Twenty-nine different men have been in the Doobie Brothers for the past 50 years, but only one has been there all the time: Patrick Simmons. And while Tom Johnston may be the face of the group and Michael McDonald the one who was hugely successful outside of the group, Simmons is the songwriter and singer of some of their most famous songs, including “Black Water “. He is also a key player and part of the group’s emblematic harmonic blend.
About 24 hours after learning that the Doobie Brothers were entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Simmons called us to talk about the honor, plans for their next 50th anniversary tour with Michael McDonald and the five songs they come recorded with producer John Shanks.
What was your first reaction when you heard the big news?
I was really happy with it. This is something that we have been thinking about for a long time. This is sort of one of the things that you always hope for, especially with a group like ours that has existed for so long. We are celebrating 50 years. It could even be 51, but who counts?
There are so many deserving artists who are not yet in the Hall of Fame. For this reason, I never thought “We deserve it” or “Why weren’t we chosen?” Because I look at all these other artists who deserve as much as we do. Even being mentioned with the other inductees, for me, is a great honor. And there are also so many people who haven’t even been nominated who are just waiting to be nominated. It is quite large.
Now your name will be put on the wall by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly…
We are not worthy of it! We are not worthy of it! [Laughs]
They bring Tom Johnston, you, John McFee, John Hartman, the late Michael Hossack, Tiran Porter, the late Keith Knudsen, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Michael McDonald. Did they understand correctly?
I think everything makes sense. I think Bobby LaKind could be there too. He has since died. These are the guys who have been there for long moments throughout our careers. They certainly deserve to be recognized. They certainly contributed to the songs and the records.
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Groups often meet at these things. Do you see a scenario where Tiran and / or Skunk Baxter could play with you?
I hope. There is nothing to say. It is a new time to know that we are inducted. I certainly hope all of these guys show up and be part of the process. They certainly deserve recognition.
Will choosing three or four songs to play that night be a challenge?
No. The core of this group, the guys who have been playing with Tom and me for years, I’m sure they will be there to support them through it all. We have mainly visited this entity over the past 30 years. Right now we have a really great tour group. All the guys who have been with us during this time, all of them are crack players. I have no doubt that we can stand up and broadcast it. We’re just going to have fun. I know it for sure.
This year’s class is you guys, Depeche Mode, Notorious B.I.G., Nine Inch Nails, Whitney Houston and T. Rex.
It’s fantastic! I’m surprised that some of the other artists who really got more fan votes than we don’t, but that’s what it is. I’m really happy with Whitney Houston. I have always loved her music and she certainly deserves this recognition.
You toured with T. Rex in 1972, right?
Oh yes! They were good guys. It was the first group we really had a great tour with. We toured with Mother Earth before that, but it was our first national tour which was not a sponsored tour. The tour of T. Rex was a real tour where we were in first part and we could do it only with the guarantees that we got from them. Marc [Bolan] was such a nice guy. We really got closer to all these guys.
Marc was a genius.
He was also just a really nice guy. It’s funny because he was such a flamboyant guy. When we first went out, we were these street kids from San Jose. Here’s this guy in all these frills and ruffled makeup and giant platform shoes. We were like, “Wow! What planet did this guy come from?” He taught us a lot about the show and the class. After getting to know him, it was like, “He’s just a normal person. “He was a great showman and he knew what he was doing.
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Sometimes there is a big star jam at the end of the night, but I can’t imagine you and the members of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode coming together.
[Big laugh] We will find something, I’m sure! We will play the blues! [Laughs]
Do you have a plan on how you’re going to structure the set list for this summer’s big tour with Michael McDonald?
I have it in my own head, but we haven’t really talked much about it. But I mentioned it to the guys before I took this short break. I thought we’d probably do songs that we knew people wanted to hear, hits, of course. I still think you owe fans these songs that you know they are going to want to hear. Beyond that, we will probably deepen the albums. I know there are songs from Mike that I always love to hear. I’m thinking of other songs that Tom wrote and I wrote.
