Q&A: Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers

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For founding Doobie Brothers member Patrick Simmons, Rock n’ Roll never died and is very much still alive. “There’s a reason the movies about Elton John, and Queen are huge successes,” said Simmons. “People still are in love with the music.”

With the recent success of tours like the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Guns N’ Roses, it’d be hard to argue otherwise. But proof will come when the Doobie Brothers play the Masonic next week for a night that is not to be missed. The classic rock icons will be performing landmark albums, Toulouse Street and The Captain and Me, in their entirety, plus a few select hits.

We recently spoke to Simmons about what’s in store for San Francisco fans, what he believes accounts for the longevity of the band, and what he thinks of the current state of the music industry.

Louis Raphael: What inspired this special album night and how does it feel to be doing it at home?

Patrick Simmons: We have talked about doing something like this for a long time. A few other bands have done this, and it sounded like a lot of fun. Little did we know we were kind of stepping into the deep end. I say this in terms of the challenge of performing songs we have never played live before, and bringing the complexity of studio production into a live setting. We figured it out, but there were certain logistics we had to work out. Luckily for us, we have a wonderful expanded group of musicians we work with these days, as well as an added group of horn players that we brought in to supplement the ensemble. We performed the show at The Beacon Theatre, in New York. After so much prompting from our West Coast fans, we felt it would be a natural idea to bring the show to The Masonic Auditorium. Bringin’ it back home, so to speak.

What’s it been like revisiting those albums and preparing for the show?

As I said, it entailed a certain challenge, but in the end, it has been extremely satisfying, and a hell of a lot of fun. As with all our performances, we spent a lot of hours rehearsing together as a band, relearning, reinventing parts, and polishing arrangements. And of course time individually, on our own, practicing, refining the intricacies of particular passages, etc. We wanted it to be the best we could possibly make it.

Of all the highlights of your career is there anything that stands out to you as most memorable?

Wow… I have to say, I have been so fortunate in my life, and I give thanks all the time. The highlight, of course, is my participation in this band. Also, I’ve gotten to meet so many people and artists that I’ve admired. Jeez, I’ve jammed with Al Green, Sam and Dave, Elvin Bishop, John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Johnny Winter, The Allman Brothers, Gregg Allman, and his band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Dave Mason, Michael Jackson, Steve Cropper, Warren Haynes,  Kenny Chesney, Alice Cooper, Steve Tyler, Huey Lewis, Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, Sammy Hagar, Chicago, Ginger Baker, Steve Stills, Train. There are others, but you get the idea. 

We’ve played gigs with The Stones, Albert King, The Beach Boys, Journey, The Dead, Billy Joel, The Faces, Bonnie Raitt, most all the bands, and people I’ve mentioned above. I hung out with BB King on his bus, met Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, become friends with Paul Simon, Jorma Kaukonen, Elvin Bishop, Hutch Hutchinson, Dave Mason, played poker with Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Owen Wilson. I’ve written songs with Willie, Willie Mitchell, Mike McDonald, Ted Templeman, more recently Edie Brickell, and John Shanks. Hey, I once smoked a joint with Jimi Hendrix! (That could be the highlight!) I’ve also been working with my son Pat Jr. a lot, producing, performing. He’s got some great songs, and a unique style. He’s done one EP, This Mountain, and is working on a bunch of new songs now. Check him out. Working on music with your own son is pretty damn cool!

The name Doobie Brothers has become so iconic, but where did it originally come from?

When we came up with this, it was, as I recall, biker/hippie slang for a marijuana joint.

Hey, I once smoked a joint with Jimi Hendrix! (That could be the highlight!)

Patrick Simmons looking back at some memorable moments of his career

What do you think accounts for your longevity?

Staying alive, and not breaking up. Actually, we did, for a while, but 30 years ago we got back together. But, probably it’s really the music that has sustained us. Having a wonderful group of writers, and players that have created the songs that have connected us to an audience that has stayed with us all these years. We’ve been blessed with loyal fans, some who are like family, and now with social networking we can reach out, and interact, sharing our music in ways we never thought possible.

After all these years on the road, what’s your favorite song to perform and why?

I like each, and every song we play every night. Music is the love you have in your heart, and you have been given this gift to share with the audience, it’s pure joy.

After four GRAMMY® Awards, a string of number one hit singles and 48 million album sales, you’ve achieved so much. What drives you to keep going?

It’s really the privilege of being able to continue to be creative. We’re not done with the process of developing new music. We have just done this live album, and we have new songs we have recently recorded which we will be releasing next year, five decades after we released our first album. This is as surreal as it gets! Life is an adventure, and I want to experience as much as I can, while I can.

So much has been said about the current state of Rock n Roll. Do you think it will ever make a comeback?

I’m not sure where you’ve been, it never left. Have you been to a Stone’s show lately? How about a U2 show? String Cheese usually attracts around 20-30,000 people to some of their shows. We’ve been averaging 15-20,000 people a night to the Doobies-Santana shows. It’s funny, there are rock bands you might never have heard of, who have extreme followings. Their fan bases are immense, drawing thousands of people in certain places, thriving underneath the radar, in social media communities. I’m a huge fan of The Tedeschi-Trucks Band. There’s a reason the movies about Elton John, and Queen are huge successes, people still are in love with the music.

What do you think of the state of the music scene overall today and how is it different from when you first started?

The musical community is incredibly vast, with so many artists. There’s really too many to be able to absorb all the varieties, and people out there. It has always been this way, but it just keeps growing. It certainly isn’t boring. There are many more independent labels and artists who are having great success. Fewer records being sold, with more people streaming music, and creating playlists of their own from online sources.

Live music is still a draw for listeners, with the recordings acting almost as a calling card for the artists. The arts have never been an easy way to make a living, but I always knew it was something I would have to do for its own sake. It’s a fundamental truth, I think, if you find something you love, and you work hard at it, it will come back to you, karma. Music is its own reward. So, in that sense, the music scene is no different than when I began.

The Doobie Brothers play the Masonic // Friday September 12, 2019 // Show: 8:00 PM – Doors: 7:00 PM // BUY TICKETS

Photo courtesy of Richlynn Group

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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