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"Black Water"
The Doobie Brothers
Warner Brothers 8062
Mar. 1975
Billboard: #1    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

The Doobie Brothersroducer Ted Templeman, once a member of Harpers Bizarre ("The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," "Anything Goes"), describes the origin of "Black Water." "Pat Simmons basically just wrote it as a song about the Mississippi River. I think he got the idea from when he was down there. He was just writing on his acoustic guitar. We laid it down on an acoustic guitar track with a rhythm machine, which in those days was pretty unheard of, and then we overdubbed the drums and the rest of it... We had a breakdown in the center where the vocals did an a cappella with no band... (the producer of) Harper's Bizarre did the same thing for 'Feelin' Groovy' where he pulled the track out... so I stole the idea from my old producer."

"Black Water" was not so highly regarded when the album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits was released. It was relegated to the flip side of the LP's first single, "Another Park, Another Sunday." "We never thought it was a single," Templeman confirms. "I didn't even know it. I'd like to tell you I did. Some little station started playing it in the South, and it started getting played around the country... it was just a self-made hit, a radio-made record."

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
With the exception of its chart-topping #1 single "Black Water," the Doobie Brothers' fourth album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits was considered a generally tepid affair by critics when it was released in Feb. 1974. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 200 and remained on the album charts for 62 weeks, eventually being certified platinum by the R.I.A.A. in Oct. 1986.
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Named after California slang for marijuana, the Doobie Brothers -- none of whom are related to each other -- got their start playing in Hell's Angels bars in northern California. The band's earliest influences were diverse. Drummer John Hartman had played with Moby Grape's Skip Spence. Singer and guitarist Patrick Simmons had been playing bluegrass and had started off his musical career in a folk trio with future Doobie Brother Tiran Porter. Early tours with Steely Dan and T-Rex taught them the finer points of taking a show on the road. The quartet on the band's first album consisted of Hartman, Simmons, singer and lead guitarist Tom Johnston and bass guitarist Dave Shogren. Produced by Templeman and Lenny Waronker for Warner Brothers in 1970, the first LP was a dismal failure.

The Doobie Brothers decided to produce their own second album and spent a lot of money to get mediocre results. Warner Brothers was tempted to drop them from the label, but Templeman still believed in the band and volunteered to produce their second LP, Toulouse Street. That album contained the first hit single for the Doobies, "Listen to the Music" (number 11 in November, 1972).

The group's third album, The Captain and Me, was considered the group's real commercial breakthrough. "Long Train Runnin'" became the Doobies' first Top 10 single (number eight in June, 1973).

Templeman offers an analysis of why "Black Water" was the Doobies' biggest hit. "Nobody was doing that kind of record with a vocal a cappella. It started off as an acoustic song, just an acoustic guitar for the first third of the record, then the drums come in. Records weren't like that on the radio. There were formula pop records then." Templeman doesn't consider the record perfect. "There's little things that speed up and slow down because we didn't stay right with the rhythm machine. But it's a pretty good record."

When Tom Johnston developed a stomach ailment the following year and quit touring with the band, it looked as though the Doobie Brothers' best years were behind them. However his replacement, Steely Dan alumnus Michael McDonald, would lead the Doobies to even greater commercial and critical heights before the decade was over with another number one hit single, "What a Fool Believes," and the multimillion-selling album from which it was taken, Minute by Minute.

In 1987, the pre-McDonald lineup reformed and returned to the band's original sound with the gold album Cycles and the Top 10 single "The Doctor." After the less successful release Brotherhood in 1991, the group claimed to have called it a day. But several of the original members undertook another major summer tour three years later, and the band is still active in touring and recording.

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

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