Black Water

Album: What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)
Charted: 1
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  • Patrick Simmons, who is the group's guitarist, wrote this song and sang lead. It has the Louisiana swamp rock feel of earlier Doobie Brothers songs like "Toulouse Street" and "Black Eyed Cajun Woman."

    The song is about the Mississippi River, with lyrics likely inspired by Mark Twain's books Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, which tell stories about rafting down the river.
  • "Black Water" wasn't seen as having hit potential, so it was relegated to the B-side of "Another Park, Another Sunday" in March 1974. "Black Water" wasn't issued as an A-side until November, and it didn't reach #1 until March 15, 1975.

    In a Songfacts interview with Tom Johnston, the Doobie Brothers frontman explained how the song became an unlikely hit. Said Johnston: "That's a story that could have happened back then, but never would ever ever happen now: Roanoke, Virginia picked that tune up and started playing it in heavy rotation, and somebody in Minneapolis who I guess knew somebody in Roanoke heard the song and decided to follow suit, and it ended up becoming our first #1 single. That was Pat's first single. And oddly enough, it was never looked at as a single by the record company.

    I remember when I first heard it was #1, we were in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we were just getting ready to go on stage, and then I guess Bruce [their manager Bruce Cohn] must have told us. I think we were already aware of the fact that it was getting airplay, but nobody was really paying a lot of attention. And then all of a sudden it became #1 and we were paying attention. I remember I went in and congratulated Pat backstage, and we've been playing it ever since."
  • The band lost lead singer Tom Johnston to illness in 1975, but found a capable replacement in Michael McDonald, who was with them until their split in 1982. When they re-grouped in 1988, Johnston took over as frontman.

    The Doobie Brothers are one of the few bands with hits sung by three different singers: Johnston, McDonald, and thanks to "Black Water," Patrick Simmons.
  • The Doobie Brothers performed this in a 1978 episode of the TV show What's Happening!! where they teach the characters on the show about the dark side of bootlegging.
  • The United States private security firm Blackwater was named for the dark water swamps of North Carolina, where the company is based. After criticism of the company's conduct during the Iraq War, they changed their name to "Xe" (pronounced "Z") in 2009.

Comments: 28

  • Steve from Oakland IlSeen them in Champaign IL in 73 or 74. they had a 5 piece jazz band from New Orleans came out and played on black water and a couple more songs. The jazz band did all the fiddle playing.
  • Pat from New OrleansThe first half of the song is most likely about Mark Twain.

    But the second half is all about New Orleans. The Doobies recorded here in the early 70's. I heard an interview with a band member, who referenced partying in the French Quarter, and living the Southern (really New Orleans) life and staying out late (buying everyone drinks, all night long) Toulouse Street is in the Quarter as well.

    The references to Honky Tonks, Dixieland Jazz, and the Streetcar are all about New Orleans and the French Quarter during that time period. Back then, locals still hung out in the Quarter

    I used to "take that Streetcar that's going Uptown" after a long night in the Quarter. It's how I got home. Fun fact, it only runs hourly after midnight. If you missed it, you had to party for another hour before you could catch the next one.

    Sadly, the Quarter isn't like it used to be. There are only a few places that locals go to, and Bourbon St is all Karaoke Bars and other overpriced tourist joints. We have our own spots now, and we ain't telling!
  • Dino from LaNovi Novog played the Viola on that tune. She was from the band,”Chunky, Novi & Ernie! At the request of the Legendary Producer, Ted Templeman!!!
  • Markantney from BiloxeSep 2016, Though I'm waaaay more R&B than Folk-Rock, Country-Rock, whatever the category for this great song is but when I first heard it on TV or the radio, late 70s, even I knew it was a hit. The guitar, violin(?), and Pat's signing are on point. "Ole Missassippehh, she's callin my name, Caaaattfish are jumpin..." great, great song.

