But the persevering rock band and revered rapper have remarkable — albeit divergent — stories worth sharing.
“Long Train Runnin’: Our Doobie Brothers Story” (St. Martin’s Press, 368 pp.), written by Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons of the band with author Chris Epting, shares personal stories – often the same event told by various members – as they reminisce about their careers as over 50 years old.
“It was all a dream: Biggie and the world that made him” (Abrams Press, 352 pp.), is a deeply narrated saga of the fleeting, yet colorful, life of The Notorious BIG (aka Biggie Smalls, aka Christopher Wallace) written by culture and sports journalist Justin Tinsley.
Here are some key takeaways from each.
The Doobie Brothers
An unlikely double bill
No one would necessarily associate the stew of rock, country and soul generated by The Doobie Brothers with the flashy glam rock pioneered by Marc Bolan and T. Rex.
But in 1972, around the same time the Doobies’ “Listen to the Music” was positioning itself as the band’s first big hit, they were asked to tour with Bolan and his crew “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”. .
Johnston acknowledges that not only was the band treated extremely well as opening act, but that Bolan’s flamboyant style and showmanship “taught us to step up our stage show and stage presence”.
After the tour, Johnston, Simmons, and John began shopping at Jumpin’ Jack Flash in New York City, a vintage clothing store known in the rock ‘n’ roll community for its decorative platform boots, glittering skinny pants, and other glamorous clothes. outfits.
In true full circle, the Doobie Brothers and T. Rex were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.
“Black Water” Rises
The vivid storytelling that unfolds during the band’s signature 1974 hit, “Black Water,” was crafted from an observational approach.
During a southern tour, Simmons took a streetcar through the Garden District of New Orleans, watching the sun peek through during a rainstorm. He grabbed the notepad from his pocket and scribbled, “If it rains, I don’t care, I don’t care / I’ll take the streetcar up town.”
As he waited for his clothes in a laundromat, he started thinking of the Mississippi River (“Mississippi Moon, won’t you keep shining on me”) and then visited the French Quarter to listen to Dixieland bands (“I want to hear some funky Dixieland”).
“As a tourist, I wanted to think about it,” Simmons writes.
A new member, a new sound
After Johnston was forced off the band’s tour in 1975 due to severe ulcers, Doobie guitarist Jeff Baxter suggested to a young man they knew from having sung with Steely Dan that they sit down while Johnston was recovering.
The “bearded singer with shaggy hair” was Michael McDonald, which seamlessly integrated into The Doobie Brothers. The band quickly realized that between McDonald’s soulful vocals and his keyboard skills, “he was so much more than just a background vocalist”.
All members praise McDonald’s professionalism and laid-back personality – the universe fell on the right guy at the right time – while McDonald humbly credits the band’s immediate need for a new player as the reason for their quick onboarding.
After the tour, the band returned to the studio, where McDonald shyly brought them a song he was playing with – “Takin’ It to the Streets”.
“Little did we know another era of the Doobie Brothers was beginning before our eyes,” Simmons wrote.
The Notorious BIG (aka Biggie Smalls)
A most important basement party
A remarkable quote from Biggie – “Get to know me, man. To know me is to love me” – follows Tinsley throughout his account of the life of a talented and complicated rapper mysteriously shot dead at age 24.
But the origin story of Smalls, a pun-savvy drug hustler, vividly details the scene of a “marijuana smoke cloudy basement” that contained two turntables and a microphone.
Smalls was a rookie, but on this ad hoc night, he “rhymed with the confidence of (Big Daddy) Kane, the fearlessness of Ice Cube and the precision of Rakim… his flow lived in the vein of every beat.”
Inadvertently, Smalls had created his first demo tape which would lead to his acclaimed 1994 debut, “Ready to Die”, on Sean “Puffy” Combs’ new label, Bad Boy Records.
The Tupac Connection
Although they will always be strangely united by similar deaths – Tupac Shakur was shot in 1996 at the age of 25 and Smalls was shot dead in March 1997 aged 24 – Tinsley wants to recall the mutual admiration between the two.
Shakur was a big fan of Smalls’ “Party and Bull(crap)”, and after hearing that Smalls was in town at the same time in California, he ran to meet him at his hotel.
“It was almost as if from the moment they saw each other in person, for the first time, the two Gemini twins (“Pac was born in June 1971 and Big 11 years later) had become instant friends,” writes Tinsley .
A party at Shakur’s house spawned a moment in rap history few have witnessed – Smalls and Shakur walked into a cypher (an impromptu gathering of rappers).
“”Pac was spitting for 15 minutes, then Big was spitting for 15 minutes…the most amazing day of my life in the music and fashion industry,” says celebrity stylist Groovey Lew, who was in the room where this has occurred.
The mystery shot
The night of Death of Smalls in 1997 is reported in heartbreaking detail, from the after-party celebrating her single “Hypnotize” to Smalls and her entourage heading off for another party in the Hollywood Hills in their GMC Chevy Suburbans.
As the group drove through the streets, Combs’ car crossed the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. Smalls got caught in the light. A black Impala parked beside the vehicle, the driver holding a .40 caliber automatic handgun.
“Before anyone in the car could react,” writes Tinsley, “the heinous act has already been done.
Smalls’ friend Damion “D-Roc” Butler was in the back of Smalls’ car with rapper Lil’ Cease.
“(Big) didn’t say a word. He didn’t even say “ouch”. Nothing. All he did was breathe hard,” Butler recounted.
A run to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center proved unsuccessful. Smalls died at the age of 24.
Tinsley adds another heartbreaking detail. Weeks before Smalls died, members of the Bad Boy Records team had checked out a custom car with bulletproof armor. They decided not to buy it.