Collette Devlin caught up with Doobie Brothers songwriter, vocalist and guitar player Tom Johnston ahead of their show this month.
The Doobie Brothers, John Mayer and Bruno Mars are all on stage belting out Listen To The Music and an amped-up crowd are singing along to the rock anthem.
You could almost picture two modern masters of music rocking with one of the world's most enduring rock bands and, so can Doobie Tom Johnston.
If Johnston was to collaborate with an artist riding the charts today, it would be Mayer and Mars. They are two of the most prolific songwriters in the business right now, he says.
Johnston, himself a master of the art of songwriting, wrote eight of the 13 tracks on their recent album World Gone Crazy, released in 2010.
When asked which of the songs on the album makes him most proud he struggles to choose. "That is a tough question, it was easier earlier when we first released the album but as time goes on, it gets tougher," he says.
However, he is fond of the recent single A Brighter Day.
It's a classic sounding Doobie song – edgy rock combined with harmonies.
"I love that single but musically speaking I think Law Dogs is great, creating that sound was a lot of fun," he says.
Johnston says the songs he wrote on the album took him to places he had never gone before, like the style of songs such as Old Juarez and New York Dream and writing World Gone Crazy and Brighter Day on his keyboard.
The band asked Bill Payne, considered one of the finest American piano rock and blues music artists, to do the keyboard work and he did a phenomenal job, Johnston says.
Law Dog was the first song Johnston wrote using a slide guitar, which he said was interesting to try out.
So where does Johnston get the inspiration to write such methodic songs?
"I can't speak for other writers, but for me it's whatever comes up. I just sit down and channel and start writing, it all comes together."
Johnston says he loves how most of his songs just write themselves.
He does not even need to to think about them, they just fall out and he puts them down on paper.
"The words come and you don't have to strain or try to come up with the right lyrics, those kind of songs are a pleasure," he says.
The Doobie Brothers re-recorded their first single Nobody for the new album – a surprise for long-time and new fans alike.
Johnston puts this down to the creative ideas of producer Ted Templeman, who worked on the new album and other Doobie classics.
"He produced our album in the old days and thought this song was never really recorded correctly and I would quite agree," Johnston says.
He says Nobody appeared on the Doobie Brothers first album and was recorded in an old 16-track studio.
"We took it apart and rebuilt it for this album and it came out good," he chuckles.
For fans wondering how the new album sounds Johnston describes it as: "The Doobie Brothers at their best, and not because it sounds like the 1970s era, but because it's the best quality tune, the best recording we have done. We are all very proud of it," he says.
The Doobie Brothers have stayed true to their roots; the rock, country, blues style remains the same.
The only difference today is the way they make their records with the aid of technology, which has helped them on their musical journey.
"Recording has not changed much but the way songs come in is different because I am using software to write; it frees me up to write and sing the background parts and write the drums, the bass and everything else," Johnston says.
He says the band has improved a lot over the years because everybody practises these days.
"They want to be as good as they can [be] on their instrument and that includes vocals for me, so we sound better now than we ever did," he says.
Johnston believes his guitar playing has also improved.
The sound of the band has changed as old members leave and new members join with their influences.
"The new album has a lot of the songs that are nothing like we have ever done before.
"We are going in different directions, but that is nice," he says.
The new sound is very much vintage Doobie Brothers, with the two original writers Johnston and Pat Simmons still writing songs that will stand the test of time and singing with their deep, melodic, almost country signature vocals.
However, watch out and enjoy the unexpected.
Simmons says on the Doobie Brothers website: "There will be an element of what we have done in the past and some new ways we have applied them but there are also some new approaches and elements we have not used."
Johnston is fond of New Zealand, particularly Queenstown.
"What's not to like?" he says. The band are excited about their return to Queenstown because of the great audience, who give the band a buzz on stage and ultimately a great time, Johnston says.
So what should Southern fans expect from the concert at Queenstown on February 11?
"Well it's going to be a great show, performing is why we are still in this business. We will have a full band; guitar players, keyboards, bass and drummers," he says.
With almost 40 years of touring under their belts, one can be sure the Doobie Brothers will put on an epic show as always.
And for those wondering about the origins of the name Doobie Brothers: "Well, where do you think it comes from?"Johnston says.
"We didn't have a name and a friend living with us at the time suggested it," he says.
"We said it would do for the time being, but it seems to have stuck."
- © Fairfax NZ News