Hello, everyone, Ed Toth here, with the inside scoop on The Doobie Brothers’ tour with Chicago. It’s very exciting in that, for the encore, both bands will be on stage together playing each other’s songs. I’m looking forward to it for a variety of reasons: 1) I’ll be back in the saddle with my Doobie drumming cohort Mike Hossack; 2) I’ll also be playing alongside the amazing Tris Imboden, and 3) The good folks at Drum Workshop have hooked me up with a new kit this year! (Who doesn’t love a new drumkit?) In fact, I’m about to board a plane to Los Angeles for a couple of days with it.
The kit is a beauty, as expected. I’ve decided to go somewhat retro, with bigger drums and a couple fewer cymbals than usual. It’s a stunning-looking maple kit in Ruby Glass finish. And the front head graphic from The Doobies’ One Step Closer album was expertly done by the folks at Drumart. The drums, which feature DW’s new X Shells, include a 18×22 kick, a 9×13 rack tom, 14×14 and 16×16 floor toms, and a 5×14 maple VLT snare with no reinforcement hoops.
My Zildjian cymbals include a 14″ A custom top/K Mastersound bottom hi-hat combination, a 17″ K Custom Fast crash, an 18″ A Custom crash, a 21″ K crash/ride (awesome!), an 18″ A Custom Projection crash, an 18″ A Custom EFX, and a 19″ A Custom Medium crash. And yes, this is fewer cymbals!
The bigger drums sound nice and powerful, and the snare has that nice controlled crack that I like without being too in your face. I had been using an Edge snare drum, but I felt that, especially playing with another drummer, it had gotten a bit overpowering. Suffice it to say that I’m more than happy with the choices I made, and very pleased with the end result from DW. Now, on to Phoenix for the rehearsals and first gig!
After a nice day off and a travel day to Phoenix (it’s a dry heat), I’m excited about rehearsals. The bands have decided to encore together, and we’re doing three Doobie tunes and three Chicago tunes. We figured ahead of time that three drummers is a bit much, so on the Doobie stuff Mike and Tris will play traps while I play percussion on some Roland pads, and for the Chicago stuff Tris and I will play traps while Mike plays percussion.
Spoiler Alert! The Chicago tunes I will be playing with Tris are “Free,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” and “25 Or 6 To 4.” I used to play the latter two songs in a horn band in Connecticut called Absolute R&B, back in the late-’80s/early-’90s. So I’m very much looking forward to playing them with the guys who wrote them!
I spend the better part of the morning doing some last-minute prepping, especially on the song “Free.” The other two songs are fairly straightforward, but “Free” has some twists and turns. I’d purchased the Chicago III CD back home in Nashville to be prepared, but by the time I get to Phoenix (sorry, had to do it), I realize that the live arrangement is quite different. I was able to find a YouTube clip of Chicago playing the song in 2004 with Earth, Wind & Fire. After a few listens, I realize it’s a bit more “twisty and turny” than I thought, and I decide to chart it out. It’s more of a form chart than anything else. That’s my preferred method of charting, and if there are any tricky kicks to remember I can always write them out musically.
We head over to the venue, and it’s nice to see the Chicago guys again. We played a festival with them back in the fall and had a great time, so it’s great that this tour was put together, and we’re all looking forward to some good times. Re-introducing myself to Tris, I’m reminded of what a truly nice and likeable guy he is. He mentions being excited to be playing with me, and after saying, “Are you kidding me–you’re Tris Imboden!” I share my enthusiasm about the gig. It’s going to be fun.
After everyone shakes hands, we get down to the task at hand. What are the four guitar players going to do? How will the three keyboard players split the voicings? Did everyone get the horn charts? Who is singing which verse–and for crying out loud, where is catering? Not to worry, after some discussion and run-throughs, things seem to come together okay. Arrangements are decided on, a running order of the six tunes is arrived at, eighteen guys make 5,473 monitor adjustments, and we do a few run-throughs. It’s all a little rusty, but it’s nothing a little panic and homework back at the hotel can’t fix.
