It’s a common dilemma for veteran music acts: how to satisfy longtime fans’ desire to hear the hits — and often only the hits — without getting into a creative rut.
The Doobie Brothers, whose smooth harmonies epitomized the southern California rock sound of the ’70s and early ’80s, certainly play the “chestnuts,” but also try to mix in reworked versions of familiar tunes and newer songs, according to co-founder Tom Johnston.
“We get together once every couple of years to change the set up because we do have a heck of a lot of songs to choose from,” says Johnston, who performs with the group 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City.
“We go into deep cuts in albums, and dust them off and sometimes rearrange them a little bit and throw them in the set, so it’s a change for the audience, but for us as well.”
From the group’s current set, expect hits such as “Listen to the Music,” “Long Train Runnin’” and “Black Water,” along with a reimagined version of “Eyes of Silver,” “Road Angel” and “Depending on You,” as well as the title track from the band’s 2010 album “World Gone Crazy” (DooBro Entertainment/HOR).
Ahead of the two-time Grammy winners’ latest visit to A.C., Johnston talks about the group’s upcoming collaboration with Nashville stars and whether the definitive Doobies’ documentary will ever get made.
Q: With so many lineup changes over the years, how do you keep the essential Doobie Brothers sound?
A: It’s pretty simple to recreate the original sound — we have some great side guys who have been with us for a long time, most of them, for at least 20 years.
As long as you have the harmonies and playing abilities — everybody in the band plays really well. (Guitarist) John (McFee) has an incredible singing voice that’s great for harmonies –– he takes the lead on “Takin’ It to the Streets.”
We got the harmonies all covered, and the guys who sang the original songs are all there. The only song that wasn’t sung by one of us is “Takin’ It to the Streets.”
Q: For your next album, you’re delving into your catalog to re-record some of your best-known songs with Nashville stars such as Kid Rock, Blake Shelton and Toby Keith. How was it to revisit this material?
A: It’s really sounding good. The tracks are amazing. You’re working with these studio guys in Nashville — they’re phenomenal. You go in there — bing, bang, boom, they knock it out, it sounds great.
It’s a different way to cut because you’re cutting with three guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, all at once. Essentially, the track is for all intents and purposes all done.
Q: Do you anticipate making an album of original songs to follow up your 2010 set?
A: We were all very excited about that album. Unfortunately, it didn’t do as well as we would have liked. I don’t think it got the exposure it deserved. It’s tough — times have changed for getting new music out and getting exposure.
It got rave reviews from the critics — they really enjoyed it. We were very proud of that album. We did it at our own pace. It took a year and a half, almost two years to do it.
We would like to do it again — it’s a matter of taking time off to write that many songs again.
Q: The group has been the subject of several documentaries, including the 2012 film “Let the Music Play: The Story of The Doobie Brothers.” Did you feel it was important to have your story told?
A: It has a lot of footage from the old days. To me, that’s probably the most interesting part. The history of the band is basically something I lived through.
It’s basically aimed at the hardcore fan base, it’s the people (who want) to have a visual and auditory record of how the band changed, and where it is now. There’s clips from the old days, there’s clips from the Michael McDonald era, and there’s clips from the newer stuff.
Q: Is this the definitive one?
A: That’s probably the best one we’ve done. I think the definitive video has yet to be done, if you want to know the truth. But there has to be a market for it, too. There are so many groups out there, it’s a tough thing to sell to people.
If we were really to go after this, I would go after it with a high-def point of view, and spend a lot more time on it. Whether that happens or not, I couldn’t even say. I’m more interested in the music right now.