Songs of 74: Black Water / The Doobie Brothers

This year Radioinfo will take you back 50 years to the songs that were released in 1974. It was a mighty fine year for music.

The Doobie Brothers formed in 1970 and are still touring and playing today. None are or ever were siblings with the band’s name a joke suggestion from a buddy who lived nearby and something they always intended to replace, but never got around to.

February 1974 saw the release of the Doobie’s fourth studio album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits after 72 and 73 had produced albums with hits including Listen to the Music, Long Train Runnin and China Grove. All three above were written and sung by their frontman Tom Johnston.

The lead single from that album was another Tom Johnston sung composition Another Park, Another Sunday. A melancholier number than their previous southern rockers, it moseyed into the US charts but didn’t crack the top 20. Johnston blamed the lack of success on a line in the song,

“and the radio seems to bring me down.”

Which he thought had upset FM stations and made them decide not to play the song!

The B side of that lead single was Black Water.

There’s a parallel here with Patrick Simmons, the only continuous member of the Doobies across their 50 plus year career, and The BeatlesGeorge Harrison.

Black Water begins with the coolest guitar lick which Simmons came up with in 73 and was encouraged to write a song around. With a person love of Delta blues, New Orleans and that southern sound, the song had come together in bits and pieces across the next year. Simmons was allowed to sing lead, and despite the care that was put into its construction, no one considered it a hit single as it deviated somewhat from the band’s then signature sound, hence the use as a B side.

Late in 74 a radio station called WROV-AM in Virginia flipped Another Park, Another Sunday over as the area featured a Blackwater River tributary. Every time the station played Black Water, people wanted to hear it again. By October someone in sales decided to release the song again, this time as an A side. In early 1975 Black Water went to No 1 in the US, the first for the Doobies and one of only a handful of songs to be released twice off the same album in this fashion.

If you’ll recall, this is Part 2 connected to yesterday’s Songs of 74, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number by Steely Dan. Steely Dan’s core duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had decided not to tour for the foreseeable future and their mighty guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter needed a more regular gig. He joined The Doobie Brothers mid 1974 and plays pedal steel guitar on the Black Water re-release. Just as another fun bit of trivia, the song also features wind chimes, admirably played by Arlo Guthrie!

By late 1974 Tom Johnston was very unwell and unable to tour or sing himself. The Doobie Brothers, unlike Steely Dan, really wanted and needed to tour to capitalise on their burgeoning success and were desperately hunting a new lead vocalist. Baxter suggested a great guy who he’d been working with as part of the session group associated with Steely Dan. That fellow’s name was Michael McDonald.

McDonald brought a soul flavour to the Doobie Brothers and sang lead on their only other US No 1, What a Fool Believes. I think part of the beauty of the Doobie Brothers is that their three biggest hits – What a Fool Believes, Black Water and Listen to the Music – almost sound like three totally different acts but are representative of the band’s evolution over time.

I’ll wrap up with one more bit of trivia about Baxter who to this day has never divulged where the nickname ‘Skunk’ came from. Baxter played with Jimi Hendrix before Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. In the 80s a fascination with music recording technology led him to explore what else the hard and software was good for.

He’s now a Consultant to US Congress on Missile Defense.

By Jen Seyderhelm – Radioinfo Writer, Editor and Music Trivia Buff.



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