Legendary Doobie Patrick Simmons raps on the new tour, new music & new habits.
When you think about hitting the open road, The Doobie Brothers are one of those bands that springs to mind for a satisfying highway soundtrack. The group’s classic-rock repertoire has garnered them over 48 million albums sold, 4 GRAMMY awards and numerous chart-topping hits. Yet, through it all, they’re still a humble band of musical brothers at heart.
The Doobie’s cofounder, and lifer, Patrick Simmons, took time from kicking off their summer tour with Steely Dan to discuss how it’s always been about giving the fans a good reason to buy a ticket and “Listen to the Music.”
“After almost 50 years of doing it, we want to make sure that people come away saying we put out as great a show as ever,” says a 69-years-young Simmons. On June 9, the dynamic combo of The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan will grace the Taco Bell Arena with a double rock n’ roll bill for the ages.
Does being on stage now still have the same effect on you as it did almost 5 decades ago?
You mean getting really sweaty and tired? (Laughs.) You know, it’s kind of the same deal. We just got a lot more songs to play now that connect to our audiences. The older you get, the more familiar you are with the material, and, hopefully, you learned a few things along the way. But, it’s still fun for all of us. Or, I should qualify that – for me, personally. (Laughs.)
Is it the most fun for you then?
You know, I never hear anybody complaining about what we’re doing, but, certainly, when you’re touring and gigging you get fatigued and homesick. Then, once you get home for a while, I think everybody looks forward to getting back into it and doing what we signed up for.
As far as your touring with Steely Dan, you guys have a long history together. How do these sorts of luminary double bills come around – do you all hang out and decide, do their people call your people?
Well, since we both have signed to the same management company, that’s in many ways how it started. But, it really works for the reason you mentioned – we have such a history with those guys. Musically, it gives a great show to the audience and that’s what really came to mind when the idea sprang up. Of course, we played a ton of shows with them in the early ‘70s, and spent time hanging out in hotel rooms after gigs, drinking beer. (Chuckles.) Being crazy kids, yeah.
So, that adds a little bit of something to the pairing, a mystique, if you will.
The Doobies have come to Boise often throughout the years. Is there anything special about playing to the crowds here compared to other places?
I love playing in the Northwest. It’s such a beautiful part of the country. The proximity means something to me – in terms of feeling like I’m closer to my roots – when I’m there. Having relatives in Spokane and in Idaho, I still feel like it’s coming home a bit for me. It’s just the beauty of the place and the spirit of the people – there’s something magical about that part of the country. So, I look forward to being in Seattle, Spokane, Portland, and Boise – they’re all part of something that means a lot to me.
In September, you’re also teaming up for a concert with the Eagles and Zac Brown Band. How did that showcase come about with both of them, as well?
The Eagles kind of have their own “solar system” and all the planets revolve around them. So, I think when the guys got back together and decided to do some gigs, they just started reaching out to some other bands, some of which, they have worked with through the years – we being one of them. Zac’s band is a direct line to that historical country-rock thing – they have so many elements of music from our era. They’re a natural choice for the Eagles, in terms of a more modern band they’d want to include.
I would think of the Eagles and The Doobie Brothers as contemporaries. As well as groups like, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Allman Brothers. You each truly forged what became ‘Classic-Southern Rock.’ I consider you all equals, personally. Do you guys feel that way?
We were always thrilled to be thought of as a “southern-rock band” even though we’re a California band. A lot of people thought we were from the south, because, really, our influences are directly from that kind of music. I would say, many of our musical heroes from that era were southern bands. The Allman Brothers were one that I had always hoped to tour with, and then suddenly – we were. I’m still on that cloud. And, I love Skynyrd – we played tons of dates with them, and the Allmans, through the years.
Any good stories there…?
Ooh, yeah. Too many. (Laughs.)
Any you can share that you wouldn’t mind me quoting you on?
Ahh, probably not. . . . (Laughs again.) You know, we’re all basically blues-based, and there’s a natural relationship – at least from my perspective – and what I loved about all their music. But, the Eagles – they really have a unique place in musical history. Again, that was another band we played a lot of shows with in the early days. In many ways, in our country, they’re one of the all-time bands of our generation. So, for us to be playing with them still, it’s just one of those dreams-come-true.
Are the Doobies recording some new material, possibly for a new album?
We have about 5 tunes we’re working on, four of them are pretty well fleshed out. I have a feeling that we’ll end up releasing a song or two even before we’re finished, just for the fun of it. Because, you can do that these days. You don’t have that pressure from the record company saying to wait until you have an album – which gives you a little more freedom. It’ll be fun in that respect – to see what people think about the material – as we go along.
