On the edge of the Doobie Brothers‘ 50th anniversary, they’ve been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. They became eligible for induction more than 20 years ago, in 1996.
Guitarist and singer Patrick Simmons says he’s “real pleased” about the news, which arrived as the group gears up for a busy 2020 that so far includes a Las Vegas residency, where they’ll play eight shows starting Feb. 7. They’ve also got a batch of new songs recently completed with producer John Shanks overseeing the sessions.
“I know a lot of the guys in the band had set their sights on [a Rock Hall nomination] as something that they really felt passionate about,” Simmons tells UCR. “I’m kind of like, Well, I don’t want to hope too much for something, because I might die and it might not have happened. I’m happy, I’ve achieved pretty much everything that I’m hoping for in this business. I want to write some more songs and hopefully do some more recording and do some other things in music. Awards are something that come of their own volition. You can’t force something like that.”
He’s cautious when it comes to the band’s chances of induction. “I would expect that as a first-time nominee that we might not get past that this year,” Simmons says. “Possibly, we will, but I don’t know. I know how it works, so once again, I’m flattered that it happened and pleased that we’re finally getting recognized.”
The prospects look good for the Doobies — they’re among the leading vote-getters in fan voting, snagging close to 120,000 votes of the more than a million votes that have been cast in the first seven days of the poll’s opening.
If they do get the official nod to be included as part of the 2020 class, the Doobies’ lineup to be recognized includes Simmons, Tom Johnston and John McFee from the current band, plus keyboardist and singer Michael McDonald, drummer John Hartman, late drummer Michael Hossack, bassist Tiran Porter, late drummer Keith Knudsen and guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.
Simmons and the Doobies maintain a friendship with McDonald, who’s made sporadic appearances with the band over the years and even reunited with them in the studio for 2014’s Southbound album. “I’m probably closer to Mike than anybody in the band, as far as continually staying in touch,” Simmons says, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised to see McDonald, a five-time Grammy winner, get his own Rock Hall award someday. “He’s done a lot on his own beyond the band, so he deserves a lot of recognition for his contributions to music.”
Even though songs from the McDonald era of the Doobies are sparse in the band’s current set lists, Simmons says the members “jump at the chance” to work with their former singer whenever they can. “We don’t really do that many of Mike’s tunes live, just simply because it doesn’t make sense,” he notes. “The only song that we usually throw into the set that Mike wrote is ‘Takin’ It to the Streets,’ just because we can do a credible rendition of it. And it’s fun to have something from that era that kind of bridges that gap and reminds people that there was more to the band than what we’re doing at the moment. Playing those songs is always a treat.”
Watch the Doobie Brothers Perform ‘Black Water’
Simmons is hopeful that Baxter and Porter would be on hand if the Doobies are inducted. But a number of former band members have died over the years, including Knudsen, Hossack, drummer Bobby LaKind, bassists Dave Shogren and keyboardist Cornelius Bumpus. Plus, the group lost contact with Hartman, who was a founding member and departed from the lineup for a final time in 1992.
“As far as I know, he is totally out of the music business completely,” Simmons says. “He hasn’t played with anybody since he left the band. We’ve had a real hard time even finding him. He really deserves some recognition. He’s a great guy and he was really a good drummer. I couldn’t talk him into sticking around, unfortunately.”
Simmons takes a humble stance when looking at the group’s body of work, noting that his contributions aren’t always the key parts of songs. That, he says, gives him an opportunity to “stand outside of it a little bit” and be objective when it comes to discussing the merits of the music. “I’m able to look at songs that Tom has written, stuff like ‘Long Train Running’ and ‘China Grove’ and ‘Listen to the Music,’ stuff that [McDonald] has written, ‘Takin’ It to the Streets,’ ‘What a Fool Believes,’ ‘Minute by Minute.’ I think to myself that those are darn good songs. Well-recorded and they’re not sappy pop cornball stuff. It’s some significant musical forms.”
He adds that those songs aren’t “three-chord rock ‘n’ roll. It’s more subtle and more complicated. So I wonder sometimes why people have been sometimes dismissive in terms of our contribution or those particular writers’ contributions to the genre of modern music. I just think it’s a little bit more significant. I mean, we’ve got No. 1 songs, Grammy Awards and so on. Why should Marc Bolan be one of the Top 100 guitar players and Tommy Johnston or John McFee not be included [in that conversation]? I don’t get where the value system is and who is making those kinds of decisions.”
It’s the recent Rock and Hall of Fame nomination that put Simmons’ mind on this subject. Otherwise, it’s not a point of focus, he says. “I just don’t really reflect on this stuff,” he says. “I don’t care enough. My goals are not to get more awards or more accolades or anything else. My goals are simpler. I’d just like to continue to write and record and enjoy where I’m at with the band and hopefully do more shows, because I do enjoy the interaction with other players, and I feel really fortunate to be included with this bunch of guys.”