“Jesus Is Just Alright” is a gospel song written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by Reynolds’ own group, The Art Reynolds Singers, on their 1966 album, Tellin’ It Like It Is.
The song’s title makes use of the American slang term “all-right”, which during the 1960s was used to describe something that was considered ‘cool’ or very good. The song has been covered by a number of bands and artists over the years, including The Byrds, Underground Sunshine, The Doobie Brothers, Alexis Korner, The Ventures, DC Talk, Stryper, Shelagh McDonald, and Robert Randolph (featuring Eric Clapton).
The first cover version of the song was recorded by the Los Angeles band The Byrds on their 1969 album, Ballad of Easy Rider. The song was later recorded by The Doobie Brothers, who included it on their 1972 album, Toulouse Street. The Doobie Brothers’ version of the song was released as a single in November 1972 and it became a hit in the United States, peaking at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1992, the Christian rock and hip hop group, DC Talk, released a version of “Jesus Is Just Alright” on their Free at Last album. Most recently, the song has been covered by Robert Randolph on his Colorblind album, with guest artist Eric Clapton and Stryper’s 2013 release, No More Hell to Pay.
Drummer John Hartman arrived in California in 1969 determined to meet Skip Spence of Moby Grape and join an aborted Grape reunion. Spence introduced Hartman to singer, guitarist and songwriter Tom Johnston and the two proceeded to form the nucleus of what would become The Doobie Brothers. Johnston and Hartman called their fledgling group “Pud” and experimented with lineups (occasionally including Spence) and styles as they performed in and around San Jose.
They were mostly a power trio (along with bassist Greg Murphy) but briefly worked with a horn section. In 1970 they teamed up with bass player Dave Shogren and singer, guitarist and songwriter Patrick Simmons. Simmons, who had belonged to several area groups (among them “Scratch”, an acoustic trio with future Doobies bassist Tiran Porter) and also performed as a solo artist, was already an accomplished fingerstyle player whose approach to the instrument complemented Johnston’s rhythmic R&B strumming.
The Doobie Brothers improved their playing by performing live all over Northern California in 1970. They attracted a particularly strong following among local chapters of the Hells Angels and got a recurring gig at one of the bikers’ favorite venues, the Chateau Liberté in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and they continued playing the Chateau through the summer of 1975 (although some of these concerts did not include all band members and they were unannounced and of a completely impromptu nature).
An energetic set of demos (eight of which were briefly and illegally released on Pickwick Records in 1980 under the title Introducing the Doobie Brothers, and have since been bootlegged on CD under that title and On Our Way Up as well, both with expanded song selections), showcased fuzz-toned dual lead electric guitars, three-part harmonies and Hartman’s frenetic drumming and earned the rock group a contract at Warner Bros. Records.
At this point in their history, the band’s image reflected that of their biggest fans—leather jackets and motorcycles. However, the group’s 1971 self-titled debut album departed significantly from that image and their live sound of the period. The album, which failed to chart, emphasized acoustic guitars and frequently reflected country influences. The bouncy lead-off song “Nobody”, the band’s first single, has surfaced in their live set several times over the ensuing decades. Most recently, this song was rerecorded and added to their 2010 CD World Gone Crazy. Also in 1971, the group toyed with the idea of adding a second drummer, supplementing Hartman’s drumming on some of their shows with that of Navy veteran Michael Hossack while still touring behind their first album.
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