When the Doobie Brothers Broke Through With ‘Toulouse Street’
The Doobie Brothers had nowhere to go but up after their first album failed to chart in 1971 — and they didn't wait long to pick up momentum, notching their breakthrough hit with the follow-up, Toulouse Street.
Released a little more than a year after The Doobie Brothers came and went, Toulouse Street presented a revamped version of the band, with new bassist Tiran Porter stepping in for the departed Dave Shogren and joining an expanded rhythm section that now included second drummer Michael Hossack. Though the Doobies' songwriting nucleus remained the same, with singer-guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston writing the album's seven original cuts, the music boasted a deeper level of seasoning and craftsmanship.
"I feel a lot more confident in this than the first album because that was a bit of a rush job," Simmons told Sounds. "This time we had the chance so sit back and record a little bit at a time, whereas when we did the first album, we’d never really been together as a group at all."
Simmons' statement was no mere hyperbole either — as he went on to explain, the Doobies' first LP was more or less an accident. "We were all old friends and we just got high in the studio," he admitted. "We hadn’t planned on making an album at all, but the demos came out so good that we decided to send them into Warner Bros. And they liked them."
With Toulouse Street, the public picked up on what Warners execs heard in those Doobies demos: The album peaked just outside the Top 20 and gave the band its first two hits in "Listen to the Music" (No. 11) and "Jesus Is Just Alright" (No. 35). At the time, the label had to have been happy they were earning back their investment in the group; although no one could have known it then, Toulouse represented the first in a string of bestselling records that would take the Doobies through the end of the decade as one of the biggest and busiest bands in rock.
What was plainly evident, however, was that the Doobie Brothers had quickly evolved beyond their little-noticed debut — a growth that Simmons attributed in part to the eye-opening experience of heading out on the road for their first tour.
"Toulouse Street is a street in New Orleans and it was the last date we played on our first tour right after we released our first album," Simmons recalled to Sounds. "It was the first time I’d ever been in the South, and this was the place that impressed me the most. I spent a lot of time down in the French quarter, and a lot of time on that particular street. The South is so mysterious — I think the whole South is epitomized by Dr. John — and the last date of our tour made a big impression on me because I had no idea where we were going to go from there."
That uncertainty would continue for the Doobies as their exhausting touring and recording schedule contributed to a steady roster churn — and a significant change in their sound along the way — but with Toulouse Street, they started a relationship with a devoted fanbase that's still going strong today.