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Interviewing Tom Johnston: The Doobie Brothers head to Atlanta

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Dick Clark once told Tom Johnston of The Doobie Brothers that he looked like Burt Reynolds with a beard. The songwriter and musician was a wringer for the handsome actor at that time, but he appeared embarrassed by the comparison even though he said it was a compliment. And while Johnston may have aged three decades since that comparison, his looks appear to have only gotten better with age, and so has his and the band's music according to this July review by Bill Brotherton of the Boston Herald.

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On July 14 the Atlanta Pop Culture Examiner got the opportunity to hear what the singer had to say to his fans of today, now that some of them are pushing 40 and 50 years old. And the conversation included advice from Johnston to those seeking to break into the music market as well.

If writing lyrics in the bathroom worked for you back during the bands' earlier days, as you told Mostropolo in 2012, what works for you now in regards to songwriting, several decades later?

Actually, that wasn't a full-time occurrence, that just happened on a couple of songs. I'm afraid that got pulled out of context. I wrote in my room on 12th Street, hotel rooms, the rm at Amigo Studios in LA, and several other spots.Whenever and wherever the words would come to me. Musically I pretty much wrote on 12th Street or on the road.

What advice would you give aspiring musicians coming up through the ranks based upon your 20/20 musical career hindsight?

The music business today has changed quite a bit. However, you still have to have a product (music) that hooks people either through your ability to communicate with your instrument and or voice, and hopefully something original to get somewhere in today's marketplace. It's more crowded than ever. It's important to keep music in mind when first starting out, along with practicing your instrument, imperative in order to keep it honest.

What is the one song you have written in your career that you are the proudest of, regardless of its success or not, and why?

Always one of the more difficult questions to answer as a songwriter. My standard answer is, because I come from a blues background, "Dark Eyed Cajun Woman", because it's a tip o the hat to part of my musical background. Besides I could give several more all for different reasons and it could change everyday.

Your absence from a national tour in the past paved the way for Michael McDonald to enter the group as a member, and now he will be adding to the Doobie Brothers' Sony album coming out in the fall, will one of the songs be a vocal collaboration between the two of you, since you are both such great songwriters and singers?

Well we are all singing on Takin To The Streets. That's the only one I am aware of. Pat, John and myself on backgrounds.

Like most everyone else who ever hears "Listen to the Music" I adore the positive upbeat sound and words you created. So don't take my next question in the wrong way. As the composer of Listen to the Music you drew inspiration from something to create that wonderful upbeat song. You told Frank Mostropolo from Ultimate Classic Rock in 2012 that the lyrics of it were based upon:

This Utopian ideal...that if the leaders of the world got together on some grassy hill and either smoked enough dope or just sat down and listened to the music and forgot about all this other bull----, the world would be a much better place."

You laughed in that interview when you said it, saying "It seemed like a good idea at the time. Do you still believe listening to the music and smoking weed (if it becomes legal) is the solution to the world's ills, or do you have other ideas about how world peace can be achieved (or not)?

To tell you the truth I do still believe that this world is still way too caught up in trivial pursuit of personal agendas concerning power (egos large and small), money, religious zealots, all of it. Music is the one method of communication, if kept away from politics and the above, that has the power to bring joy, or at least a comfortable state of mind, regardless of language or personal beliefs.

Of course the participants have to be willing, but I believe it to be a positive power for good. What else gets thousands, even tens of thousands, or a hundred thousand people in one place to simply have a shared positive experience?

Music is also a source of freedom as each individual has their own interpretation of what they are listening to. The weed part is completely optional. I don't personally use it and I'm neutral about it. Not against. It's the music that holds the power. In this day, more than ever, anything positive that brings people together is a treasure.

The Doobie Brothers will appear in concert in Georgia on July 17 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park in Alpharetta. Click here for ticket information, as you don't want to miss the only stop the band is making in the Peach State.

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