Catching up with Patrick Simmons of The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers have been taking it to the streets for some four decades, and Patrick Simmons has been there for all of it. With this legendary band set to play Newport July 17, Simmons spoke with East Bay Life, from the road, about life on the road.
“Home is in Maui,” he said. “I’m there about half the year, although this year we may shorten our tour to about 70 dates.” They typically do 100, and Simmons seems content either way, with a schedule that might seem grueling by any standard. “We rehearse every so often. We know the music of course, but we change our set up to keep things fresh. We can’t get away without playing a handful of songs at any given show: China Grove, Black Water, Long Train…we can’t get away without doing those. But we also like to do songs that people wouldn’t expect us to do.”
A typical Doobie Brothers show will feature a sprinkling of songs from all the band’s eras, though Simmons is quick to add they won’t do a lot from the Michael McDonald era, since he’s out touring on the road, and they aren’t interested in stepping on his toes. “The songs we do play we’ll do more as a tribute to Mike—we’re not gonna fill his shoes.”
Simmons also uses his time on the road to write and compose. “I find it fun, personally, to write and compose always…but there are many writers in this band, all doing great work. I have about 10 or 12 songs I am working on at the moment but I don’t know exactly where they will land—a solo project? The next Doobie Brothers album? I don’t know, but I am always writing on the road; that’s where I do most of my writing. I have the space and time. It works for me, though not for everybody. But the creative spark is always there.”
Given his longevity and success in the music industry, it’s hard to imagine Simmons doing anything else, but he admits if not for music, he probably would have been a mechanic. When he’s not touring, recording, or composing, he’s up to his elbows in vintage motorcycles. “I love mechanics, motorcycles, and restoring old bikes, and I love to ride. I’ll be at Sturgis this summer, the Doobie Brothers are performing there. I met my wife Cristine there in 1989 and we love going back and revisiting that place, that event. This year we’ve got something special planned after: we’ll be riding from Sturgis to Milwaukee on 1915 and 1914 Harleys to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Harley Davidson.
After years of collaborating with different musicians as a founding member of the band, as well as some solo success, Simmons has found that he prefers working with a band. “I like being in a band, having others there to pick up the slack and collaborate. We do a new album every five or ten years so we will probably do another one eventually. If not, I’ll do a solo. I haven’t in decades, but lately I’ve gotten on a roll and been writing with Ted Templeton. We wrote three songs together for the last Doobie Brothers record and we have done several since then. I would definitely ask him to help produce, whatever the project.”
Asked if there was one time or another he recalls as being particularly creative or prolific, Simmons admits “I suppose when you are younger and bubbling with enthusiasm, you remember that time with fondness as being the most creative, but the truth is, I still always think the best is in front of me.”
The Doobie Brothers will be playing at the Newport Yachting Center as part of the 2013 Sunset Music Series on Wednesday, July 17. Call 800/745-3000 for ticket information.