When the dates were announced for "The Summer of Living Dangerously" tour — co-headlined by the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan — a North Carolina kickoff may have seemed like an unusual choice. The state isn't really synonymous with either band.
The vocal harmonies surrounding the Doobies were a hallmark of the country-tinged rock coming out of California at the time. Meanwhile, New York might seem more appropriate, given that Steely Dan's music is categorized as jazz-rock.
But consider this just another beat on the Doobie Brothers' history. The Doobies have made the best of their opportunities for decades.
Consider their conversion from country-rock output to a blue-eyed soul outfit after the departure of original lead singer Tom Johnston, which led to Michael McDonald taking lead on the microphone.
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Then there are the constant tours in recent years with fellow acts from the '70s who may not share much in common with each other, besides their successful radio years.
Johnston, who has returned to the band, said the audience seems to roll with whatever happens, no matter who shares the stage.
"It's a lot of fun playing with (Dan)," Johnston said before the concert May 11 in Raleigh at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek.
"We toured with them this past fall throughout Europe, and the shows were very well received," Johnston said. "People really seem to like the combination, which I've always thought is interesting, because there is a big difference between our styles of music. It works, though, and that's awesome."
This is Steely Dan's first tour since the death of Steely Dan’s guitarist and co-founder Walter Becker, who died in September at age 67 from esophageal cancer.
The band is still led by Becker’s co-founder Donald Fagen.
Johnston they enjoy touring with some of the greats, even those with differing styles: Journey, Chicago, the Steve Miller Band.
"It always just seems to work out," he said.
If the bands they share the road with harken back to when the Doobies rode high on the radio charts, that may be one of the only things that feels the same about the music business since those heydays.
The Doobies are working on new material for an album of original songs, a decision that many of his peers shun, as they realize the costs of the recording studio tend to far outweigh any revenue brought in from the resulting project.
For Johnston, it's a decision that lends itself to being described more favorably as artistic than commercial.
"It's time for new stuff again, is just how I look at it," he said. "Recording keeps you involved in what's going on. Because although we have huge tours every year, you have to keep creating new stuff to retain that validity. I know that there are some very well-known artists who record new albums just to say that they did it, and it flops because it doesn't measure up to their old output, but we only record new music if it sounds like something that will keep our name in people's minds."
His mindset reflects a music industry that has changed dramatically and continues to evolve, he said. He knows that fans don't necessarily buy albums anymore. But the albums need to be made to support the touring.
"Here's the way I look at it," he said. "Back in the day, you would go on tour to support your new album, but today you record a new album in order to support the touring, in a complete (reversal) of what it used to be.
"At the same time, in my mind, that also keeps you more valid," he said. "It shows that you're not just resting on your laurels, and are content with just playing your old stuff for forever and a day. We play quite a few old songs in our set — the chestnuts that everyone wants to hear, that sort of thing — but we still have a gigantic back catalogue of tunes, so we go into it and grab some of them for shows, and for all a lot of the audience knows they could be brand new songs."
Who: The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan
When: 7:30 p.m., May 11
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh
Cost: $20 to $199.50
Info: 919-831-6400 or LiveNation.com
Know your hits
▪ The Doobie Brothers: "What a Fool Believes," "Takin' it to the Streets," "Black Water," "South City Midnight Lady," "It Keeps You Runnin,'" "China Grove"
▪ Steely Dan: "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," "Peg," "Deacon Blues," "Do it Again," "Reelin' in the Years," "Hey Nineteen"