Why the Doobie Brothers Came Apart After ‘One Step Closer’
Coming off the incredible success of 1978's Minute by Minute album, the Doobie Brothers should have been riding a creative high worthy of their name. Instead, their mellow was in danger of being permanently harshed by burnout after years spent cycling between the studio and the road.
Steady attrition had been a fact of life for the Doobies almost from the beginning, with bassist Dave Shogren leaving after the band's self-titled debut and a steady stream of bandmates churning through the lineup at various points thereafter. Perhaps most notably, co-founding guitarist Tom Johnston exited in 1977 after a prolonged absence that paved the way for keyboard player/vocalist Michael McDonald. His influence helped propel the group to further commercial heights, but by the time Minute by Minute ran its course, the future five-time Grammy winner was himself feeling the strain of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
Unfortunately for the Doobie Brothers, the label still demanded fresh product, so they headed back into the studio to record a follow-up to Minute by Minute — albeit with a significantly overhauled lineup. Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, like McDonald a Steely Dan import, exited to be replaced by John McFee, while drummer John Hartman was replaced by session vet Chet McCracken. The group was further augmented by saxophonist, organist and singer Cornelius Bumpus.
In spite of the fresh creative blood — which was reflected in the Bumpus composition "Thank You Love" — there was really no disguising the creative malaise that overshadowed the next Doobies record, which was titled One Step Closer and released on Sept. 17, 1980. The album had its share of highlights, including the catchy title track (a McDonald/Bumpus duet) and the Top Five hit "Real Love," but it was a markedly patchy affair — and one on which founding Doobies guitarist Patrick Simmons, who wrote or co-wrote only two of the nine songs, contributed just a pair of lead vocals.
Simmons, a lineup mainstay throughout the band's tumultuous history, wasn't absent by accident; as it turned out, he was also finding it difficult to stay on the Doobies treadmill — a feeling no doubt exacerbated by the departure of bassist Tiran Porter following the completion of One Step Closer, as well as the temporary exit of drummer Keith Knudsen, who was forced to miss tour dates in order to complete a stint in rehab. The Doobie Brothers lineup had always been in flux, but as the '70s bled into the '80s, they seemed like a completely different band.
This wasn't lost on Simmons, who tendered his own resignation at the end of 1981, and the rest of the band, after a brief attempt to soldier on without him, quickly came to the same conclusion, deciding to hang it up after one last round of tour dates. Those concerts, later captured on 1983's The Farewell Tour, were supposed to spell the end of the Doobie Brothers. By the end of the decade, however, they'd managed to find their way back together in yet another configuration — which is a whole other story.
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