♫ China Grove ♫

When I played Black Water by the Doobie Brothers a couple of nights ago, our friend Clive mentioned another song by that group, one that I wasn’t as familiar with.  Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I hear a song for the first time, I hate it immediately, listen to the first minute or so, and that’s it for me.  Other times, I might kinda-sorta like it, but unless it’s sung by Stevie Wonder, it will take a bit of time to grow on me.  That’s where I am with this song, but I like it well enough to play it here tonight, even if it isn’t Stevie!

According to Doobie Brothers singer/guitarist Tom Johnston …

“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.”

Songfacts did an interview with Mr. Johnston …

Tom 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. In his Songfacts interview, Johnston said: “The piano lick went, ‘Dadadadun, dadadadadundun.’ It was an Oriental sounding lick. And so from there I took off and went to the place I ended up with lyrically. I must have seen that sign and forgotten it. And when the cab driver told me this in Houston, I said, ‘You gotta be kiddin’ me.’ He said, ‘There really is a China Grove.’ I said, ‘No, there isn’t.’ He says, ‘Yeah, there really is. And it is right outside of San Antonio.’ I said, ‘That’s weird.’ And it turns out there’s one in North Carolina, too.”
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This song has been used in a number of TV shows, including The Simpsons, Entourage and House. It 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.”
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The late Keith Knudsen, drummer for The Doobie Brothers, had quite a culture shock when traveling with Al Kooper (of Blood Sweat & Tears fame) in Japan. As related in Kooper’s memoir Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, Knudsen was dry and asked the bass player to score him marijuana – and was taken aback when informed that Japan was both a police state and very drug-free. The naive bass player tried anyway and brought back a tiny amount, wrapped in a paper packet as if it were a much higher-caliber substance. Knudsen casually lit up in the hotel room, and the bass player freaked out, stuffing towels under the door and carrying on like he thought they were going to be shot.
China Grove
The Doobie Brothers

28 thoughts on “♫ China Grove ♫

  1. Jill, this is one of my favorite songs by anyone. The restart in the middle is quite memorable. I have a personal memory where a senior girl I had a crush on, loved this song and when we were at a cross country meet, I recall her running toward a radio playing this song. For the record, I would have liked the song anyway. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had no idea, but I’m glad! I think you and Clive have a lot in common in musical tastes! Ahhhh … the angst of teen love … from which we learned the difference between lust and the real thing we call love. I’m glad your love of the music outlasted the crush 😉

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  2. Pingback: CHINA GROVE. |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  3. One of the great rock riffs! Such a great song too, and the way they build the backing around the twin guitars and the piano has always made this a favourite for me. This is rock music at its best. Thanks for playing it – who knows, over time you may come to like it as much as I do 🤣

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve got a question for you … on the first of the “Black Water” videos https://jilldennison.com/2022/06/21/♫-black-water-♫-redux/ at the 1:19 point, there is an instrument being played. Scottie asked me what it was, and I didn’t know, so I asked my daughter, the musical expert, and SHE didn’t know. So now I’m asking the REAL music expert … do you know what it is?

      I’m so glad you enjoyed China Grove … for some strange reason, I was pretty sure you would like it 😉 Yes, I do like it, it’s just not in my top ten list … yet.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Clive!!! I’ll pass that along to Scottie … Chris said she thought it looked like some sort of steel guitar, but she wasn’t sure. I’m of the old school where a guitar is shaped sort of like an 8 and you drape it over your shoulder to play it 🎸 I shall make listening to China Grove a part of my daily routine until either I love it or hate it! 🤣

          Liked by 1 person

          • There is more than one style of guitar! For example, as well as the regular style there is the dobro, often played by being attached to a neck strap but held flat in front of the body. The pedal steel guitar is always played seated, it is an integral part of country rock music and that’s why I think that is what is being played here. It looks a bit complicated, though, which is why I thought it might be an electric version.

            Hope you continue to enjoy China Grove 🤣

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  4. Okay.
    Unfinished business: Jim Lowe, The Green Door. Taught me about mystery, and yearning. A six year-old kid, finding out there are things in the world that could not be known. But knowing they could not be known was somehow comforting.

    Liked by 1 person

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