The Doobie Brothers turned out hit after hit in the ’70s and ’80s — “Black Water,” “China Grove,” “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “Echoes of Love.”
And of course, the song that loaned its name to Long Train Runnin’, the Doobie Brothers Tribute Band that will bring that hit music and more to Hutchins Street Square on Sunday.
Like the Doobie Brothers, Long Train Runnin’ members Andy Mallare, Mark Belshaw, Harold Martin, Andy Thrall, Andy Morales and Dave Petrucci are all from the San Jose area.
They played in another group for years, but when they car-pooled to out-of-town gigs, it wasn’t their own music they were singing during the trip.
“We used to bring this Doobie Brothers box set,” Petrucci said. “We found out we have pretty good harmonies.”
Soon, they began seeing tribute groups forming, playing the hits of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and more. For musicians who love performing more than writing and recording, Petrucci said, tribute bands are great.
When drummer Morales pitched the idea almost 10 years ago, the whole group was on board, and they knew exactly which band’s hits they wanted to play.
“We just thought that the Doobies needed to be represented,” Petrucci said.
Putting together a tribute show is more work than a lot of people think, he said. First, you have to learn a band’s catalog of songs — not just to sing along on road trips, but really learn every note. Nailing their sound is important.
Then, you need to hit the recording studio to create a demo, so that venues know you really can reproduce that sound.
“When you’re starting out, you don’t have any live shows recorded,” Petrucci said.
They also needed a website, social media, and content to put on both — all the same things a non-cover band needs.
And that’s just the beginning. A lot of tribute bands aim to provide the full concert experience, including wearing the types of costumes their bands would wear, or even wigs.
Long Train Runnin’ nixed that. The Doobie Brothers started as a biker band, Petrucci pointed out — wearing lots of leather.
“Have you seen me in leather pants? It’s not pretty,” he joked.
For some bands, and by extension, their tributes, the aesthetics are important. They’re part of the whole experience, and a tribute band has to nail the sound and pull off the image.
But the Doobie Brothers were always about the sound, and that’s what Long Train Runnin’ has focused on.
“That’s not easy, because the Doobie Brothers are much more than just a pretty face. They were actually very talented,” Petrucci said.
Their music is intricate and their harmonies are complex, and Long Train Runnin’ works hard to play their instruments correctly and get the singing as close as possible.
They also work hard to get audience members up and dancing in the aisles during their shows.
“People have a great time. It brings them back to those times — mostly the early ’70s to mid-’80s,” Petrucci said.
They don’t “drive 80 miles per hour” the whole time, he added. Instead, they aim for a variety of fast songs and slower tunes so people have a chance to catch their breath, and maybe feel a little nostalgic.
“Our goal is to get as many people as we can feeling good about life and about the good times,” he said.