China Grove

Album: The Captain And Me (1973)
Charted: 15


  • China Grove is a small town in Texas, about 10 miles from San Antonio in Bexar county. Did Doobie Brothers singer/guitarist Tom Johnston know this when he wrote the song? Sort of. Here's what he told Songfacts: "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."
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • 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.

Comments: 57

  • Ronin from Ontario, CanadaThe reference about China and samurai sword does not bother me. Just like a painting, a song does not have to be accurate, it can be surreal and that would make it special - just like nursery rhymes. I'm always a fan of the Doobies, their level of creativity is up there with other milestone bands.
  • Jake Marek from BuffaloThe song is full of silly mistakes. Johnston confuses CHina with Japan with his mentions of Samurai swords and geisha - - both of which are Japanese, not Chinese.
  • Kip from California, 95662The line, "The sheriff and his buddies and their Samurai swords", contains one major flaw. The Samurai sword is from Japan, not China.
  • Prima Facie from Centennial, CoCan't remember where I saw it, but apparently Tom Johnston may be playing it bit coy and the content of the lyrics may be more than coincidental. There may have actually been gossip about the preacher and the teacher, and the sheriff and buddies did party at night with samurai swords, and Johnston heard this from a cab driver. Take it for what it's worth.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 28th 1973, the Doobie Brothers performed "China Grove" on the premiere show of the ABC-TV program 'Don Kirshner's Rock Concert'...
    At the time the song was at #19 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart and in its seventh week on the chart; two days later it would peak at #15...
    {See next post below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn August 12th 1973, "China Grove" by the Doobie Brothers entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #85; and on September 30th,1973 it peaked at #15 {for 2 weeks} and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...The California-based group had twenty-seven Top 100 records; five made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, "Black Water" for 1 week on March 8th, 1975 and "What a Fool Believes" for 1 week in April 8th, 1979...They just missed having seven Top 100 records when both "Listen to the Music" and "Take Me in Your Arms" peaked at #11.
  • Shirley from China Grove, TxI grew up in Martinez, the next town over from China Grove (Texas). As a kid, I remember hearing how the Doobie Brother's song "China Grove" put China Grove on the map. I don't know how true this story is, but here's what I was told.

    Supposedly, the Doobie Brothers were driving through China Grove on their way to their next tour stop when their tour bus broke down here. The people of the town were extremely helpful and welcoming to the band. They even offered the band a place to stay while the parts for their tour bus were being ordered. To thank the people of this little town, the Doobie Brothers wrote the song "China Grove."

    My memories of China Grove was that it was a small. quiet town where everyone knew everyone. There weren't many businesses in China Grove back in the '70s. As a kid, I frequented Hero's Ice in the '80s (my older siblings would make me go in and get them things like ice, bread, milk, candy, etc.). John Hero, the owner, and his son were always so nice and always asked about my family. There was also Italian Archway, part restaurant / part pool hall. My brothers always played in pool tournaments there. And of course, who can forget Deptawa's, a little mom & pop hardware store that, still to this day seems to have everything you need, even the hard to find parts.

