Whether you were around during The Doobie Brothers heyday of the ’70s and ’80s or not, you have most likely rocked out to their music at one point during your lifetime. Timeless hits like “Black Water”, “What A Fool Believes” and “China Grove” have kept the band relevant and performing live now for decades.
Though countless musicians have transitioned in and out of the lineup throughout the years, original members Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston have kept the long train runnin! (See what we did there?). So much so that they will be making a stop at Caesars Atlantic City on June 29th!
We sat down to talk with Pat Simmons about all this jazz and more. Enjoy the interview, below.
TAC: This group has gone through many changes over the past 3 or 4 decades. How have you managed to keep everything intact and true to the authenticity of the group?
Pat Simmons: I think that probably the fact that myself and Tom Johnston, the original founders of the band, are still involved. We wrote and sang most of the songs that we’ve done through the years other than the Mike McDonald era which was about ’75 to about ‘82/’83. Prior to that, from 1970 to ’75, and then 1987 until now, Tom and I have been together. I think that having the two of us who wrote a lot of the songs and sang them, keeps it true in that regard. Then, John McFee who joined the band in ’78, is also on board with us. We got the three-guitar lineup and it brings all those various eras of guitar players into the fold. That gives it a certain amount of sound that we started with and continue to have. And we just have some great sidemen. We have two drummers which we started with in ’71 and then killer sax player Marc Russo playing saxophone, Guy Allison on the keyboards and John Cowan on the bass that sort of rounds out the band. Everybody pays a lot of attention to the history of the band. When people come and hear us, we want them to feel like they’re hearing The Doobie Brothers as they remember them.
TAC: You have the kind of band whose songs can be heard at any given time whether it’s on the radio, TV or out & about. Do you have a favorite reinterpretation of your music or any kind of encounter or interaction being out in public and suddenly hearing your music?
Pat Simmons: Some people have covered our songs through the years. The Isley Brothers have done some of our tunes. A few country artists have been doing “Black Water”, so that’s been kind of interesting. I just saw a performance of “Black Water” by a couple bands together on stage doing the song. The Dixie Chicks did “Black Water”, that was kind of cool. Bruce Willis actually did it in his band too! Darius Rucker did “Long Train Running”, so those are all great moments and certainly flattering.
TAC: Awesome! The Doobie Brothers sound spans many genres. That being the case, what is the writing process like for you, especially melodically?
Pat Simmons: It’s just kind of hit and miss to tell you the honest truth. Sometimes I’ll write down a lyric and then I’ll hear the cadence of it and try to come up with something that is suggestive. Sometimes melodies just jump in your head and you have no idea where they came from and you have a lyric that goes with it. Sometimes, you sit down and write a series of chord changes. Probably more often than not, that’s what you’re doing. You’re writing on your instrument and you come up with some ideas and that leads to melodic changes in the chords. So, any number of ways for me personally, because I think it’s different for everyone that writes. Those are all various ways that melodies come to me.
TAC: You’ve written so many timeless songs over the years. Have you found a formula for that or is it always just something that just happens naturally?
Pat Simmons: It is something that happens naturally. I don’t think there’s any formula for that. We’ve had quite a few writers within the band itself and through all those writers, they’ve all had some commercial success one way or another. I think that’s given our band a little bit of leeway to try different styles. And we certainly have gone in different directions with our music which is lucky for us because it keeps us from being pigeonholed in a way that we have to write a song a certain way for a certain audience. It hasn’t been that way for us. We’ve had good R&B stuff that’s probably more Urban and has been appreciated on Urban stations. We’ve had songs that are more Country; we’ve had songs that are a little bit more Jazz fusion kind of stuff that has gotten onto Pop radio and all through different styles of music and different singers within the band and different writers. It’s given us a huge amount of freedom to express ourselves. I count that as a positive.
TAC: How do you find the changes in the music industry since when you first started as a group?
