Roanoke got a brief but noteworthy shout-out earlier this month from, of all places, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It came during HBO’s Nov. 7 broadcast of the hall’s annual induction ceremony, which welcomed new members Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G. and T. Rex.
Just 10 minutes into the program, during a retrospective on The Doobie Brothers, a familiar sight suddenly appears onscreen — The Roanoke Civic Center, circa 1975, what is now the Berglund Center.
There it is, in vintage colorful 16mm footage: The civic center’s original digital marquee, touting an 8 p.m. Doobies concert; footage of cars rolling off Williamson Road; and a sun-dappled shot of throngs of denim-clad fans strolling into the building.
The sequence also uses band interviews to recall how the Doobies’ first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single, “Black Water,” reached that top spot thanks to early airplay on Roanoke radio, specifically WROV-AM.
“Roanoke started playing ‘Black Water’ on their own. Nobody asked them to,” the Doobies’ lead singer, Tom Johnston, says in the show. “Next thing we know, it’s our first No. 1 record.”
To explain: “Black Water” was originally the B-side of the Doobies’ 1974 single, “Another Park, Another Sunday,” an amiable groove that faltered high in the Top 40.
That September, however, WROV station manager Chuck Holloway flipped the record over and pumped “Black Water’s” easygoing, viola-laden hookfest into regular rotation. It became a local hit, caught on at WQRK in Norfolk, and then reached larger markets in Minneapolis, according to Broadcasting magazine.
Warner Bros. took note and, within weeks, reissued “Black Water” as an A-side. By March 1975, the once-overlooked tune claimed the top spot. It only stayed a week (bumped off by Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You”) but remains a classic rock staple to this day.
The Doobies continued on until 1982, then reunited in 1987, and the band’s long train is still running today — it currently boasts nine active members and 20 former players.
During its peak years, the San Jose group returned to Roanoke again and again, selling out the civic center at a time when only Elvis had managed that feat.
So it makes sense that when K92 (WXLK-FM) launched on the last day of 1979, the first song it spun was “Listen to the Music.” By the Doobie Brothers. Roanoke’s hometown band from another land.