If you ask The Doobie Brothers’ Patrick Simmons the one thing the band will most be remembered for, he won’t hesitate to tell you that it will probably be the time the band was featured on the black situation comedy, “What’s Happening!!” on January 28th, 1978.
Forty years ago, Simmons, along with the rest of his bandmates at the time, appeared as themselves in a two-part episode called, “Doobie or Not Doobie,” where they returned triumphantly to their former high school only to discover that one of the students, Rerun (played by Fred Berry), had been conned by a two-bit thug into tape recording the band’s concert.
It was an unusual situation and a bit of a risk for the band; whose hits include “Black Water,” & “Takin’ it to The Streets”, to appear on a television series. But in the end, it exposed The Doobies music to an entirely new demographic, and has since become one of televisions most beloved episodes.
AXS recently spoke with Simmons about the 40th anniversary of The Doobie Brothers appearance on “What’s Happening!!”, their new tour with Steely Dan and much more in this exclusive new interview.
AXS: How did the band’s appearance on “What’s Happening!!” come about?
PS: We had done the albums Takin’ It to the Streets and Livin’ on the Fault Line, and had just hired a new publicist named David Gest (who would later leave PR and go on to marry Liza Minelli). A few months into working with us, David came in and told us there was an opportunity to do this situation comedy.
I was already familiar with “What’s Happening!!”, because I’d watched the show a few times. I thought it was hilarious and really liked the character of Rerun (Fred Berry). I had actually met Fred one summer at a show we’d done where he was dancing with The Lockers. Because it was a black situation comedy, I thought it would be an adventurous thing for us to do because our music had always been laced with R&B and soul. Not only would our fans tune in, but it would also expose us to a new audience of people who watched the show regularly, and would begin to listen to our music. I had no idea how we would fit into the show but thought it was something fun and different to do. David had great ideas, and that was certainly one of them.
AXS: The storyline dealt with the subject of bootlegging concerts. Was that something the band was concerned about at the time?
PS: For sure. We had been ripped off more than once, so we were certainly aware of it. I remember at the time, there was a lot of stealing of intellectual property going on. People would record shows and then sell them to some label in some other country. Then the label would produce it and ship it back to America. It was a difficult process trying to get in and record a show without being seen, but there was a certain amount of money to be made. It’s silly looking back on it now because everyone is recording shows on their phones and giving it away on YouTube, but it was a different world in those days.
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Interview with Pat Simmons by Clicking Here!