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The Doobie Brothers

Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • March 2020Tour Spotlight • March 11, 2020

Doobie Brothers frontmen (L-R): John Cowan (bass), Patrick Simmons (vocals, guitars), Tom Johnston (vocals, guitars), John McFee (vocals, guitars, violin, pedal steel guitar, mandolin). Photo by Steve Jennings

Rock Veterans Perform Toulouse Street and The Captain and Me Album Tracks

Still playing after all these (50) years: band co-founders Patrick Simmons (left) and Tom Johnston. Doobie Brothers photo by Steve Jennings

The Doobie Brothers’ career now spans five decades with more than 40 million albums sold. On some dates during the band’s last tour, the band performed — in their entirety — the iconic albums Toulouse Street (which includes “Listen To The Music,” “Rockin’ Down The Highway,” “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me”) and The Captain and Me — featuring “Long Train Runnin’,” “China Grove” and “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman.” As a bonus, the shows wrapped with encores of the popular “Take Me in Your Arms” and “Black Water.” We chatted with the band’s FOH engineer Steve Cross and monitor engineer Chad Byrd.

FOH engineer Steve Cross. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         In the Mix

FOH engineer Steve Cross says he has spent many years with the Avid VENUE Profile and prefers the workflow on that system. “The sonic upgrade of the S6L 24-channel board allows me to keep the same workflow. I’m a very ‘keep it simple’ kind of mixer. The less outboard things, the better. The Avid lets me have everything I need in one package.” After mixing The Doobie Brothers tour, Cross went straight onto mixing for Greta Van Fleet’s tour. “They are both really great old-school rock bands. But the approach is very different, due to the number of inputs and musicians. The Doobies are fantastic. Lots of clean inputs. Beautiful vocal harmonies and great songs. With them, the challenge is to find a space for every input and just let them play. With Greta Van Fleet, the challenge is the opposite — a very small number of inputs that need to be spread around to fill all the space.”

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

Cross used Shure 98H/C miniature clip-on condenser mics on the three-piece horn section for these shows, and he enjoys mixing large bands with lots of different sounds to work with. “I try to think of it like paint on canvas. You can’t put all the colors in one place on top of each other. Use the stereo spectrum (left to right) and the frequency spectrum (top to bottom) as the big canvas to paint on. Make sure every color can be seen at all times. Then you can mix solos and leads up and down to highlight them. Since the Doobies have five vocalists, and three of them sing lead at different times, I have snapshots that always make the lead vocal panned center, and all the other four voices surrounding them. This makes the harmonies big and powerful, and the focus stays centered on the lead.”

Monitor engineer Chad Byrd. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         The Monitor Side

When choosing a console, monitor engineer Chad Byrd says what’s most important to him is an easy workflow. For that reason, he chose the Avid VENUE S6L 32D. “I use a snapshot for every song, mix an eight- to 11-piece band, plus techs, have over 64 channels in, and approximately 200 channels between inputs, FX and doubled-up channels for a backup FOH mix. All of which changes every song for every mix. Speed of workflow is king. Secondly, it sounds great. Avid made a huge leap forward sonically between the Profile and the S6L. I use all internal plug-ins — mostly FX, a few 1176 and LA2As and Fairchild compressors on the mixes to tighten up and round off everything. These guys come from the days of analog gear that we all drool over now. I try to use the incredible digital technology that we possess today with the emulations of the gear they grew up with to create a balanced mix.”

Guitar is obviously a huge part of the band’s sound and Simmons’ and Johnston’s Mesa guitar amps are both miked with the popular combination of a Royer Labs R-121 ribbon mic and a Shure SM57.

Simmons’ and Johnston’s Mesa guitar amps are both miked with a Royer Labs R-121 ribbon mic and a Shure SM57. Doobie Brothers photo by Steve Jennings

Byrd uses 12 channels of Shure PSM 1000s for IEMs. “In my experience and opinion, they are the most reliable, accessible and user-friendly IEM transmitters available. We (guitar techs and I) are also running approximately 20 channels of Shure Axient for guitars, horns and handheld mics. In addition, we also use Lab.gruppen amplifiers for wedges, thumpers and a drum sub.”

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

The Doobie Brother action continues this summer as the band re-unites with singer-keyboardist Michael McDonald for a 50th anniversary tour, which kicks off in June and wraps up in October.

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

The Doobie Brothers Tour 

CREW

  • Sound Company: Clair Brothers
  • FOH Engineer: Steve Cross
  • Monitor Engineer: Chad Byrd

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

GEAR

  • FOH Console: Avid VENUE S6L 24 channel
  • Monitor Console: Avid VENUE S6L 32D
  • IEM Hardware: Shure PSM 1000
  • Wireless Mics: Shure Axient
  • P.A. System: Venue supplied

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS © Steve Jennings

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