Doobie Brothers bring their 50th anniversary tour to Blossom Music Center – cleveland.com

The Doobie Brothers perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, at Blossom Music Center. Co-founders Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston talk about the band, its latest album, “Liberte,” and its 50th anniversary tour, which reunites the group with singer Michael McDonald.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Doobie Brothers has indeed been a long train runnin’. And the venerable group isn’t out of track yet.
In fact, the past couple of years have been among the veteran band’s busiest in a while, even in the midst of a pandemic.
While the Doobies’ 50th-anniversary tour plans, including a reunion with 1975-82 member Michael McDonald, were delayed, the band dove into a series of video performances, teaming with Peter Frampton and Dave Mason on some of the clips. Its 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was held virtually, but the Doobies also made a new album — “Liberte,” its first of new material in 11 years — for release last year, and this spring co-founders Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston collaborated on an oral history memoir, titled, of course, “Long Train Runnin’: Our Story of the Doobie Brothers.”
The anniversary tour, meanwhile, is still runnin’, with mainstays Simmons, Johnston, McDonald and John McFee rolling through the band’s history, from “Nobody” — the first track on its self-titled 1970 debut album — to a sampling of “Liberte.” For a Doobies fan, it’s plenty of reason to, well, listen to the music. The group performs Tuesday, July 12, at Blossom Music Center…
A new album, a book, touring — finally. It must feel like the ‘70s again for you guys.
Simmons: (laughs) It’s funny, because all these things kinda got backed up. We could’ve done the record a couple years ago, and then a couple years later put the book out. It’s kind of coincidental, and circumstances. We are busy, but it’s not anything that overwhelming. I think each thing enhances the other, but it’s nice it’s not going so fast we can’t enjoy the moment. We’re not in such a big hurry to get everything done and try to push the envelope. We have more fun with it as we’re doing it.
Because of the anniversary nature of the shows, you’re covering a lot of ground. Does it feel like a single body of work, or do you feel the different eras of the group in the performances?
Simmons: It’s multiple bodies of work, in a certain sense, from multiple entities because there were players coming in and out and participating at various times. [Note: Simmons is the only constant member of the band since 1970.] I hope people will recognize that I was always on the tracks, so in a certain sense there’s continuity there. But in terms of the whole presentation, I think people get a little bit more than a body of work. They’re getting a history from what we have experienced through the years and what we’ve done. And then they’re probably going to get something a little more interesting because you have all of us performing the songs together. Some of the guys have never played on these tracks before. We’ve all had to re-learn the song to put together something meaningful for the performance. So, people are getting something that, in my opinion, is new and interesting from a bunch of really great, great players.
Do you ever find yourself thinking back to those kids who were playing some of these songs way back when and flashing forward to where you are now?
Simmons: Sure. In so many respects we’re better players. We can deliver the songs in a more meaningful way at this point in our lives, for a number of reasons — a lot of years with your instrument and performing the songs and understanding the lyrics. When we first recorded the songs, we were virtually learning them in the studio. Now we can kind of dig in a little deeper, play our parts better, feel the message of the songs. It makes for a better performance overall, much more meaningful for the audience and certainly for us.
What was it like convening for a new album after all these years?
Johnston: It was great, of course. Fantastic. I think (producer) John (Shanks) was instrumental in taking us to some places we haven’t’ gone before, and that was really fun doing this. I didn’t want to rubber stamp all the kind of stuff we’ve always done, and even though (2010′s) ‘World Gone Crazy’ did some of that, (‘Liberte’) does it even more. It was a learning experience, and I’m always open to that.
Simmons: We’re doing some of the new songs from our record and having (McDonald) performing on those tunes, I think, is an enhancement to a certain degree.
Any thoughts about a next album yet?
Simmons: Oh, I doubt if anybody’s thinking about it. (laughs) We always are writing songs. I’ve written a couple of songs since the record came out, and I continue to always work on stuff. I’m sure we’ll have something in the future, and we’ve talked to John Shanks and he’s interested in doing some more work with us. So, I have to think we’ll probably be back attempting to do some more, but I can’t say when.
How did the book come about?
Simmons: Well, we’ve never had a real biography. I think there was some crappy paperback that somebody wrote years ago, but that didn’t have much factual information. I met (co-author) Chris Epting a few years ago. He still writes for the Huffington Post and he was doing an article about my wife and I and a motorcycle ride, the Motorcycle Cannonball, we do every few years. He asked me, ‘Is there a biography of the Doobie Brothers?’ And I said, ‘Nah.’ I always thought I was going to write an autobiography and I never got around to it.’ And (Epting) came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t you and Tommy write this together? You guys started the group, and you’re still here doing it. It might be an interesting perspective.’ Chris helped by interviewing us and we wrote on our own at home, and in the end with came up with a kind of cool telling of our story, I think.
It’s not really a kiss-and-tell kind of book, though?
Simmons: We tried not to do that. There really isn’t anybody to hang out and dry because everybody was a great contributor to this band, and whatever the circumstances were of their coming and going, while they were here, they gave every ounce they had of effort and contribution to making those records and playing the shows. Whatever feelings people have or don’t have at this point, I think the pride in what we were doing was evident then and still exists.
Did you learn things, about the band or even yourself, from the writing?
Simmons: Well, certainly reading Tom’s history…I knew some of it, but I didn’t know details of his family and the things he experienced and places he hung out and the bands he played with prior to being in the Doobies. And then just how somebody’s feeling; certainly, you can project what you think someone’s feeling, but I was impressed by how he experienced things and learned things and learned to restructure his own thoughts. I think appreciating a person that you have known for over 50 years enables you to have more intimacy and closeness and both end up on the same page, so to speak.
Have you thought about who’s going to play you in the movie?
Simmons: (laughs) Actually, Tommy and I have a film we’re working on that was shot by a friend of ours. We started about 1973 and went into ‘74 and we’ve got about 10 or 12 hours of footage of the band on the road in those days, just a couple of tours we did. There’s some live stuff, backstage, at the hotel, out around towns, going on boats here and there and doing all kinds of stuff. Danny Fong, he’s in the book, he shot all this film and it’s really cool stuff with platform shoes and crazy outfits — kind of like our glitter rock era, sort of. We look like we’re 12 years old, in silly outfits. So, I’ve been looking at the footage and we have sound we’re trying to get together with the footage and create some kind of tour film and make it available. It’ll be a nice, like, addition to the story.
So, amidst all this, what does 50, now 52, years of being in a band feel like?
Simmons: Y’know, at any given time…sometimes it goes so fast you can hardly believe it, other times you’re out there slogging through on the bus overnight and the seconds tick by very slowly. But probably all in all it went very fast. I think about it like…life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. You can quote me on that. (laughs)
The Doobie Brothers perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, at Blossom Music Center, 1145 W Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls. Tickets are available at livenation.com.
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