NOTE: The article below was originally published on August 17, 2021. The Doobie Brothers‘ show at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater discussed here was postponed. The group will now be performing at the venue on Wednesday, July 6 at 7:30pm. The article is reprinted as it originally ran.
It’s almost like starting all over again.
For Pat Simmons, veteran guitarist and vocalist for the iconic rock group the Doobie Brothers, it’s been a long 20 months since quarantine began. The band, which first formed in 1970, has been a staple of America’s music consciousness for most of the intervening decades, with chart-topping hits like “Listen to the Music,” “Black Water,” “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes” and many more.
Simmons and fellow founding member Tom Johnston remain stalwarts of the group, which has seen numerous lineup changes over the years— as one would expect from a band that has been around for half a century. But no form of the Doobies have played anywhere for well over a year. Now, it’s time.
The 50th anniversary tour for the Doobie Brothers will kick off this month. The group will roll through Toledo with a gig at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater on September 5.
This latest tour will feature a classic addition to the group: Michael McDonald, who hasn’t been a full-time member since the Doobie Brothers first split up back in 1982. (They reformed in 1987, sans McDonald.) Simmons said that the band has been rehearsing constantly since the start of August to get ready for these gigs.
“We’re hitting it pretty hard. And Mike is right in there with us. I don’t know how used to this rigorous rehearsal Mike is, but we have always been working guys. When we get in to rehearse, we’re in there from six to eight hours a day, working, pretty much the whole time,” Simmons said.
“That’s the kind of band we are. At first, I was wondering if Mike is used to this, or if he is gonna have the patience for this. But he’s doing the same thing we are, he’s working just as hard as we are. And it was always that way in the old days, but that was, gosh, 35 years ago.”
That “put in the work” attitude has always been a part of the Doobies’ DNA, Simmons said. “That’s what great about this band. Nobody’s concerned with the work that it takes to get it to the level that we want it to be. And for me, personally, that’s always how I’ve lived my life. When I do something, I want to try and do it to the best that I can.
“It would be so easy to fall into that, ‘Oh, we’ve been playing these songs for 50 years, who cares, it’s good enough.’ That’s not the point. We’ve been doing this song for a long time, how can we make it better? How can we find a cooler introduction, and a cooler ending, and what can we do to play it a little bit different? We don’t want to take it away from what it was on the record, but how can we lift it up a little bit higher?”
The band isn’t just hitting the road to celebrate five decades of rock, however— they have a new album, Liberté, which will be available on October 1. Work on material for a new release began before the pandemic occurred, but the surprising time off helped spur the creative process. (McDonald was not involved with the creation of Liberté.)
“Our intention was just to put out an EP,” Simmons said. “We were going to do four or five songs and kind of let it lay there. And then we were home for a year and a half, so we had plenty of time to start doing other things, and talk about moving towards a full album, and that’s how it kind of ended up.”
Oh, and another thing happened during those 20 months at home— The Doobie Brothers were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Coming during the pandemic, it’s something we’ll never forget,” Simmons said with a laugh. “We didn’t get to participate in the true sense of the induction ceremony, and so on. But those things are pretty amazing. Something like that happens to you, while you’re still alive.
“I looked at the lists of the people that have been nominated, even when we were nominated, I looked at the list and I go, ‘We’re never gonna make it! We’re not going to get in here, look at all these fabulous artists!’”
Celebration of determination
As their blue collar work ethic continues to drive Simmons and his bandmates on their latest tour, he hopes audiences will enjoy their shows as not just a celebration of the band itself, but the spirit he feels the Doobie Brothers embody.
“It’s kind of a celebration of American determination, in a way. Here we are, still battling the pandemic and the effects of it. And I think we’ll be celebrating that as much as anything, that we are all still here, and we’re all still trying to do the best we can with our lives.”