China Grove (song)
|Single by The Doobie Brothers|
|from the album The Captain and Me|
|Released||July 25, 1973|
|The Doobie Brothers singles chronology|
"China Grove" is a song from The Doobie Brothers' 1973 album The Captain and Me. It was written and sung by original main singer/songwriter Tom Johnston. The song reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Composition and recording
Part of the guitar riff uses a variant on the clave rhythm.
In 2010, examination of the master recording tape for the track, by recording engineer Chris Baseford, revealed that, similar to most bands of the time, the band played together while tracking in the studio, instead of overdubbing the instrumental elements: some guitar amp sound could be heard leaking into the drum tracks and some drum tracks leaking into the guitar track. The production on the song was described as "pretty standard". Aside from the drums, panned slightly off center, there were some additional percussion, tambourine, and handclap overdubs. Baseford described the bass performance and sound on this song as "top notch" with Tiran Porter playing the melodic line using a pick and plugging directly into the mixing board.
Like many songs by Johnston, the music was composed and developed before the lyrics were written. It started with a guitar riff that he and drummer John Hartman developed into a jam with a chord structure. Johnston said that the lyrics were influenced by a piano part in the performance. According to Johnston, "...I really owe Billy Payne for the words because he played this wacky bridge that started the thinking process with this wacky sheriff, samurai swords, and all that."
The song is based on a real town in Texas. Johnston claims that he thought he had created a fictional town called "China Grove" near San Antonio, Texas, and later learned it really exists. He explained that the band had been on tour passing through China Grove on the way to or from San Antonio, and he had seen a road sign with the name, but forgot about it. 
While it may be compelling to note the mention of samurai ("who in fact are Japanese, not Chinese"), implies an error of cultural ignorance in the songwriting, there is no evidence that the songwriter was confused about China and Japan. The song simply states that there were samurai swords in that Texas town. The Japanese surrender to US forces in 1945 required Japanese officers, as well as civilian families, to surrender their swords, many of which had been in their families for generations. As a result, a large number of "samurai swords" were taken home as souvenirs by US soldiers.
- Dolly Parton covered the song in 1976 on her variety show Dolly!.
- An instrumental of the song is the theme song of the Fox game show Don't Forget the Lyrics!. The instrumental is performed by band leader Rickey Minor.
- It can be heard in "Be True to Your Fool", an episode from the adult cartoon King of the Hill, when Hank and the gang are driving around Dallas in a flashback to Hank's high school days.
- The song is featured on the soundtrack for the video game Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned, on the in-game radio station Liberty Rock Radio.
- Spatz, David J. (April 29, 2010). "Listen to the Doobies". Atlantic City Weekly. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Chris Baseford June 16, 2010 (June 16, 2010). "Secrets of the Masters: The Doobie Brothers "China Grove"". Premierguitar.com. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
- Meeker, Ward (August 4, 2012). "Doobie Brothers: A Discussion with Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons". Vintage Guitar. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Interview of Tom Johnston, by Carl Wiser, of Songfacts, October 8, 2009.
- Photo of a room full of surrendered Japanese swords 
- Photo of US soldiers with surrendered swords