    Definitely a quiet town, but everyone knew everyone. I have since moved several towns away, but I still drive through it every week to get into San Antonio. Today, China Grove has a Chevron (which took most of Hero's gasoline business) and a Dairy Queen, two banks, a bakery, several car lots, two Mexican restaurants, and several other industrial businesses. Italian Archway is still there, as is Hero's Ice and Deptawa's. Just be careful driving through China Grove. The speed limit is 50 mph and the cops don't play around.
  • Matt from Potterville, MiKeith from China Grove and Kevin from SA are both correct. I have found all 4 of my photo's and the one taken from the outside facing the front of Hero's-- The sign just reads "Hero's Ice". And I do remember seeing some Italian place to eat. Just a coincidence but one of the photo's has a calendar, the kind where you tear the day off and it clearly reads Sunday April 17th, 1988. I read or was told that one of the Doobie Bros was from CG. Maybe it was that they just rented a place for awhile and the story got stretched. And the comment that by now CG has been absorbed by SA makes sense. I lived in Vegas and if you left for a week there would be a new neighborhood where a week earlier there was desert.
  • Matt from Potterville, MiIn 1988 while in the the military and attending a school a Ft Sam Houston in San Anton a lady friend I had met and I were driving in my car and China Grove came on the radio. We had nothing to do so I went looking for China Grove and found it. It is 10 miles due east of SA. We found "Hero's Feed and Grain" there. It was a hot April day and Hero's doors were wide open. Hero's is a little general store that sold a little of everything to include beer to drink on the premises. We had a couple. My lady fried took my camera and took a picture of me with my arm around a life size cardboard cut out of Paul Hogan (Croockadile Dundee) advertising Foster Lager. I still have the photo and while this was 26 years ago and my friend lives in WA state and I live in MI we have communicated via email within the past week.... still. We saw a constable but no Samurai or swords. Just Hero's.
  • Coke from San Jose, CaRemembering back in the early 70s, my neighbor worked as a counselor at a methadone clinic in Mountain View, CA. One Saturday morning he invited me to spend time with him at the clinic to keep him company. Every Saturday one of the counselors had to come in for a half day to supervise the dispensary of methadone to patients. While sitting at his office, we heard a commotion at the dispensary line. It was Tom Johnston. Upon arrival he expected to be allowed to go to the head of the line. I remember his rants, "Hey I'm Tom Johnston, I'm one of the Doobies!" The head nurse put him in his place, "I don't give a f___k , around here, you are just one junkies". He went to the back of the line.
  • Jim from Pleasant Hill, CaI came here hoping to find info on the elusive Mrs. Perkins. Is she all part of the same nonsense?
  • Ralph from Ukiah, CaI'm interested if the town of Ukiah of the same song name is the one in California or Oregon?
  • Drew from B\'ham, AlAlthough I did see on a map... there is a specific China Grove. Shows how much I know Texas, eh?
  • Drew from B\'ham, AlIt is also possible that Bexar County or wherever has more than one chinaberry grove. That for the case, China Grove may be *a china grove*, for there might not be *one major China Grove*. I wouldn't know, though, seeing as how I've never dwelt in Texas. But I've the slight idea that that's possible.
  • Scott from Eugene, OrWhile General Albert Sydney Johnston did indeed have a plantation called China Grove, it is south of Houston, far from "San Antone". Google Maps even takes you there, instead of to the town of China Grove. The ePodunk website states that the town was named for a grove of chinaberry trees.
  • Joe from Austin, TxThe name of the town may not even have anything to do with the Orient. Chinaberry trees grow well and fast and thrive in this area of Texas. China Grove may be short for Chinaberry Grove ... nothing to do with Samuri swords.
  • Rev.mark Alan Pendergraft from Concord, CaThis song is so far off its not even funny, China Grove is nothing but one Gas Station, One Dance Hall and its not a rock one at that. Its a spot in the road and I can tell you there is more going on in La Vernia, Tx then China Grove has ever seen.

