Watch the Doobie Brothers Play ‘Rockin’ Down the Highway’ Live
When you think of classic Doobie Brothers hits like “Listen to the Music” and “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” the vocal harmonies usually come to mind. For singer and guitarist Tom Johnston, it's something that instantly stuck out very early in their career.
As he explains, before making their first album as a group, everything had been live for the Doobie Brothers. Even though the first record wasn’t a huge success, the experience of recording songs as a unit left a big impression.
“It was our first time in the studio. It was a big deal to us,” he recalls now. “Hearing the harmonies was kind of magical, not because we hadn’t heard harmonies before, because we had, but certain voices blend together a certain way and at that time, we had a different bass player, but the harmonies were still there.
"It was all about the three-part harmony thing, and in some cases two going into three. Hearing them in the studio -- hearing anything in the studio at that point, because we hadn’t ever done that -- was kind of mind-blowing.”
With more than a dozen studio albums in the band's catalog, those trademark harmonies remain a signature element of the Doobies' sound. They're displayed in a new live version of “Rockin’ Down the Highway" from The Doobie Brothers: Live From the Beacon Theatre.
You can watch the video below.
Johnston recalls writing the song in the room he was renting on 12th Street in San Jose for $40 a month -- the same location that gave birth to other future classics like “Listen to the Music” and “China Grove.”
“I think I’d had “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” those chords, for maybe two years," he says. "I just hadn’t written the rest of it. I had that before the Doobie Brothers even started. I just never turned it into a song. Eventually, I put in the rest of the chords, which are pretty straight-ahead stuff and turned it into what it became.”
During a 2018 interview with UCR, Johnston indicated that if the Beacon shows featuring full-album performances of The Captain and Me and Toulouse Street were popular, the Doobie Brothers would consider revisiting other albums from their catalog in a similar fashion.
“Once we get these under our belt, we’ll know a lot more," he said at the time. "This is the first time we’ve ever done this, so it’s new to us and we’ll see how it goes. If that turns out to be something that people like, we’ll probably do a couple of other albums.”