Dance the blues away: Doobie Brothers keep the music rolling

At this point in their career, the Doobie Brothers have two interrelated sets of fans– the gracefully aging rockers who remember lazy summer days in the 1970s and '80s frolicking by a river, strumming a guitar, and enjoying life, and Generation Y, who grew up on their father's classic rock tapes and experimenting with their own "funky Dixieland."

Even if they've been relegated to classic status, the 2010 release of their first album in ten years, World Gone Crazy, the Doobies remind us they've never lost touch with their rock roots. According to longtime– though not original– guitarist John McFee, the album was a return to the traditional Doobie songwriting and producing, enabling the band and fans to remember that it's not over until the old black water stops rolling and we stop listening to the music.

The Hook: For the fans who weren't around at the time, can you remind us how the Doobie Brothers came to be?
John McFee: It started out around 1970 or so, with Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston getting the ball rolling. Going into the '70s, a lot of us had been influenced considerably by a group called Moby Grape who came out of the Bay area around the time the Grateful Dead were playing. They took it to their own place– combining blues with country with jazz.

The Hook: How do you keep challenging yourselves to create something new?
JM: We've been through a lot, and we broke up back in late '82, '83, and the real thing that broke the band up was burnout– in the road and in the studio. When we got back together and started doing shows, we decided to play enough to keep our chops up, but not to where we couldn't stand to be on the road. It's always been about the music and not about being rock stars or getting a bunch of adoration. We like to go out and play music– it's pretty simplistic, ultimately.

The Hook: Does it bother you that you're now often labeled "classic rock"?
JM: We feel lucky that people consider us classic rock, that they listened to us once and we're still worth listening to. But we do have a new record out and what we're doing is as solid as the next guy that's out there making noise.

The Hook: The new record, World Gone Crazy, is your first in 10 years. Tell me about its conception.
JM: We hooked up with the band's original and longtime producer, Ted Templeman, who produced most of the music the world knows the Doobie Brothers for. I decided not to contribute songs and instead said, "Why don't we go back to when Pat and Tom wrote the songs?" It's a classic Doobie Brothers album.

The Hook: One of the songs I grew up on was "Listen to the Music," a song that propelled you to mainstream fame in the early '70s– what was the inspiration?
JM: The band had done the first album, which wasn't a hit, and there were no hit singles. They were signed to Warner Brothers and there was a little bit of danger of being dropped. Tommy wrote the song and felt he had something, so he called Ted [Templeman] in the middle of the night, and played it over the phone. When they got into the studio, it was clearly a hit song. It was pretty much a very optimistic sentiment about people simply enjoying life, make love not war– a really well-done version of that kind of hippie concept.

The Hook: The Doobies have been known in the past to alter their image to appeal to certain audiences– leather jackets in the '70s, for example. Are you doing anything to appeal to younger generations now?
JM: I think we kind of always wore skinny jeans to some extent, although we're not quite as skinny as we once were. In our age bracket, we've got to be realistic.

The Doobie Brothers perform at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion on Thursday, April 28. $36-$68, 6pm.