    But it was a cool song.
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaThe 70's ..I love the power chord on China Grove.Great song..
  • Drew from B\'ham, Al"Rocky Mountain Way" by Joe Walsh has a similar riff, only in 6/8 time instead of 4/4. Not as many similarities -- not even close to as many -- as Sugarloaf's "Texas Two Lane".
  • Drew from B'ham, AlThis is a song about some place in Texas & the Doobie brothers start it off in a mix of electric guitar & piano rock-&-roll. Sugarloaf does that too in their "Texas Two Lane". Must be something about electric guitar, piano rock-&-roll, and Texas all fitting together. And something about the Doobs & Sugarloaf using similar styles.
  • Alec Thorp from Yorktown Heights, NyHasent anybody realized it yet? This the theme song to "Don't Forget the Lyrics".
  • Jefferson from New York, NyThis song, like so many others, is about drugs, specifically, heroin. China white coming up from Mexico. Tom Johnston was addicted. All the action in China Grove happens at night.
  • Wayne from Crockett, TxI find it strange that Tom Johnston wrote a song about a small Texas town south of San Antonio, and he didn't even know it was a real town. Wow, what a coinkidink!
  • Jami from Redding, CaI was just wondering if anyone knew if the song Ukiah on the captain and me album is about Ukiah Ca?
  • Spike from Frederick County, MdChina Grove was the theme song for my fraternity chapter back in the mid 70s. It was the number one "gatoring" song for the PIKES at VT. Probably still is. Go PIKES - Go HOKIES.
  • Jill from China Grove, TxChina grove has been encompassed by san antonio for some years.
    Just little more than a subdivision now. But it was likely far enough out to stand alone back when written.
    I've often wondered what "they're just people looking to the east" meant. I assume its a compliment meaning that they don't go in for the backwards ways of typical south westerners.. Like texans and beyond.
    Seems to be a nonsensical song though.. just liked the name I guess.
    The name comes from the cotton plantation originally founded in 1840 on that site. Nothing chinese about it. Just the name the guy that annexed the land wanted to call it.
    The doobs just liked the name and wrote nonsense around it.

  • Danielle from China Grove, NcI accually live in China Grove [the one in NC] but the town near it is spelled Kannapolis =]
  • Carlos López from San Antonio, Afghanistanduring this song they say "samuri sword" but samuri are Japenese not chinese but ya Im a history geek
    San Antonio ROCKS!!!!!
  • Larry from Prattville, AlThere is a China Grove in Alabama as well. Located in Pike County just off highway 231 and just south of Montgomery, Alabama. As a matter of fact my mother was born there. It's total residents number just 28.Believe it not on every July 4th they have a parade, BBQ, watermelon,and live music.
    Larry, Prattville, Al.
  • Mark from Boston, MaGreat song, but one error, its charactes are supposedly influenced by Chinese culture, but it references Samurai ("the sheriff with his buddies with their Samurai swords"), which are in fact not Chinese but Japanese.
  • Tom Davis from San Antonio, TxChina Grove was the name of the Ranch / Plantation of Albert Sydney Johnston - the top Conferderate General (if you don't count Samual Cooper, who no one remembers) before he was killed a Shiloh. He was from Brazoria County, Texas. Is is just coincidence that Tom Johnston wrote that song, and he spells his last name the same way? It's very conceivable that they are related, and this song makes his anscestor's home immortal.
  • John from Brisbane, United StatesFor thirty years I had always thought this song had something to do with that deadloss country in eastern asia.Thank you so much.Maybe at the olympic games the Doobies perform china grove to show how narrow minded China is.China Grove is one of my most favorite and best
  • Mike from Alvin Tx., TxThere are several China Groves in Texas. One near Dallas, and another one south of San Antonio near Alvin Tx. which the song could apply to this one as well.
  • Julie from China Grove, NcI live in China Grove, NC. It is near a town called Kannapolis, not Canapolis. China Grove, NC is probably as boring as China Grove, TX -- I've never been there though
  • Samantha from China Grove, TxI think this song is great! I was born ten years after it was written in China Grove. I was just told about the song tonight. Love the guitar intro!
  • Draal from Tilburg, NetherlandsAce Frehley (ex-KISS) 'stole' the riff for his 1978' 'Rip It Out' (great song as well).
  • Chuck from Houston, TxThis song was used in the Simpsons episode where Homer and Bart are crusing on Monty's yacht. The party on the boat gets a little hardy and Bart starts taunting the Coast Guard cutter near by but cant do anything about it bacause there just outside of American waters. The yacht is taken hostage and the Coast Gurar taunts them back... good episode.
  • Gill from Montreal, CanadaWhen she was little my sister used to jump up and play air guitar to this song whenever it came on, that's why I love it. And I agree with Brian from Grand Forks about Tom not knowing about the place. I just don't believe he would have told anyone that.
  • Dana from Tucson, AzIf Tom indeed left the band in 1975 because of heroin addiction and not bleeding ulcers as he has always mainained, it matters not. The important thing is he got healthy and well again, and has been doing great for 30 years.He still rocks my world.
  • Bob from Oakland, CaSamurai swords are a part of Japanese, not Chinese culture.
  • Tim from Tulsa, United StatesWhoever said Tom J. left the Doobies because he had a stomach ache is full of it. He was a heroin addict and was arrested and ordered either into rehab or jail, He left cleaned himself and is doing great.
  • Mary from Phoenix, AzWhen I was a young 'en, I used to think they were singing "Johnny, Go!" I only found out about 6 years ago that they were singing "China Grove". It's a great song!
  • Justin from Albany, Nymy favorite doobie brothers song
  • Ivan from Dallas, TxA local Band in Hong Kong called the Wynners coverd this song in 1975. They also covered "Jesus is Just Alright", but none of them being Christians.
  • Chris from Paradise, CtRad from AL is so wrong about tom johnston
    he left because of his stomach problems.......But the doobies are the best rock band in history...
    -Chris Galea-
  • Stan from Las Vegas, NvSong fact Tom Johnston's China Grove:

