With a string of perennial classic rock staples under the belt, including smashes like “Listen to the Music,” “China Grove,” “Long Train Runnin’,” and the indelible “Black Water,” The Doobie Brothers are a band that have long deserved a serious documentary. Producer-director Barry Ehrmann’s Let the Music Play: The Story of The Doobie Brothers is exactly that. It’s now available on Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment.
The documentary takes a very linear path, beginning with the origins of the band even before they settled on their final name. Songwriter, singer, guitarist, and co-founder Tom Johnston discusses the band’s path from biker bars to storming the Billboard charts. The failure of the debut album is examined from several perspectives. Various members are interviewed as the story tracks the band’s personnel expansion and subsequent breakthrough with their second album, Toulouse Street. Additional personnel changes are chronicled, leading up to the debilitating health problems of Johnston that forced his departure.
Enter the man who would bring about seismic change for the band, Michael McDonald. Some of the most compelling segments of Let the Music Play deal with the monumental differences in the sound and style of the McDonald-era Doobie Brothers. The hits kept coming, with songs like “Taking it to the Streets” and “What a Fool Believes,” and McDonald’s blue-eyed soul transformed the group. McDonald’s sheer star power basically led to the break-up of the Doobies in the early ‘80s (was he began a properous solo career), but the documentary traces the band’s various reunions. Somewhat amazingly, the band persevered and continued to produce hits like “The Doctor.” Regardless of how one feels about the output from a specific period of their career, one thing is undeniable. The Doobie Brothers are survivors and this film makes that plain.
Eagle Rock’s 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is framed at 1.78:1 for the most part. Some of the vintage footage is 1.33:1. Visually, as with any documentary that culls footage from a variety of decades, Let the Music Play is something of a mixed bag. The new interview footage looks splendid—just as sharp as one would expect of a recent HD video production. The vintage material is what it is. Some of it is sourced from standard definition video and looks like it. There was no way around it, of course. Audio is offered in 5.1 DTS-HD MA and sounds absolutely fine. Music is predictably a highlight, though most of the running time is given to interview footage. As a result, the surround mix doesn’t hold much excitement for the most part. There’s also a 2.0 LPCM stereo track available.
There is but one special feature here, but it’s a real doozy for fans. A group of nine live performances, only glimpsed in excerpts during the main program, are presented in their entirety for a total of 45 minutes of footage. The only thing that would’ve been nice is some text intros to let us know exactly when and where these performances were filmed, seeing as they are career-spanning. But other than that small gripe, this material is at least as important as the documentary itself (I know I’ll return to this stuff more often). Many of their biggest hits are here, highlighted by a stone-cold classic take on “Black Water.”
Let the Music Play: The Story of The Doobie Brothers is a love letter to a group that, despite having a string of indelible hits, has never really had their story fully told. Besides Michael McDonald, this is a band that was never comprised of individual household names. While it may not be the most dramatic rock history ever recounted, this is an interesting documentary that classic rock fans would do well to seek out.