    Odd, this song and Boz Scaggs "Low Down", weren't considered hits when the artist made it?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 12th 1975, the 'Warner Brothers Music Show' began a nine-city, 18-date tour of the United Kingdom...
    One of the tour's acts were the Doobie Brothers; and at the time the group's "Black Water" was at #24 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, a little over of six weeks later on March 9th it would peak at #1 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 17 weeks...
    Between 1971 and 1989 the California group had twenty-eight Top 100 records; five made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, their other #1 record was "What A Fool Believes" for 1 week on April 8th, 1979...
    The super group just missed having seven Top 10 records when "Listen to the Music" and "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)" both peaked at #11 on the Top 100.
  • Paul from Washington Dc, DcI agree with you, EB from Orlando; it's just a great slice-of-life song. And I smoked dope myself back then (shame on me).
  • Tom from Detroit, MiIronically the only two #1's the Doobies had in the rocking 70s were neither penned nor sung by the major singer-songwriter, Tom Johnston:

    a) BLACK WATER was sung by Pat Simmons
    b) WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES was sung by Michael McDonald
  • Coffeegod from Brandon, MsI was in high school when this hit. Walking down the hall one afternoon somebody started singing it. The entire hallway full of students broke out in the chorus, dancing and singing like there was no tomorrow. I will never forget that.
  • Krista from Carbondale, PaI've been hearing this song since I was a kid and it's always been great.
  • Michael from Pittsburgh, PaThis song is obviously nothing more than a allusion to Mark Twain's writing. Black water is a reference to the Mississippi River. It's always put me in mind of reading Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer while listening to Janis Joplin - especially her version of Summertime.

    Great song.
  • Scott from Boston, MaI love the vocal arrangement at the end. The only other song I can think of where the vocals go back and forth like that is "Bohemian Rhapsody".
  • Eb from Orlando Metro, FlShhesh...why does it always have to be about drugs or something? Read the entire lyrics. If you've ever visited anywhere in the south, particularly the Mississippi River, or read Mark Twain, or went out dancing on a lovely southern evening, it's just a nice, groovy song about that!
  • John from Fort Worth, TxThis song was popular when I was 13 and read the novel "Gone With The Wind" for the first (not the last) time. The sounds of this memorable song really added dimention to my enjoyment of the book.
    John Martin, 46, TX
  • Buck from Monroe, LaThe song mentioned above as "Black Eyed Cajun Woman" is actually "Dark Eyed Cajun Woman" and it's on The Captain and Me album.
  • Chris from Havertown, PaI also would love to get the VIOLIN/FIDDLE sheet music or tab for for Blackwater by the Doobie Brothers. Does anyone have it or know where I can get it? Thanks.
  • Justin from Albany, Nythis song is so dam good. Its definitely one of my favorites. I LOVE THE DOOBIE BROTHERS.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaWow this is one of the Doobies best. Probably the first I ever heard.
  • Patrick from Tallapoosa, GaWhen I listen to the first verse of the song, I get the image of Mark Twain's character Huckleberry Finn and the black man Big Jim floating on a raft down the river.
  • Brandon from Peoria, IlI'm not one to say songs are about drugs or alcohol, but this song just may be about either or both. I was unaware that bong water was refered to as black water. If you listen to the lyrics it can be taken two ways. "I don't care what happens because I'm stoned," or "I don't care what happens because I'm just chillin' by the Muddy Mississippi." I do, however, like the fact that they used the words Mississippi, Moon, and Shine in the same sentence...Mississippi Moonshine maybe??? Either way, it's a pretty cool song.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaI heard this song awhile ago and didn't know who it was or what it was called and I found out a year later. Awesome song. Just relaxing by the river. Life doesn't get much better then that.
  • Mike from Warwick, RiMy aunt took me to see a Doobie's show in 1976 when I was 9 years old at the Providence Civic Center. As we walked into the venue, I can remember her telling me if someone passed me something, to just pass it on over to her. During the show, I passed many over to her and got a contact high myself....Great show, great band....great times!
  • Brandon from SudburyI am also looking hard for the VIOLIN sheet music for Black Water, by the Doobie Brothers. I need help!
  • Patti from Hudson Valley, NyI have been desparately seaching for the violin sheet music for this song. A friend has a rock n roll band and my daughter (10 years old plays violin - she has played since she was 5) and he wants her to play the violin part for this with his band.

    PLEASE !!!! let me know if someone has the violin sheet music

  • Arthur from North Kingstown, Riblack water may be a reference to bong water, however not in this song. black water is another name for the mississippi river.
  • Alex from Belle Mead, NjThe violin in this song is really cool. I took out my violin and tried to play a little bit with it. Although I wish I had the sheet music . . . Does anybody know anything?
  • Tim from Milestone, CanadaBlack water is just another name for the Mississippi River.
  • Sam from Philadelphia, Pablack water is a reference to bong water and as the doobie brothers were huge stoners, it makes sense
  • Horace from Western, MdThis was orginally released as the "B" side of "Another Park, Another Sunday" in May 1974. That song made it to #32 (Billboard). The end of that year some stations started paying its "B" side - so "Black Water" was re-released in late 1974.
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