    China Grove was the name of the ranch of Tom Johnston's namesake: CSA General and head of Army of Republic of Texas, Albert Sydney JOHNSTON
    see wikipedia
  • Richard from San Antonio, TxOk guys...I actually got to meet Tom Johnston here in San Antonio and asked him how he came up with the title.. And he said that he was just driving down a highway near San Antonio and saw a sign that said "China Grove"and the rest is history....The Doobies..Best rock group ever!!!
  • Tom from Los Angeles, CaBut do they even have ONE Chinese restaurant there?
  • Kevin from San Antonio, TxOk my father Roger Schmidt lived on tree bend drive with his parents Adolf&leona Schmidt when turning on to the road coming from the north my fathers family lived and still does live on the left hand side in the second house the dooobie brothers lived directli across the road on the first house on the right for about 1 and a half months,and acording to my father almost every other day the had a party
  • Keith from China Grove, TxActually China Grove has two locations that have been around for quite a while. The Italian Archway and Hero's Ice and Feed. Both are cool places to kick back and relax after a day's work. Both of these places have been around since the writing of the Doobie Brothers Song and the pre-development of China Grove. I grew up here and must say it is actually a pretty cool little town, and yes, the Doobie Brothers probably stopped for a cold one on their way to SA and thought the same thing, therefore grabbing the title. Our claim to fame!!!!
  • Maddie from Chicago, Il>>When Johnston left, Patrick Simmons sang Johnston's lead while on tour.<<
    Not all of the songs. Keith Knudsen would come out from behind the drums and sing his heart out on Tom's songs. He also did Sweet Maxine while Tom was away.
  • Ralph from Hickory, NcChina Grove is also a tiny town in North Carolina. It's in Rowan county, not far from Kannapolis (near Charlotte). I have no idea if Johnston was aware of its existence.
  • Rad from Montgomery, AlTom Johnston wasn't replaced by Michael McDonald. The Doobies recorded "Taking It To the Streets" and "Living On The Fault Line" with both Johnston and McDonald in the group. From what I remember, Tom Johnston left because the Doobies stopped rocking as much because McDonald got more amd more influence over the band's sound. When Johnston left, Patrick Simmons sang Johnston's lead while on tour.
  • J.r. from Competion, Mois this song a protest song? just wondering.
  • Nathaniel from Richardson, TxI used to live right around there, and went to school there. I've heard that the song was written when they(the doobie brothers) were going to concert in San Antiono. The tour bus happened to drive through china grove, the rest is history.
  • Brian from Grand Forks, NdI'm not buying that story about Tom being unaware of an actual China Grove... That would be way too strange... Down around San Antone... Come On... If he said China Grove was down around Fargo then maybe...

  • Rick from San Antonio, TxChina Grove is a tiny hamlet, really just a collection of car lots, a bakery, convience stores, gas stations. And that is now. It really must've been NOTHING when the song was written.
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