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Charles Thomas Johnston (born August 15, 1948) is an American musician. He is a guitarist and vocalist, known principally as a founder, guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter for the rock group The Doobie Brothers, as well as for his own solo career. He has played off-and-on with The Doobie Brothers for more than 40 years, in several styles.
Johnston is most well known for both his lead guitar and vocal role in the band The Doobie Brothers, as well as for his adaptation of his own acoustic guitar style, blending a unique strum and percussive accented rhythm at the same time on one instrument. This style, interwoven with melodic hammer-ons (Example Early Johnston Riff and Vocal on YouTube) gave Johnston an early signature sound inside of popular 1970s rock music. All the rhythm structures behind "Long Train Runnin'" and "Listen to the Music" were formulated first for an acoustic guitar, and then re-applied in similar style on an electric guitar.
Johnston was born in Visalia, California. His greatest musical influences during his youth included Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, James Brown, and other rhythm and blues artists featured on the radio in the 1950s. After brief school stints with the saxophone and clarinet, at the age of twelve Johnston took up guitar. He said, "I started out the clarinet at seven, and I played that for eight years. I also played the saxophone for three years, drums for a year and a half, and took up the guitar when I was in the seventh grade. That was pretty much of a rebellion/image trip. But I felt at home on the guitar. I loved the saxophone and played tenor and baritone. But unfortunately, when I hung the clarinet up, I hung up all the reed instruments and just started playing guitar, and I never touched them again. I taught myself guitar and a little piano at home. I played piano on the first album The Doobie Brothers, and a little harmonica on a few others." In his early career he played in a variety of bands, including a Mexican wedding band that played half soul and half Latin music. His interest in rhythm and blues led to his singing in a soul group from a neighboring town and, eventually, his own blues band.
Johnston moved to San Jose to finish college and started playing in bands around town. It was there that he met Skip Spence, a former drummer with Jefferson Airplane, and guitarist/founding member of a group that had a major influence on the Doobie Brothers – Moby Grape. Spence introduced Johnston to John Hartman. Johnston was a graphic design art major at San José State University and wound up living at 285 South 12th Street, which was a musical center for San Jose at the time. "It didn't matter if they played B-3 or drums, guitar, bass, or horns, they all ended up in our basement," Johnston recalls. Johnston and Hartman soon formed their own band, Pud, featuring Greg Murphy on bass. Pud played many clubs in and around San Jose, including the Golden Horn Lounge (which no longer exists) in Cupertino, California. Here they met Pat Simmons. John Hartman and Johnston lived in the 12th Street house for about four years; whereupon Dave Shogren joined them to replace Greg Murphy and Pat Simmons was recruited, they had the nucleus of a new band, and Pud gave way to The Doobie Brothers.
Throughout much of an initial seven-year and six-album discography, Johnston wrote and sang many of The Doobie Brothers' early hits, including "Listen to the Music" (#11 Top 100 Billboard Hit −1972), "Jesus Is Just Alright" (written by Arthur Reynolds and covered by The Byrds)(#35 Billboard Top 100 Hit −1973), "Rockin' Down the Highway," "China Grove" (#15 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), "Long Train Runnin'" (#8 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), "Another Park, Another Sunday" (#32 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), and "Eyes of Silver" (#52 Billboard Hot 100 Hit). He also sang the hit song "Take Me in Your Arms" (#11 Billboard Hot 100 Hit −1975) (written by Holland-Dozier-Holland).
In December 1973, the British music magazine NME reported the relatively trivial news that Johnston had been arrested in California on a charge of marijuana possession. More seriously however, following years of a road touring lifestyle and health issues surrounding stomach ulcers which stood as a challenge since high school, Johnston became severely ill on the eve of a major tour beginning in Memphis, Tennessee in 1975 to promote Stampede. Johnston's condition was so precarious that he required emergency hospitalization for a bleeding ulcer. With Johnston convalescing and the tour already underway, fellow Doobie Brother Jeff Baxter proposed recruiting a fellow Steely Dan alum to fill the hole. This led to the emergency hiring of Michael McDonald, who became the lead singer of the band. Restored to fitness in 1976 and briefly back in the band, Johnston contributed one original song to Takin' It to the Streets ("Turn It Loose"), and also added a vocal cameo to Pat Simmons' tune "Wheels of Fortune". He also made live appearances with the band in 1976 (appearing in a concert filmed that year at the Winterland in San Francisco, excerpts from which appear occasionally on VH1 Classic), but was sidelined once again in the fall due to exhaustion. None of Johnston's songs appeared on Livin' on the Fault Line, though he had written and the band had recorded five of his compositions for the album. Finally, before Fault Line was released, Johnston had his songs removed and left the band that he co-founded (though he received credit for guitars and vocals and was pictured on the album's inner sleeve band photo). After a few years of restored health but growing differences in musical direction between band members, Johnston finally left the band in 1977 to pursue a solo career that produced two albums with Warner Bros: Everything You've Heard Is True and Still Feels Good (reissued on compact disc by Wounded Bird Records), and Billboard Hot 100 hit "Savannah Nights" (#34 Top 100 Billboard Hit −1980).
Johnston toured in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the Tom Johnston Band, which featured fellow Doobie John Hartman on drums. While working on his solo projects, in 1982 Johnston rejoined the band for a farewell tour concert, (see Discography: Live at the Greek Theater) and then The Doobie Brothers ceased performing as a band for the next five years.
In 1985, Johnston toured US clubs with a group called Border Patrol, that also included former Doobies Michael Hossack and briefly Patrick Simmons. This group toured but never recorded. In 1987, he contributed a tune to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack entitled "Where Are You Tonight?"
Johnston joined the Doobie Brothers when they reunited for a brief tour in 1987 to benefit The National Veterans Foundation. This event led to the permanent reformation of the band, with Johnston again performing alongside co-founder Simmons. Johnston co-wrote, sang and contributed a signature guitar solo to the group's last major chart hit, "The Doctor" (from 1989's Cycles). This was followed by the album Brotherhood in 1991 which featured four songs by Johnston, and Sibling Rivalry in 2000 featuring the single "People Gotta Love Again". The Doobies' most recent album, 2010's World Gone Crazy, features 13 songs, eight of which were written by Johnston including the album's title track and the first single "Nobody", a rerecording of the band's first single in 1971.Wide ThumbClearartFanartBanner User Comments