It shouldn’t be surprising that the Doobie Brothers like to keep things in the family.
As their familial-sounding name suggests, the group has formed a strong brotherhood over its more than 40 years playing together. And now, the second generation has begun to emerge, with children of founding members Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons serving as opening acts on part of the band’s summer tour.
For so-called “new guy” John McFee, who has been with the band for more than 36 years, having the next generation out on the road only makes their experience better.
“Well, it’s pretty cool. It’s interesting, you know. We love those kids,” McFee said in a phone interview from his Santa Barbara home. “It’s hard to be objective in some ways. It’s nice to see them getting in front of an audience and making music, carrying the torch. We’re very fortunate to be able to have that kind of relationship – musical and familial. It’s a nice thing from our standpoint.”
Besides the younger Doobies – Lara Johnston and Pat Simmons Jr. – the band will have plenty of company on its summer tour with a slew of other guest artists appearing at shows. The group stops at the Ironstone Amphitheatre in Murphys on June 13, with the Robert Cray Band, Los Lobos and the younger Simmons with them on the bill.
The venue also will debut its new stage and stage roof at the concert, its season-opening show.
“We’re really lucky with all these artists we’re taking about. Los Lobos and Robert Cray and the others, they’re artists we like and respect and love to hear,” McFee said. “Selfishly speaking, it’s nice when they’re there because we don’t have to drive to see their concerts. We’re already there. We get to hear these great acts and be around them.”
The group continues its chummy attitude on its latest record, “Southbound,” released last November. The album features a collection of the band’s greatest hits rearranged and performed with some of the biggest country acts around. Their collaborators include Blake Shelton, Sara Evans, Brad Paisley, Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith and more.
McPhee said it was great working with the country music superstars on favorites like “China Grove,” “Listen to the Music,” “Black Water” and “Jesus is Just Alright” and “What a Fool Believes.”
“(When our producers) told us the idea we liked it, but our first reaction was: Is anyone going to be interested? And they said, ‘Oh, yeah!’” McPhee said. “It turns out a lot of those country artists were big fans and even said they were influenced by our music.”
The Doobie Brothers have sold 48 million albums, won four Grammy Awards and charted 16 Top 40 Billboard hits.
The project also reunites the group with former member Michael McDonald. The singer-songwriter shared lead vocals along with Johnston and Simmons on some of the band’s biggest singles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since leaving more than 30 years ago to pursue a solo career, McDonald has returned occasionally to join the Doobies on various projects. But McPhee said the new record is the first time since 1976’s “Takin’ It to the Streets” that they’ve all worked on a record in its entirety together.
“We love Michael. Everyone knows what a great musical talent he is, but he is also a great person and a great guy. It’s a real great relationship,” McPhee said.
Despite having sold over 48 million albums, won four Grammy Awards and charted 16 Top 40 Billboard hits, the group continues to push itself with new projects, as evidenced by “Southbound.” That includes trying out some never-performed-live acoustic numbers.
Members recently played an acoustic show with acclaimed banjo player Béla Fleck in Nashville. The session was recorded and will be aired on PBS in the new season of the series “Music City Roots.” The band is also working on a new album of original material for next year.
For its summer tour, core members co-vocalists and guitarists Johnston and Simmons and guitarist and strings player McPhee will be joined on the road by a five-man band. McPhee said the group strives to give 100 percent at each show and give the fans what they want.
“People work hard for their money and go to a lot of trouble for those shows,” he said. “So some hits we always have to play. The other songs we try to mix up to keep it interesting or maybe rearrange things. We always try to keep it interesting for the fans who come year after year.”