AOTM: The Doobies Build a Bridge on What’s Happening

NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 05: Patrick Simmons, John McFee, Michael McDonald, and Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers attend the 48th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 5, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

In 1978, Grease with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta was released. Charlie Chaplin’s remains were stolen from Cosier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. Annie Hall wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And, the Doobie Brothers fought music bootlegging and social injustice. On a two-part episode of What’s Happening, the Doobie Brothers performed a concert, fought music bootlegging, and built a bridge between cultures.

The Doobies weren’t the first special guest to be on the show What’s Happening; however, they were the first guest to tackle the problem of music bootlegging. In the two-part episode, the Doobie Brothers return to their alma mater Jefferson High School to give a concert. The band’s popularity creates a dilemma for Rerun when he is pressured into secretly recording the band. He is caught trying to bootleg the live concert, and the band lectures the teens on the legalities of bootlegging music.

While the episode didn’t stop bootlegging of entertainment, it did place the Doobie Brothers in front of a broader audience than they had been before and helped them get their message out. All of this was due to their publicist David Gest. According to Patrick Simmons from the band, Gest was a great publicist. He would arrange a variety of events, interviews, and things the band hadn’t done before in order to give them publicity ( Simmons further told Yahoo that their stint on the show meant more from a cultural, social justice stance. Their song “Takin’ It to the Streets” focused on the bum rap African Americans were getting in America. Connecting with the show What’s Happening helped solidify the need of equality, “…I think people were aware of our social viewpoint, that we really value all of a larger, multicultural social audience…(” Some could argue that the band who named themselves after an illegal drug didn’t have any ground to stand on any social issues or illegal behavior; however, the equality of all was a part of their beliefs and image. The band, as Simmons believes, was building a bridge to connect cultures on a show during in a time when TV wasn’t doing the same.

In 1978, the Doobie Brothers were on the show What’s Happening. The episode focused on music bootlegging; however, a more culturally and socially based commentary came out of it. The band had effectively done something under the radar that was a significant: they built a bridge between cultures during a time when television was still separating those cultures. For that, the Doobies broadened their fan base and also solidified the importance of equality for everyone.

~Jenna Jakes, WOGB

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