Your son is a musician, how does it feel to have him be following in your footsteps?
He’s kind of been following his own footsteps in some ways. I like what he does . . . he has a different approach, musically. He’s a good writer and I’m kind of working on a song or two with him. Yeah, it’s gratifying, for sure. But, there’s kind of a little trepidation for me, you know, because it’s such a tough business. It’s the old protective parent routine.
Is there anybody in mainstream music today that galvanizes you to turn up the dial?
Well, I love Amos Lee – I really dig his stuff. . . . Adele, I love what she does. Train, I like for a band. My favorite contemporary artist is Tommy Emmanuel. I’m still a guitar guy at heart.
What was the first album you purchased with your own money, when you were young and able?
Oh, geez, let me think . . . . I can remember buying The Ventures. In the old days we bought 45’s. I remember my first 45 I ever bought was called Lover Please by Clyde McPhatter. My sisters were older than me, so we always had a lot of cool records in the house. I listened to Elvis and The Everly Brothers, Little Richard – all the stuff that was on the radio back then.
I know you love the blues. Were there any particular artists there who influenced you?
The first blues I listened to was acoustic kind of stuff like Lead Belly and Dave Van Ronk. But, when I really got into the electric blues, it was Paul Butterfield that probably changed my life. Paul Butterfield and then B.B. King around the same time period. I flipped over that music; it just killed me.
Would you mind disclosing anything on your current or past tour rider – your provisions for the road?
(Laughs.) Oh . . . organic – that’s something I’m always looking for. Healthier snacks, more vegetables than meat. That’s about it for our rider. . . . In the day, I could care less. I think we were happy to have anything to eat or drink.
Is there a meditative process that you like to get into before playing shows?
You always go internally a little bit , and think about what’s coming up. You can rehearse with the band, but there’s always going to be those parts you have to get on your own. I do warm up vocally, to hit the notes, before I get out there. That’s something I’ve been doing a long time.
What about warming-up in the old days, was that any different?
Back in the day, let’s see: I’d do about 6 shots of Jose Cuervo, about a gram of blow, a couple of joints – I think, I’m almost ready. (Laughs.) Now, I just drink some hot tea.
So touring now is more serious, whereas back then it was kind of a party. Has everybody, basically, learned their lessons in life then?
Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far. (Laughs.) It’s definitely changed a lot. We were maniacs in the early days. Now, it’s much more sane and we take much better care of ourselves. It’s sort of out of necessity and not out of want. . . .
But, the audience payed a bunch of money to come and see us and I need to be able to step up and do my best effort. That’s probably the part of what, I feel, is an obligation to the band most of all. Between the band and the audience, I’ve really come to realize that.
I can’t wait to eventually hear the new album. Would you say that The Doobie Brothers, or you yourself, are going through the next phase in your musical career?
I think you’re always trying to do something new, but, I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it as the “next phase,” as much as just continuing and adding to a legacy for us at this point. We want whatever we do to stand up there with what we’ve done in the past. The last album we did, about 5 years ago, was “World Gone Crazy.” I wrote a couple songs on that which I felt like they were some of my better efforts, and that’s kind of how you want to feel when you come away from working on a project. That whatever efforts you put out there, you were standing up to, or surpassing, something you’ve done in the past. That’s what you’re always shooting for.
The Doobies have sort of a biker heritage, and that especially goes for you. I heard you even rode in the Motorcycle Cannonball last year, right?
Aw, yeah. That’s coming up again in September. My wife and I are gonna do another one – Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon this year. She’s riding her 1915 Harley and I’m riding my 1928 Harley.
Is that your secondary passion to music, bikes?
It is, for sure. No question. Well, my kids are probably secondary, and then bikes. (Laughs.) Now, my grandkids – I have a grandson. That’s huge!
When do the guitar lessons commence?
Oh, they already have. He’s gonna be 2-years-old in August and he already has his own ukulele – he’s banging away on it.
It seems like you’ve led a very enriching life, and have been such a part of rock n’ roll royalty. Do you have any regrets, or would you have done anything differently in hindsight?
Ah, I don’t know about the royalty part, but, I am totally satisfied. I’ve felt really great about my life and I can’t think of any regrets I have right now, really.
The Doobie Brothers are still so relevant in music to this day. It has to be pretty sublime to think about, and know that you’re all a part of something so timeless.
Oh, yeah, It makes you feel like you’ve done something right. Really, it’s a privilege to be doing what we’re doing. I can speak for the rest of the band, in that regard, I know everybody feels that same way.