Black Water (song)

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"Black Water" is a song recorded by the American music group The Doobie Brothers from their 1974 album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits: the track - which features its composer Patrick Simmons on lead vocals - became the first of the two Doobie Brothers' #1 hit singles in the spring of 1975.

Background/Original B-side release[edit]

Well, I built me a raft and she's ready for floatin'
Ol' Mississippi, she's callin' my name
Catfish are jumpin', that paddle wheel thumpin'
Black water keep rollin' on past just the same

opening lyrics to "Black Water", written by P. Simmons
"Black Water"
Single by The Doobie Brothers
from the album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
A-side "Another Park, Another Sunday"
Released 13 March 1974
Format 7" single
Recorded 1973
Genre Roots rock, country rock
Length 4:18
Label Warner Bros. Records
Writer(s) Patrick Simmons
Producer(s) Ted Templeman
The Doobie Brothers singles chronology
"China Grove"
(1973)
"Another Park, Another Sunday" b/w "Black Water"
(1974)
"Eyes of Silver"
(1974)

Patrick Simmons would recall that he chanced on the basic guitar lick for "Black Water" while at Warner Bros. Recording Studio (NoHo) for the recording sessions for the Doobie Brothers' 1973 album The Captain and Me: "I was sitting out in the studio waiting between takes and I played that part. All the sudden I heard the talk-back go on and [producer] Ted Templeman says: 'What is that?' I said: 'It’s just a little riff that I came up with that I’ve been tweaking with.' He goes: 'I love that. You really should write a song using that riff.'"[1]

Simmons would complete "Black Water" during a subsequent Doobie Brothers' sojourn in New Orleans: a lifelong aficionado of Delta blues, Simmons had first visited New Orleans for a 1971 Doobie Brothers gig: "When I got down there it was everything I had hoped it would be...The way of life and vibe really connected with me and the roots of my music." Simmons cites the song's opening section - see Quote Box to the right - as "my childhood imaginings of the South from reading Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer" while the lyrics subsequent to the first chorus draw on his actual experience of New Orleans: "going down to the French Quarter as often as possible and going into the clubs and listening to Dixieland":[2] the lyric Well if it rains, I don't care/ Don't make no difference to me/ Just take that street car that's goin' uptown was jotted down by Simmons while riding through the University District on the St. Charles Streetcar Line en route to the Garden District in Uptown New Orleans to do laundry: "the sun was shining while it was pouring rain the way it does down there sometimes. And the lyrics just came to me there [on the streetcar]." [2]

"Black Water" is distinguished by its melodious a cappella section, whose lyrics are likely the song's prevalent hook lines: "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland/ Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand." These lines are also featured in the Train song, "I Got You" (from Save Me San Francisco) on which Simmons received a co-writing credit. Producer Ted Templeman would say of the a cappella section of "Black Water": "I stole the idea from my old producer",[3] referencing his stint as lead singer of sunshine pop act Harpers Bizarre whose 1967 hit rendition of "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" had featured a harmonic a cappella section (Harpers Bizarre had been produced by Lenny Waronker). "Black Water" also features a striking viola performance by Ilene "Novi" Novog credited mononymously as Novi.

Despite his encouragement in regard to writing "Black Water" and his meticulous arranging of the track, Ted Templeman would recall: "We never thought [of] it as a [potential hit] single" [3] - "I put 'Black Water' on [a] B-side because I figured [it was] an acoustic thing." [4] "Black Water" was in fact utilized as the B-side for the lead single from the Doobie Brothers' 1974 album release What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, the A-side being "Another Park, Another Sunday" whose June 1974 Billboard Hot 100 peak would be #32: regular group lead vocalist Tom Johnston who would recall that "Another Park..." "was doing real well [in single release], and then it got yanked off the radio for the line 'And the radio just seems to bring me down'".[5] After the second single off What Were Once Vices...: "Eyes of Silver", was a Top 40 shortfall, Warner Bros. resorted to a re-release of the Doobie Brothers inaugural single "Nobody" a 1971 non-charter which in the autumn of 1974 rose into the Top 60 before being phased out by the re-release of "Black Water" as an A-side single.

Chart performance[edit]

Weekly chart (1974) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 32
U.S. Cash Box Top 100 38

Album track success/A-side release[edit]

"Black Water"
Single by The Doobie Brothers
from the album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
B-side "Song to See You Through"
Released October 1974
Format 7" single
Recorded 1973
Genre Roots rock, country rock
Length 4:18
Label Warner Bros. Records
Writer(s) Patrick Simmons
Producer(s) Ted Templeman
Certification Gold
The Doobie Brothers singles chronology
"Nobody" (re-issue)
(1974)
"Black Water"
(1974)
"Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)"
(1975)

From 11 September 1974 WROV-AM in Roanoke VA began airing "Black Water" off the album What Were Once Vices... - the Blackwater, a Roanoke River tributary, is a 25-minute drive from Roanoke city center - with listener response so positive as to cause music director Chuck Holloway to opine: "No one was requesting anything else." [6] Hampton Roads broadcaster WQRK-FM was soon also airing "Black Water", and the track's intense regional success came to the attention of Warner Bros. national promotion director Gary Davis causing an A-side single release of "Black Water" in October 1974, five weeks after WROV had begun airing the track [6] ("Song to See You Through", a Tom Johnston composition off What Once Were Vices..., was utilized as B-side). "Black Water" had its first major market breakout in the Twin Cities area, being reported as an add-on by KDWB [6] in the 23 November 1974 issue of Billboard. Reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated 15 March 1975, "Black Water" is one of the few records by any act released as a B-side to another Hot 100 hit before topping the Hot 100 itself. In the Billboard ranking of Hot 100 hits for the year 1975 "Black Water" would rank at #15.[7]

The song is one of several performed by the Doobie Brothers during the band's two episode appearance in 1978 on the ABC sitcom What's Happening!! [8]

Chart performance[edit]

Other versions[edit]

Garth Brooks recorded "Black Water" for his 2013 multi-CD release Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences.

The Doobie Brothers remade "Black Water" as a collaboration with the Zac Brown Band for their 2014 album Southbound.

A Finnish rendering "Lauantaisin" was recorded by Reijo Karvonen on his 1975 album Tulossa.

A section of the chorus and the ending was incorporated into the coda of the song "I Got You" by the US rock band Train.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Doobie Brothers". GuitarPlayer.com. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Doobies are still takin' it to the streets". GoldmineMag.com. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Bronson, Fred (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. NYC: Watson Guptill. p. 397. ISBN 9780823076772. 
  4. ^ Morse, Tim (1998). Classic Rock Stories: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs of All Time. NYC: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 19. ISBN 0-312-18067-5. 
  5. ^ "Interview: Tom Johnston from The Doobie Brothers". SongFacts.com. Retrieved 30 December 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c http://americanradiohistory.com/Archive-BC/BC-1975/1975-03-03-BC.pdf
  7. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1975
  8. ^ Sally Wade (writer); Mark Warren (director) (January 28, 1978). "Doobie or Not Doobie (Parts 1 and 2)". What's Happening!!. Season 2. Episode 16 & 17. ABC. 
  9. ^ http://50.6.195.142/archives/70s_files/19750222.html
  10. ^ http://www.musicoutfitters.com/topsongs/1975.htm
  11. ^ http://50.6.195.142/archives/70s_files/1975YESP.html

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Have You Never Been Mellow" by Olivia Newton-John
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
15 March 1975 (one week)
Succeeded by
"My Eyes Adored You" by Frankie Valli