, Danny Wood (1969); bassist for Modern Rock band AFI, Hunter Burgan (1976); half of the killer Hip Hop duo Clipse, Terrence Thornton, known professionally as Pusha T (1977); Disney actress/Pop princess Miranda Cosgrove (1993); and Soul/R&B singer/songwriter/musician/producer Raphael Saadiq (1966).
Saadiq's career began in the early ’80s when he got a job as bassist for Sheila E and toured the world with Prince. He returned to his native Oakland after the tour and formed the R&B/Pop trio Tony! Toni! Tone! with his brother and cousin. The band scored several hits, notably the upbeat "Feels Good," their only Top 10 hit on the Billboard singles charts. In 1997, Saadiq formed Lucy Pearl, a supergroup of sorts, featuring members of A Tribe Called Quest and En Vogue.
Saadiq has worked behind the scenes with several popular artists. He collaborated with D'Angelo for "Untitled (How Does It Feel," which won D'Angelo a Grammy, and also worked with Whitney Houston, Macy Gray, Jill Scott, John Legend, Joss Stone and many other star performers. In 2002, he put out his first solo effort, Instant Vintage, a brilliant throwback/old-school R&B album that scored Saadiq five Grammy nominations. He has since released a string of strong solo works, including 2011's great Stone Rollin' and 2008's even better The Way I See It.
Recently, Saadiq was one of a small handful of musicians named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People In the World," joining Rihanna, Adele and others. Elton John wrote the blurb about Saadiq for Time, writing "Immaculately dressed (a Saadiq trademark) and moving like the soul stars of old, (Saadiq) confirmed that great black music is alive and well and not just a string of hip-hop monotony."
Happy 46th birthday to Mr. Saadiq. Here's a clip for the title track from his most recent solo album.
Last week, Cincinnati's stars-in-the-making Walk the Moon issued the first release under its deal with RCA Records. Though only three songs, the effort is illuminating and a hint of what's to come on the band's forthcoming, so-far-untitled RCA full-length debut (due to be released this May). The Indie Dance Pop foursome has seemingly been touring and doing business related tasks non-stop for at least the last year. Now that it has a release on RCA, that will only increase. The recording is called Anna Sun EP, named for the band's irresistible tune that (along with a stellar music video) helped initially generate much of the buzz they've received fairly consistently over the past year or so.The song "Anna Sun" is on the EP, but those who have i want! i want! (the group's stellar self-released LP containing the original track) might still want to listen. It's a new version of the catchy song, slicked up a bit for radio and seemingly (inexplicably) sped up.
Peter Frampton was a leader of English Rock & Roll movement in the 1970s, sparked by the massive popularity of his epic 1976 live album, Frampton Comes Alive. Frampton is celebrating the 35-year anniversary of the album on the road with his "Comes Alive 35 Tour," which comes alive at Riverbend's PNC Pavilion this Sunday and features a performance of the entire milestone album in the first set. Frampton continues to evolve as an artist, as evidenced on his Grammy-winning 2006 album Fingerprints and his newest record, Thank You Mr. Churchill, released last year. CityBeat spoke with Frampton recently about the album's impact and how special music still is to the legend.
The accelerated speed of tech developments over the past decade has changed the world in innumerable ways. The impact it has had on music is glaring, completely readjusting how the worldwide music industry operates and affecting everything from the way the sounds are created, recorded and distributed to the way they are experienced by listeners. Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon is currently in the midst of a quick rise in the music world that is a perfect example of how the career plans of aspiring young artists can today play out over an amazingly short period of time. It’s why you might want to catch Walk the Moon’s concert tonight at Oakley’s 20th Century Theater.
There are concerts that are fun and there are concerts that kick your ass. If you were at the sold-out U.S. Bank Arena Friday night for the opening date of The Black Keys first headlining arena tour, you probably got your ass kicked.
First up, Arctic Monkeys caused a ruckus on the floor. Most (but not all) of the folks in the seats wandered around aimlessly or sat there, watching listlessly. There was certainly uproar in front of the stage, though. But as the English boys played, sang and sassed, the crowd in the arena filled in and loosened up. It helped that their lighting guys strobed the shit out of them, too. The seizure-inducing lights may have been Morse code for “Love Arctic Monkeys. Swoon over our accents.” If so, it worked. By the time Arctic Monkeys closed with “When the Sun Goes Down,” the crowd on the floor had nearly doubled and, at the very least, those in their seats were nodding their heads and smiling. Those boys put on a fun show.
After spending the entire intermission only getting halfway through the beer line, nearly everyone gave up and fled to their seats when The Black Keys began. Not that anyone sat, though — they were all too busy dancing and freaking out. Strictly speaking, The Black Keys may not be from Cincinnati but it’s safe to say we treat them like hometown boys, anyway. Dan Auerbach (singing/guitar) even recalled playing Southgate House a few years ago. Upstairs. In the small room.
From a titanic disco ball that lowered from the rafters (for only one song) to the graphics on the screens behind them, the show was far different from their days playing tiny rooms. With each beginning there was an outburst of recognition. The middles of songs gave way to dancing, flailing and air guitar (or drums) and each ending note was drowned out by thousands of shrieks, whistles and catcalls.
Two things were learned last night. First, if you have any doubt about the amount of noise that one guitar and a set of drums can make, go see The Black Keys. Their albums don’t do justice to the sheer volume Auerbach and Partrick Carney (drums) are capable of producing. Second, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard an entire arena try to whistle.
If you weren’t there, you missed the best kind of Friday night possible. If you were, you’re probably already making plans for the next time The Black Keys come to town.