It was shaping up to be a triumphant year for The Doobie Brothers in 2020.
They were gearing up for a 50th anniversary tour with four core members — Tom Johnston, Michael McDonald, John McFee and Patrick Simmons — together for the first time in decades. They had an EP of new material coming out, and a long-awaited induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally happened.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
A year later, The Doobie Brothers are ready to reclaim 2021 and beyond. They’re embarking on an extensive tour that stretches deep into 2022 and includes an Aug. 29 stop at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park. And that EP expanded into the band’s 15th full-length album, “Liberté,” which comes out in October.
With delayed momentum again at the band’s back, Johnston — the band’s longtime singer and guitarist — is anxious to build on it.
Johnston, who wrote and sang classic hits “Listen to the Music,” “China Grove” and “Long Train Runnin’,” is especially anxious to tour with McDonald, who performed “Takin’ it to the Streets” and “What a Fool Believes” for the band in the late 1970s while Johnston pursued a solo career.
It’ll be the first time in 25 years McDonald has toured with The Doobie Brothers.
“It’s been a crazy couple of years,” Johnston said. “You kind of have to roll with the punches because the whole world was kind of off kilter. It’s a year that was just blank for us. Not a lot to show from it.
“Now it’s just like being back at work like nothing ever happened,” he said. “It’s kind of bizarre.”
Johnston said the band has been hard at work in rehearsals, although picking right up hasn’t been difficult for the veterans.
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What has been difficult is developing a setlist while drawing from so much material. Turn on a radio right now and you’ll likely hear a Doobie Brothers song somewhere, and with new songs from “Liberté” added in, Johnston said the concerts will be longer than two hours.
That’s longer than much of the band’s heyday in the 1970s when The Doobie Brothers won four Grammy Awards and sold more than 48 million records. Nonstop touring has kept the band popular through the decades.
“Everyone has a different take on why it’s special to them,” Johnston said. “I’ve had multiples of people come up to me and tell me certain songs have helped them through anything from getting through high school, to being in Vietnam, to getting married or having a kid. It just hits people on different levels, and we’ve been very fortunate to have that happen to us.”
A career peak for the band came in January of last year when Rock and Roll Hall of Fame organizers announced The Doobie Brothers were being inducted as part of a 2020 class that included Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G. and T. Rex.
Diehard fans believe The Doobie Brothers should have been inducted decades ago when they became eligible, but Johnston is simply grateful for the honor.
“We would talk about it once in a while but it wasn’t something way up there as a pressing topic because we were always busy,” he said. “We made it and I’m just happy about that. It’s awesome. You’re in there with people you idolized growing up.”
With 50 concerts scheduled between August and next June, The Doobie Brothers are ready to celebrate with fans.
“Being on the stage is what it’s all about,” Johnston said. “You love getting people up on their feet and responding.”