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Technology helps Doobies get ‘Crazy’

Fri., Aug. 13, 2010, midnight

From eight-track tapes to mp3s, radio and MTV to iTunes and YouTube, much has changed for the Doobie Brothers over the last 40 years, particularly the last decade.

The band has witnessed pivotal, volatile leaps in music – both technologically and culturally – and the way it’s written, recorded, marketed and distributed.

The Doobies, who play an outdoor concert in Riverfront Park on Wednesday, release their first album in 10 years next month.

“World Gone Crazy” is three years in the making, on and off, and that’s the one defining characteristic that sets it apart from its predecessors, said co-founding singer-guitarist Tom Johnston.

“Patience is very important. That’s how you get your best work,” Johnston said during a telephone interview.

“If some of the tunes would have been left where they were they wouldn’t be that great. But we sat with them for a long time to bring them to where they needed to be.”

The final six months of recording were filled with crucial adjustments. The band brought in pianist Bill Payne of Little Feat to add keyboard parts and it made a huge difference, Johnston said.

Several songs were written by Johnston on keyboard, as opposed to guitar, which opened up the album’s stylistic range, he said – noting influences from post-Katrina New Orleans jazz to English pub rock to countrified funk. Willie Nelson also makes an appearance.

“We tried to go in a whole gamut of directions,” Johnston said. “The biggest difference there is using software to write things on keyboards.

“I couldn’t go in the studio and play some of these instruments prolifically, but with the keyboards I can make more sounds so I don’t have to call someone else over to play it. I can play it for the band and show them how it really goes, not just the chord progression.

“I’m going places I’ve never gone before because of midi audio.”

Released on the new House of Rock label, the album also finds the Doobie Brothers delving into drum loops. While the band was first exposed to drum loops while making 2000’s “Sibling Rivalry,” they are used sparingly but more frequently on the new record.

“You have to be careful how you use them,” Johnston said. “On some songs it’s featured more heavily, on others it’s more subdued.

“We’re not going to hip-hop land specifically. Nothing against hip-hop, that’s just not what I was trying to do.”

While trying different studio techniques, the band is also taking advantage of technology in the way it’s promoting “World Gone Crazy.”

“We signed with an independent label but it’s guys who have been in labels who are hip to new strategies,” Johnston said.

“The landscape of the industry is morphing. The days of radio playing eclectic mixes are gone and there are limits to what the public can get exposed to.

“The DJs are given a list of songs to play that is nationwide. Not just their town or state, but everywhere. There are less doors to go through. The benefit is you can put your own stuff out on iTunes and YouTube.”

The Doobie Brothers reunited with longtime producer Ted Templeman to make “World Gone Crazy,” but the relationship is more collaborative than in the old days.

“That’s something critical about this album,” Johnston said. “The best part of having a strong producer is having someone who can pick out the best stuff. I’ll take his suggestion and write a whole new set of lyrics. He’s very helpful in finishing the nuts and bolts.”

While working with Templeman, the band also decided to re-record “Nobody,” the lead-off track from the group’s self-titled 1971 debut, which is also the first single on the new album.

“The most Doobie-ish song on the album is ‘Nobody,’ ” Johnston said. “We did that to re-establish that the band is still with Ted and also because that one never got the treatment it deserved because the technology was so limited at the time.

“We cut it up from the ground up and tore it apart and put it back together and remade the body of the song as it was intended to sound. It just took us a while to do it.”

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