I’m feeling good about the drum stuff. I help out Tris with a couple of Doobie arrangements, and he helps me out with the Chicago stuff. Mike and Tris discuss trading fills on the Doobie tunes, and Mike comes up with this killer lilting shuffle pattern on his hot rods for “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is.” After another run-through, everyone is feeling better about it all. We’ll come back tomorrow and put the finishing touches on it before Tuesday’s gig.
I round out the long day as one does, by heading over to the movie theatre to see Indiana Jones. The verdict—Steven Spielberg owes me $9.75. At least it was better than Temple Of Doom.
Things run much smoother in rehearsal. While the “front line” does a vocal rehearsal, Tris and Mike and I talk about how much we enjoy Richie Hayward, Terry Bozzio’s groundbreaking playing on Missing Persons’ Spring Session M record, and, of course, Danny Seraphine. I take some fun pictures too. After a couple of false starts, we run smoothly through the six encore songs. Then we do it again. And then, just to be sure, we do it again. I’m of the opinion that you can never be too prepared for these things. I’m feeling really good about it all, and tomorrow will be the first gig. It’s a fun dynamic with sixteen guys on stage and each of us enjoying playing each other’s material. Much like The Doobies’ music, I grew up listening to the Chicago stuff, and it’s a kick to play these songs with the guys who wrote them. All we need now is an audience.
Show day! The Doobies head down for an extended soundcheck so we can check our monitor mixes and double-check the running order of our set. It goes smoothly and we crank out five or six tunes just to make sure everything is as it should be. Then back to the hotel for a power nap, a change of clothes, and a quick check of the hair. (While I still can!) The atmosphere at the venue is pretty electric with that underlying sense of, Is this encore going to work? Have the two bands rehearsed each other’s songs enough? The overwhelming answer is, Yes!
The Doobies rock through our hour-long set of classic rockers, and the audience responds with a roar. These songs have been the soundtrack of their lives, and they’re excited to be hearing them on a night out without the kids. In fact, some of them actually bring the kids. When I see a young kid in the audience with a Doobies T-shirt on, it just reminds me of myself as a ten-year-old kid at a Doobies concert with the same shirt on, singing along to every word. Who’d have thought twenty-five years later I’d be seeing it from the other side? And the new drums sound killin’, and as usual, they’re a joy to play. And they look bitchin’ with their ruby sparkle under the stage lights!
Chicago comes out and again, the crowd sings along to even more songs from their life soundtrack. And I enjoy listening to the songs that I grew up with–not only the ’70s stuff, but the ’80s songs too, which were popular when I was in high school. Tris plays great as usual, and the horn guys are all over the stage engaging the audience, who are singing and dancing along to every song.
Time for the big encore, and it all runs much better than I anticipated. After all, we only had two rehearsals! We start with “Rockin’ Down The Highway,” and Mike and Tris kill it, while I play bongos and congas on the Roland pads. “Free” comes out great and is such a joy to play with Tris. By the time we get to the final song, “25 Or 6 To 4” (yes, I found out what it means, and I’m not telling!), the crowd is pumped and so is the monster sixteen-piece band. Chicago’s guitar player, Keith Howland, starts the riff with Pat Simmons, and we just explode into it. There’s a cool half-time section after the guitar solos, and I had suggested to Tris that halfway through we play the famous “Zappa” fill from “More Trouble Everyday” that Ralph Humphrey and Chester Thompson played. You know the fill, it’s the same one that Chester and Phil Collins do at the end of Genesis’s “Afterglow”. Bad-ass! And it fits perfectly in the Chicago tune. We play it okay and decide it should stay. (Later, at the second show in Los Angeles, we absolutely nail it, and we haven’t looked back since.)
After the song, we all go out to take our bows. Mission accomplished! We have another month’s worth of shows down the road, but this is already shaping up to be one of those fun tours that you talk about years later. The camaraderie is already there, and the bands are playing well both separately and together. I’m looking forward to the BBQ’s and Wiffle Ball games. (It’s not always just about the drums!)