Charles Thomas "Tom" Johnston was born in Visalia, California in 1948. He is known principally as a founder, guitarist, lead vocalist, and songwriter for the Grammy Award-winning rock group The Doobie Brothers, as well as for his own solo career. His off-and-on career with The Doobie Brothers spans more than 40 years, during which time the band exhibited numerous successful styles. While primarily an electric guitarist, Johnston has long had an affinity for playing acoustic guitars for exploration and songwriting.
Following the blues and rhythm styling of Freddie King, Jimmy Reed, and Chuck Berry, he had formed his first band by age fourteen. Johnston recounted to Vintage Guitar Magazine that he was a "huge James Brown fan – still am. I saw him in 1962, after "Live at the Apollo" came out, and it was a life-altering experience."In his early career, he played in a variety of bands, including a Mexican wedding band that played half soul and half Latin music. His interest in rhythm and blues led to his singing in a soul group from a neighboring town and, eventually, his own blues band.
Throughout much of an initial seven-year and six-album discography, Johnston wrote and sang many of The Doobie Brothers' early hits, including "Listen to the Music" (#11 Top 100 Billboard Hit −1972), "Jesus Is Just Alright" (written by Arthur Reynolds and covered by the Byrds)(#35 Billboard Top 100 Hit −1973), "Rockin' Down the Highway," "China Grove" (#15 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), "Long Train Runnin'" (#8 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), "Another Park, Another Sunday" (#32 Billboard Hot 100 Hit), and "Eyes of Silver" (#52 Billboard Hot 100 Hit). He also sang the hit song "Take Me in Your Arms" (#11 Billboard Hot 100 Hit −1975) (written by Holland-Dozier-Holland).
Johnston toured in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the Tom Johnston Band, which featured fellow Doobie alum John Hartman on drums. While working on his solo projects, in 1982 Johnston rejoined the band for a Farewell Tour Concert, (see Discography: Live at the Greek Theater), and then The Doobie Brothers would call it quits as a band for the next five years.
Johnston joined the Doobie Brothers when they reunited together for a brief tour in 1987 to benefit The National Veterans Foundation. This event led to the permanent reformation of the band, with Johnston again taking the helm alongside co-founder Simmons. Johnston co-wrote, sang, and contributed a signature guitar solo to the group's last major chart hit, "The Doctor" (from 1989's Cycles). This was followed by the album Brotherhood in 1991 which featured 4 songs by Johnston, and Sibling Rivalry in 2000 featuring the single "People Gotta Love Again". The Doobies' most recent album World Gone Crazy features 13 songs, eight of which were penned by Johnston including the album's title track and the first single "Nobody", a re-recording of the band's first single in 1971.