Doobie or not Doobie

The Doobie Brothers, a band with as many hits as lineup changes, star in Atlantic City this weekend.

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

Not too many people are fortunate enough to be doing work that they love and are successful at it beyond their wildest dreams. Patrick Simmons knows that feeling.

The singer/guitarist is one of the founding members of the Doobie Brothers, which had 16 Top-40 hits and 11 platinum albums during the 1970s and '80s and continues to tour in the new millennium.

"We're pretty lucky," Simmons said from his home in Hawaii during a telephone interview. "It's nice to be able to make a living with your hobby. I feel very fortunate to still be doing this and to be working with a great bunch of guys."

The Doobie Brothers officially disbanded after a farewell tour in 1983, but different incarnations of the band have regrouped over the years for various charity functions and to renew the long-standing love affair with fans. The band is slated for three nights at the Circus Maximus at Caesars in Atlantic City this weekend.

The Doobie Brothers have had numerous personnel changes through the years, but the seed was planted in San Jose, Calif., in 1969 when guitarist Tom Johnston and drummer John Hartman were playing with a band named Pud. When that group broke up, Johnston and Hartman began to jam with Simmons and bassist John Shogren, and the Doobies were born.

"We were playing in different bands, and we kept bumping into each other," said Simmons. "There's sort of a rock 'n' roll clique that still exists today where people in the musical community hang out with each other. That's pretty much how it began.

"We got a few gigs and picked up a few bucks, and then things began to click in terms of gaining an audience and having people come around to see us. (When you're in that position) if you can come up with a song that people like and can identify with, it can make the difference between staying in the clubs and going on to make a living at it."

The band signed with Warner Brothers, but its self-titled debut album failed to register with the general public. A little tinkering with the personnel was all that was needed. Tiran Porter replaced Shogren on bass, and Michael Hossack was added as a second drummer.

"They made a big difference in our rhythm section," said Simmons.

The public also noticed, and a second album, Toulouse Street, yielded the Doobie Brothers' first hit, Listen to the Music, which was followed by another album (The Captain and Me) and a couple more hits (Long Train Running, China Grove), all guitar-driven rockers penned by Johnston.

The addition of musicians also continued. Keith Knudsen replaced Hossack on drums, and guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, formerly of Steely Dan, began to sit in on the recording sessions.

"That's kind of a pattern in bands," Simmons said. "Somebody would sit in and then become a member. When Jeff stopped working with Steely Dan, we invited him to play with us. When Jeff joined the band, we had the three-guitar thing that we knew would give us the big sound that we wanted. We had three guitars and two drummers."

But it was a mellow sound that took the band to the top of the charts. Simmons wrote and sang lead on Black Water, the Doobies' first No. 1 hit from the 1974 album What Once Were Vices Are Now Habits.

After recording 1975's Stampede, Johnston was hospitalized with a stomach ailment and couldn't make the supporting tour, so keyboardist Michael McDonald, who also was previously with Steely Dan, was drafted to sing lead.

"He was originally a sideman," said Simmons. "He was kind of a reluctant front man, but we recognized that he was talented."

The band found out how talented he was when McDonald became a full-time member and wrote and sang the title track to the Doobies' next album, Takin' It to the Streets, in 1976, which turned the band's sound a little more toward the jazz and funk leanings of McDonald's compositions.

"That was one of those accidents," Simmons said of McDonald's emergence in the group. "This band has been a cosmic mystery. I never knew why we kept landing on our feet. It was a matter of throwing a lot of stuff against the wall just to see what would stick. It was a chaotic approach, but I think it was an honest approach rather than a manufactured concept. We had no concept except that we all enjoyed the same music.

"When Mike joined the band, it was a little bit of a left turn for us, but it was easy to turn that corner because we all liked the music. Mike had some good songs, so we recorded them."

The album Minute By Minute and single What a Fool Believes reached the top of their respective charts and combined to earn the Doobies four Grammy Awards in 1979.

By now, though, some members were tiring of the grind. Hartman and Baxter left, and John McFee (guitar), Chet McCracken (drums) and Cornelius Bumpus (saxophone) came on for 1980's One Step Closer, which contained the hit Real Love.

During that tour, McCracken was replaced by drummer Andy Newmark, and bassist Willie Weeks filled in for the departed Porter. Simmons also left eventually, but many of the former members returned for The Doobie Brothers Farewell Tour, a live album that was released in 1983.

"I just needed a break because we had been touring for thirteen years by then," Simmons said of his hiatus. "We always did about one hundred and fifty shows a year, and we did a record almost every year.

"(A farewell tour) had been discussed, so they called me, and we decided to do it. One of the spin-offs was that it would make some money for our sidemen. Plus, I don't think that we had ever done a live album before."

The band got together a few times in the 1980s, mainly for charity events, including a noted appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1987 and an annual Christmas show for the benefit of the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University.

In 1989, Johnston, Simmons, Hartman, Porter, Hossack and drummer Bobby LaKind signed with Capitol Records and released Cycles, which went gold and spawned a Top-10 hit (The Doctor). A subsequent album (Brotherhood) did not sell well.

McDonald, who has enjoyed a successful solo career, returned for 1995's Rockin' Down the Highway, a live album that also included some new material. Proceeds from that release went to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The current lineup — Johnston, Simmons, McFee, Hossack and Knudsen, along with Guy Allison (keyboards), Marc Russo (sax) and Skylark (bass) — recorded Sibling Rivalry in 2000.

"I think it went plastic — or maybe wood," Simmons said with a laugh. "It's not breaking any records, but it's getting some air play."

Although the regular treks along the oldies circuit attract some of the members, the charity concerts seem to unite the Doobie Brothers.

"To be able to do things for other people is one of the best things about what we do," said Simmons. "If it was up to me, we'd be doing a lot more of them because I've always been somewhat philanthropic.

"When you're young and you think that you're going to live forever, you just want to find success, but once you achieve that, you realize that you have to do things for other people. When all of the good stuff comes your way, you want to spread it around."

This story was published on June 26, 2002, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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