Classic Rock Corner

Patrick Simmons Keeps the Ultimate Doobie Party Going While Eyeing New Material

The main Doobies: Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston, Michael McDonald and John McFee.
The main Doobies: Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston, Michael McDonald and John McFee. Photo by Clay Patrick McBride
In 2020, the Doobie Brothers were all set to launch a massive tour celebrating 50 years since their founding. And it would be marked in a special way with a lineup featuring both co-founding singer/guitarist Tom Johnston with his replacement, singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald.

Add co-founding vocalist/guitarist Patrick Simmons—the only constant member of the lineup since 1970—and Doobies fans would get to hear material from across the entire span of their career.

Well, COVID scuttled that launch, which began the next year and saw the Doobies play shows across the U.S., Australia, Japan, and back to the U.S. Now, they’ve announced a continuation of the party that will touch down in Houston June 30 at the Woodlands Pavilion.
So, the question must be asked: At what point does it just become more accurate to call it the 55th Anniversary Tour?

“Well, we’re definitely on to the next 50 years by now. And I like not having to work so hard with the three of us up there!” Simmons laughs via Zoom from his home in Hawaii on the island of Maui.

He’ll soon be jetting off to the UK where the Doobies are opening some shows for the Eagles before launching their own summer tour (bluesman Robert Cray will open in Houston).

“It’s nice to be able to do all the songs that people want to hear. We’ve done a song or two of Mike’s through the years when he hasn’t been with us. But it’s great to have the real guy right there!” Simmons says. “Having him is a huge bonus. We’re still here, still able to do it, and have a great band.”
Expect to hear the early, biker-bar-band hits (“Long Train’ Runnin’,” “Listen to the Music,” “Black Water,” “China Grove,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway”) along with the later R&B-tinged material (“What a Fool Believes,” “Minute by Minute,” “It Keeps You Runnin’” “Takin’ It to the Streets”) and some deeper cuts.

In 2022, Simmons and Johnston collaborated with music journalist Chris Epting on their memoir Long Train Runnin’: Our Story of the Doobie Brothers. And when a copy is held up to the Zoom camera, Simmons has an instant reaction.

“Oh, that one’s been banned! It’s not an, uh, complete summation of the band’s story, but it’s an approximation!” he laughs.

“We had contemplated doing a book through the years, but it’s hard to get started. We’re not novelists. Chris got things going. We told stories to him, he wrote it down, and gave it back to us. He really helped to shake our memories. We’d tell him a story and he’s go find a poster or photograph and bring it back, and that would open more memories. And then we rewrote more.”



Simmons adds that he and Johnston would have the same experience, but sometimes conflicting memories, which they’d toss back and forth from different angles.

“It was fun to remember stuff and laugh about it. We also had some more serious things. Not really sad stories, but there was some sadness there. It was the truth of what went down.”

The lineup for this tour will again include Simmons, Johnston, McDonald, John McFee (multiple instruments/vocals), and longtime touring members Marc Russo (sax), Ed Toth (drums), John Cowan (bass/vocals), and Marc Quiñones (percussion)

In 2020, and longtime snub was set right when the Doobies Brothers were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But again, COVID reared its ugly head.
Instead of the usual lavish ceremony in New York or Cleveland with speeches, video reels, and live performances and jams, the “virtual” online ceremony featured a brief clip highlights of the band’s career, with short comments from Johnston, Simmons, and McDonald, filmed from their homes.

Nevertheless, Simmons takes a light approach to matters. “We’ll always remember not being there!” he chuckles.

“But it was a great moment. It’s something you certainly think about as an artist. We had hoped to be recognized, but thought maybe if we don’t get it now, we’ll get it after we’re dead! There are so many deserving artists out there, and I didn’t hold it against them. No offense to [Hall and Rolling Stone co-founder] Jann Wenner, but Jann never liked us! So, I wasn’t holding my breath for us to come in on our walkers. But Jann’s gone now!”
[Note: Last year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame removed Jann Wenner from its Board of Directors after he made some comments about Black and female artists during promotion for his book of interviewed The Masters that were widely criticized as both sexist and racist.}

Texas fans have always been very receptive to the Doobies throughout the years of touring, but there’s one Texas show that was a bit unique. In 2005, the Doobie Brothers played Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnic at the outdoor venue Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth, where this writer covered the show for the Houston Press.

I got to chat briefly with both Simmons and Johnston backstage, and even made it onto Willie’s bus for a brief interview (where I recall trying not to wake up a slumbering David Allan Coe, fast asleep on his wife’s shoulders).
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The writer backstage with Patrick Simmons during Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic in Forth Worth, 2005.
Photo by Mace Wilkerson
The lineup was unique in that Bob Dylan followed the Doobies’ set prior to Willie’s slot. And the notoriously prickly and security-conscious Dylan required that all press be removed from the pit as security forced an open path through the crowd to allow him to walk uninterrupted straight from his bus to the stage.

Simmons remembers the show well, with a mischievous glint.

“It was super-hot! But Dylan was totally insulated. Nobody could look at him or talk to him. He was surrounded by all these guys. We had just finished playing, and they cleared the stage and said nobody could go on there,” he recalls.

“So, I just walked up and some of his guys tried to get me off, and I said ‘Fuck you! I saw you on our stage!’ It’s everybody’s stage’” and he said ‘Well…just don’t let Bob see you!’”

Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah, along with Simmons’ own son, also managed to sneak up there to watch Dylan’s set. “I don’t think anybody was going to tell Willie’s sons they couldn’t be on Willie’s stage! Sorry, Bob!”

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Record cover
The Doobies’ last studio effort was 2021’s Liberté, and they are working on new songs—with McDonald—for an upcoming release.

But their most recent effort concerns a location of more pertinent interest to Simmons. It’s about 36 miles from his home on the island of Maui, and that’s Lahaina.

Much of the city were destroyed in August 2023 by wildfires that ate everything in sight, killing more than 100 people and damaging or destroying more than 2,200 structures. It left many people homeless while levelling businesses and burning out cars.

The Doobie Brothers quickly released the benefit single “Lahaina,” written and sung by Simmons. Helping out the band were Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood (whose own Lahaina-based restaurant was destroyed) and Hawaiian musicians Jake Shimabukuro, and Henry Kapono. All proceeds benefit the People’s Fund of Maui.

For Simmons, it was not only just important to help, but to connect with the land and its inhabitants.

“People come from all over the planet to experience the climate and peace of Hawaii, and it is a special place. Those of us who have come here and stayed, there’s a reason for that,” Simmons says.

“No matter what your beliefs are, the Hawaiians believe in the spirituality of nature and the place. That’s part of a reverence here that myself and most of the locals have. The ‘Aloha.’ We all feel, experience, appreciate it, and try to live it,” he says.

“I grew up in northern California. I took acid. I dropped out. I was a hippie—still am probably. And it’s a continuance of my beliefs from that era. It’s not something spoken. It’s something that you feel.”
He adds that visitors and tourists to Hawaii inevitably ended up in Lahaina, and the warmth and connection from business owners was palpable and a “charming way of existence.”

“That’s all gone now. But 'Aloha' is still here and that song was my attempt to keep that spirit alive for the people here and to spread that to further communities,” he sums up.

“People are still going through trials and tribulations here, and it will take a long time for those folks to recover. Chipping in a dollar or two or more will help immediately. It will come back around, but we have to work together.”

The Doobie Brothers play at 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins. For more information, call 281-364-3010 or visit WoodlandsCenter.org. Robert Cray opens. $35 and up.

For more information on the Doobie Brothers, visit TheDoobieBrothers.com.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero