Doobie Brothers Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston Talk Gear and Classic Tracks
Over the course of their 40-plus-year history, the Doobie Brothers have been delivering their distinct brand of roots-based, harmony-laden, guitar-driven rock to eager fans old and new.
As a whole, the band has amassed more than 48 million in album sales to go along with a pair of Number 1 songs and four Grammys. Classic rock guitar aficionados have long known—and no doubt played—many of the riffs from the band’s arsenal of hits, including “China Grove,” “Black Water,” “Long Train Runnin’” and “Listen to the Music.”
The Doobies took a five-year hiatus in the early Eighties, only to return with a reunion album, Cycles, in 1989. They’ve been touring and making music ever since.
The Doobie Brothers’ touring lineup—which is on the road with Journey this summer—includes Pat Simmons (guitar/vocals), Tom Johnston (guitar/vocals), John McFee (guitars/fiddle/vocals), Bill Payne (keyboards), Marc Russo (saxophone), Ed Toth (drums), John Cowan (bass/vocals) and Tony Pia (drums). I recently caught up with Simmons and Johnston to talk about the music, guitars and more.
This is actually the first time the Doobie Brothers have toured with Journey. How has it been going?
Simmons: Really good. When you get out on the road, you never know what it’s going to be like, but they’re all such great guys. It’s been just like family.
Johnston: There have been full houses and the crowds have been very receptive. It’s been a great tour all around.
Bill Payne of Little Feat contributed keyboards on nearly every Doobie Brothers album and is now touring with the band. How did your relationship with him begin?
Simmons: Our producer at Warner Brothers, Ted Templeman, had done a Little Feat album and was working on ours [Toulouse Street]. I remember we were in cutting songs and Ted wanted to try some keyboards on a few tracks. He said he had this great keyboard player and when he brought in Bill, we all just flipped. He was so amazing. Bill came out occasionally to play in the early days and I tried several times over the years to get him to join the band, but he was always busy with Little Feat. Finally last year, he was substituting for our old keyboard player who had left for another gig. As usual, I said, “God I wish you could stick around”—and this time he said, “Well, as a matter of fact…” [laughs]. That was it!
What makes the music of the Doobies so timeless and special?
Johnston: It really depends on what your age range is. At some point in your life, the tunes may have meant something to you. In other cases, they’re songs you can sing along with and make you feel good. We’ve been lucky to have written tunes that have lasted and are still getting played today.
Simmons: For sure, it’s the songs. More than anything else in our culture, music is one of those things that brings back recall from your past. You don’t get to relive every minute but when you hear a song, you think about where you were or what you were doing when you first heard it. It’s a continual process and really keeps artists alive in people’s memories. It’s an all around association that’s not just about the music or the artist. It’s about people lives and how they all intermingle.
You can read the rest of my
Interview with Pat Simmons & Tom Johnston Here!