We always change it. We usually sprinkle the most popular songs in the set, but we always dig deep and find other tracks to present. Since we did this thing at Beacon Theater [in 2018] where we played Toulouse Street and The Captain and Me, we have learned these other songs and some of them that we have never played before. It was quite fun to integrate them from time to time. We rotate the pieces inside and out. We want to dig a little deeper and make it more interesting for the fans.
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There are so many bands on your generation tour and they don’t have their original singer. It is a similar replacement. You not only have your original singer on this tour, but also Michael McDonald and, of course, you.
Yeah! I just played with Mike here in Maui. We make this annual benefit for Shep Gordon, the director of Alice Cooper. Alice comes to play and brings part of her group. I did it six or seven times, I think, maybe more. I lose count. It provides resources for the food bank here in Maui. We do it every year and Mike was right at the top of his game. He sang his ass and sounded so good. I could also say that about Tom. It’s pretty amazing because I don’t even want to mention their age, but these two sing so well. It’s amazing that old people like us can still do it.
Your last album of new songs dates back 10 years. Are you considering a new one?
We are doing an EP, I guess you can call it. We recorded five songs a few months ago. We recorded, mixed and mastered them, but they sort of sat there waiting for spring, because that’s when we like to put new things since we are on the road able to run – support it and talk about it as we go from city to city. This is what we do.
For a group like ours, we have a basic base that is always waiting for something new and then there are people who will pay a little more attention at this point simply because of the tour and the Hall of Fame . It will be a good time for us to introduce new music, but we have no huge illusions about where it is going or what is going to happen. We just have a few good songs that we want to put online and show our fans that we are capable of new things. This is where it goes now.
We thought that for a band like ours, there was no point in going there and spending hundreds and thousands of dollars trying to make an entire album. We better record a few songs and test them out and see how people react. This is where we are. Nowadays it’s more song by song. There are artists like Beyoncé and Billie Eilish who released an album and people are waiting for her out of breath. I’m not sure they are out of breath at this point.
But I have to tell you, of course my point of view is mine, but I feel like we wrote good songs and performed them well, so I think it will be something great for the fans hardcore. It’s Tom and I who do what we do. I think these songs have a different side. We both wrote with John Shanks. He is a great writer and a great producer. He really brought a lot to what we wanted to do and vice versa. He had some ideas with us. We had a lot of fun working with him. He had great energy. It was really great to have his opinion on what we do. It was really rewarding.
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Come to think of it, there have been so many moments when this group could have ended, especially when Tom left the first time. But you’ve always seemed to be the one who fought to keep him alive, and you’re the only one in every embodiment of it.
I always wanted to be part of a rock band since my childhood in college. I was in many different groups and I was excluded from many different groups. I saw a lot of groups I was part of. To have a lot of people you play with, I didn’t take it lightly. Different people, particularly leaders like Tom and Mike, entered and left the group. But there is still this core of actors who are committed to it. When Tommy left, it was me, Jeff, Tiran, John Hartman and Knudsen. We were really determined to move forward one way or another.
We talked about it during these stressful moments. Can we continue? We went ahead and just did it for a while. And then we recognized that we could use another person, so we brought Mike in just to bring something to the rhythm section in terms of keyboards, without realizing what a great singer he was. As soon as she arrived on board, we realized that the talent was undeniable, so we did everything we could to integrate this into what we were doing at the time.
It’s just luck that you land on these feet in these cases. It is not something you can foresee or foresee. It’s just: “If we can keep it together long enough to do the concerts we have, maybe we can rethink it all the way.” This is the history of this group: continually rethinking, reinventing, re-engaging. It’s not just me. I couldn’t do it without all these writers and players.
Almost everyone in the group, regardless of the volume of production to which they contributed, almost everyone in the group was part of the writing. You know, when someone has something good, and we tried to do it as best we could at one time.