China Grove – The Doobie Brothers

THIS DAY IN MUSIC…………………………………………on August 18th of 1973 The Doobie Brothers’ “China Grove” is released. A month later it will crack the Hot 100 and eventually reach #15. China Grove is a small town in Texas, about 10 miles from San Antonio in Bexar county. Did Doobie Brothers singer/guitarist Tom Johnston know this when he wrote the song? Sort of. Here’s what he told us: “The words were written last, and they were made up around this whole idea of this wacky little town with a sheriff that had a Samurai Sword and all that sort of thing. The funny thing was that I found out in 1975 in a cab in Houston that there really was a China Grove, although what happened was in 1972 we were touring in Winnebagos, and we were driving into San Antonio. And there is a China Grove, Texas, right outside of San Antonio. I must have seen the sign and forgotten about it. And when I came up with the term ‘China Grove,’ I thought I was just making it up because of the words being about this crazy sheriff with a Samurai Sword.” Johnston’s lyrics were influenced by the oriental piano sound that Billy Payne came up with when they were working on the track. Payne was the pianist for Little Feat, and recorded with many other artists, including Elton John and James Taylor.  The song has a very distinctive guitar riff, which makes it perfect for certain scenes. According to Johnston, however, he didn’t think one way or another about the riff when he came up with it. Johnston claims that the only time he know a guitar lick was going to become a hit was the one he came up with for “Listen To The Music.”