By the mid-1970s, California soft-rockers The Doobie Brothers were arguably one of the biggest bands in the world. The guitar-driven group, led by singer/songwriter Tom Johnston, produced hit after hit and packed arenas around the globe. Then the unthinkable happened: Johnston got ill and took a leave from the band, which brought in singer Michael McDonald, who totally changed the band’s style. Result: The group got bigger than before—and then promptly broke up.
The band’s crazy roller-coaster ride is the focus of a fascinating new documentary, Let The Music Play, now out on Blu-ray.
The doc does a very good job of telling the story of the band’s ups and downs. The transition from the chugga-chugga guitars of Johnston’s “China Grove” to the blue-eyed soul of McDonald’s “What a Fool Believes” was quite a leap, and it’s a testament to the strength of the band’s brand—and its high level of musicianship—that it not only survived but thrived. By 1982, guitarist Pat Simmons was the only original member left, and the band decided to pull the plug with a farewell tour.
Of course, you can’t keep a good band down, and sporadic charity shows led to a full-scale reunion that found the band once again fronted by Johnston, with McDonald having moved on to a successful solo career. The Doobie Brothers, fronted by Johnston and Simmons (the only member to be in every version of the band) continue to tour and record to this day.
The Doobie Brothers were a relatively faceless band—the group’s sound and catchy songs were more significant to its fans than the individual personalities, and that may be a significant reason it’s weathered numerous personnel changes. So it’s cool to see and hear Doobies past and present—including Johnston, Simmons, McDonald, longtime bassist Tiran Porter and many more—interviewed, and get a better understanding of the personalities within the band.
This documentary is very well done, presenting a comprehensive overview of the band’s history and touching upon the main points of the band’s story (formation/success/changes/breakup/reformation). For a band that hasn’t had much in the way of this kind of documentation, it’s good to hear that story in full at last.
As a Blu-ray, it’s expectedly not a consistently high-fidelity experience. The doc includes lots of old footage—much of it, I suspect, previously unreleased—and some pieces are grainy and washed out. Likewise, the audio is a mixed bag; there’s some cool old concert stuff but it’s only as good as the quality of the original recording, which varies from era to era. But Doobies fans, I suspect, won’t seek out this Blu-ray for a mind-blowing audio/visual experience. Rather, they’ll be looking for a solid telling of the Doobies’ story, and in that sense, Let the Music Play is as good as it gets.Buy Doobie Brothers Let the Music Play Blu-ray on Amazon