Keith Knudsen

Drummer with the Doobie Brothers
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The Independent Online

One of a handful of rock bands with two drummers, the Doobie Brothers had hits in the Seventies with tracks like "What a Fool Believes" and "Minute By Minute". The drummer, percussionist and singer Keith Knudsen joined the group in September 1973 and played on their best-selling albums Stampede (1975), Takin' It to the Streets (1976), Living on the Faultline (1977) and One Step Closer (1980), co-writing the title track of the latter.

Keith Knudsen, drummer, singer and songwriter: born Le Mars, Iowa 18 February 1948; married (one daughter); died Kentfield, California 8 February 2005.

One of a handful of rock bands with two drummers, the Doobie Brothers had hits in the Seventies with tracks like "What a Fool Believes" and "Minute By Minute". The drummer, percussionist and singer Keith Knudsen joined the group in September 1973 and played on their best-selling albums Stampede (1975), Takin' It to the Streets (1976), Living on the Faultline (1977) and One Step Closer (1980), co-writing the title track of the latter.

The Doobies, as they were known to their fans, broke up in 1982 but reformed seven years later; Knudsen came back in 1993 and contributed several songs to the album Sibling Rivalry (2000), as well as touring with the group and playing on the concert recordings Rockin' Down the Highway (1996) and Live at Wolf Trap (2004).

Born in Le Mars, Iowa in 1948, Keith Knudsen became interested in drumming through the music of Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette and the Everly Brothers. He joined the marching band of his junior high school and began playing gigs in bars.

In 1969 he moved to San Francisco and joined the house band at the Matrix club, the legendary Bay Area venue where the psychedelic group Jefferson Airplane had made their name. The following year, he met an early incarnation of the Doobie Brothers - a former San José biker-band named after the Californian hippie slang for a joint - while recording with the Blind Joe Mendlebaum Blues Band. For the next couple of years, he accompanied the cult singer-songwriter-pianist Lee Michaels on stage.

By 1973, through constant touring, the Doobie Brothers had achieved chart success with "Listen to the Music", "Jesus Is Just Alright", "Long Train Runnin'" and "China Grove", while the albums Toulouse Street and The Captain and Me had both gone gold in the United States. Bruce Cohn, their manager, called up Knudsen to replace Mike Hossack on drums and percussion and, after a week's rehearsals, he joined a line-up which consisted of Tom Johnston (vocals, guitar), Patrick Simmons (vocals, guitar), Tiran Porter (bass), John Hartman (drums, percussion) and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (guitar).

The newly arrived drummer played percussion and sang backing vocals on What Were Once Vices are Now Habits (1974). During the "Looney Tunes" package tour the following year, Knudsen and Hartman formed a powerful drumming partnership, dovetailing beautifully during the group's marathon concerts. "Sometimes I would play the basic track and John would play the character parts, like fills or an extra percussion part," Knudsen explained. "Or we'd trade on the drum kit during the same track."

In 1975, the vocalist and piano player Michael McDonald replaced Tom Johnston and the Doobie Brothers became a smoother, funkier proposition, achieving platinum status with their next four albums and shifting 10 million copies of Best of the Doobies. The input of Knudsen and the producer Ted Templeman proved crucial during the recording of the Michael McDonald / Kenny Loggins composition "What a Fool Believes". "Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to pull off," recalled the drummer.

We were having real trouble with it until Ted said, "Let me play the snare drum and hi-hat with you." The actual record has Ted and me playing drums. That's the reason the track came off. It's so simple: there are no drum fills.

In the Eighties, Knudsen played with the guitarist John McFee in the country rock group Southern Pacific. He returned to the Doobie Brothers in 1993 and toured with them until 2004.

Pierre Perrone



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