Pat Simmons: As the population grows, there are more and more bands and probably less and less room for bands to find a shelf. Music has become a little more segmented. You have certain kinds of music that are only played on certain stations. It didn’t used to be like that in the old days; there were just a lot of different kinds of music thrown together and at any given time you could hear Jimi Hendrix next to Bob Dylan or something. These days, all your Rap and Hip Hop music is in one area, all your Hard Rock is a certain type of edgy, heavy metal, and then there’s a small window for general Pop music that is perhaps more melodic, and then there is more Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary stuff that doesn’t really Rock. It does have an edge to it, but not heavy. That is kind of interesting. I guess it makes sense because then you get to listen to the kind of music you want to listen to and you don’t have to be interrupted in terms of what you want to hear, but at the same time I think it kind of narrows people’s appreciation levels. I think all music is interesting and good, and it’s good to hear a lot of different music together. It makes you appreciate something that you never thought you would like before. Now, you may hear something out of context and decide you hate it because you just don’t take the time and listen to it. In that regard, I think that isn’t such a good thing. On the other hand, with the Internet and digital processing, it’s helped the artists record their work at more affordable rates and to be able to market it to a larger audience without spending quite as much. And you have access to that audience which I think is much larger with YouTube, websites and so on. Those are the biggest changes within the industry. It’s affected the record companies. The conglomerates are fewer and fewer. There’s a lot more independent production and marketing out there which is probably the biggest change within the industry right now.
TAC: How does performing now differ from those days in the ‘70s?
Pat Simmons: It’s pretty much the same for us! A lot of artists do a lot of dancing and pre-recorded tracks and stuff. We don’t do that. We pretty much get out there and play and be who we are. I understand the other aspect of entertainment, but it’s not something that we do.
TAC: What can fans expect from your show here at Caesars on 6/29?
Pat Simmons: We do a little bit of everything from all of our history. We try to do songs from all the eras of the band. We try to perform the songs that we know people want to hear. And then we dig in for some deeper cuts on albums of obscure material that people would never expect to hear. A little bit of everything. We try to mix it up. We do like to rock, so generally speaking, it’s a little more energetic kind of a show. But, we do some ballads and stuff as well. It’s an interesting mix of songs. We’re going to do a couple of new songs from our latest album as well so people can see what we’ve been up to lately.
TAC: Sounds great! We love that you have said that The Doobie Brothers have always been about hope – hope for good music, acceptance and a good future. You said – “You have to look towards the future and recognize that as long as there are thoughtful, intelligent people on the planet, there’s hope for the rest of us.” Do you feel as hopeful about the future now as you did when you first got your start? How is it different?
Pat Simmons: Our music has always been about lifting people’s spirits. When people go to a concert, I like to think that you feel better when you leave than how you did when you came in. That’s what we try to do. Make people feel good. As far as hope for the future, I’ve always been hopeful. Whether people agree with me or not, we have our first black President, we have women taking a rightful place in politics and business, and entertainment certainly. The arts have always been a springboard for women. I think that continues to be the case. Some of the biggest selling artists in the world are women. I can name Adele, Katy Perry, and those kinds of people who have really stepped up the level and raised the bar. To me, those are all hopeful signs for our society. Gay rights suddenly is becoming an issue that people seem to be agreeing on. Homophobia certainly isn’t going away, but people have started to recognize out of all the things to be afraid of, that would be one of the least. We have a long ways to go, but there is hope on the horizon.
TAC: We like that. What are you most proud of so far in your career?
Pat Simmons: I’m proud that I’ve done some satisfying music in my lifetime and that the audience seems to enjoy it. We’ve been able to kind of snowball that into doing philanthropic things for other people. That’s a real positive thing for any artist, to be able to give back to society and to use your career to be able to enhance your quality of life for others. I’m proud of my family. I’ve been able to have a great family and a very satisfying career at the same time.
TAC: Is there anything you haven’t done yet with The Doobie Brothers that you’re still itching to do?
Pat Simmons: There are always things that you’d like to do. I’d like to record more music and do some other things. On the same token, if today was my last day, I would feel pretty good. I wouldn’t have a lot of regrets.
And, you shouldn’t, Pat Simmons! Be sure to catch Pat, Tom, John and the rest of the fellas in action at The Circus Maximus Theater at Caesars on Saturday, June 29th at 9:00 p.m. Score your tickets here if you haven’t already!