Through nearly five decades The Doobie Brothers has remained a force in the world of Southern-tinged rock ‘n’ roll. The multiplatinum band’s slew of hits includes “Black Water,” “Listen to the Music,” “China Groove,” “What a Fool Believes,” “Jesus Is Just Alright” and “Long Train Runnin’.”
Through all the ups and downs, the breakups and reunions, only one member has been there the whole time: guitarist and singer Patrick Simmons, who continues to lead the Doobie Brothers as they head on a massive co-headlining summer tour with fellow rock lifers Chicago — a tour that brings them to Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheatre in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Sunday.
Mr. Simmons discusses what makes a good double bill, hearing his music in commercials and the truth behind the long-rumored new Doobie Brothers studio album.
Question: How hard is it to leave the beauty of your home in Maui to hit the road?
Answer: (Laughs) It gets kind of hard sometimes, but I love playing. And it’s a great tour, so I’m happy to be out here. I’m glad to be standing.
Q: Why is this show the perfect double bill with Chicago?
A: I think we did our first show with Chicago in 1972. I love their music. It is pretty complementary in terms of the kinds of audiences we attract, even though their music is very very different. They are a little more orchestrated [whereas] we are pretty much a straight-ahead rock band with some orchestration but nothing as intricate as what they do. They have that great horn section.
I think we both reach a certain age group that remembers our music.
Q: When two big bands share the bill, is there ever any competition?
A: Oh, yeah, we’re competing every night. (Laughs) No, I don’t think so in terms of that. We have always gone out there and try to give it our all every night.
People pay to see a good show, and we do our best to put all our energy into what we do every night. All the musicians have a pride in what we do. We want to give the people their money’s worth.
Q: How do you decide what songs to play on tour?
A: There are those certain tunes everybody wants to hear. And we know what those are. And we try to pepper that with some deeper cuts from the records. We don’t wanna just be one thing, we want to do a wide variety. We’ve been lucky in our career to have so many different songs [and] styles. Everything from country to R&B to sort of jazz and some more folky, psychedelic stuff.
We’re able to have all that different music in the set. That gives us a lot of freedom.
Q: The band has evolved and gone through so many members over the years, but you’ve been there the whole time. What’s kept you loyal to the band?
A: It is the songs and music for me. Pretty simplistic, really. There isn’t anything deep. I just have enjoyed playing the songs and feel fortunate to have the opportunity.
I always wanted to be in a band. The fact that we have this entity that has been so successful is not something I take lightly. I’ve been lucky to be there when it happens, and almost 50 years later, I’m still here.
Q: During the years Michael McDonald was in the band, was there any jealousy that a lot of attention was on him?
A: I was jealous of his voice and his incredible talent. (Laughs) And songwriting abilities.
When you’re in a band like ours, there are a number of songwriters. Pretty much everyone in the band writes and sings. Almost everyone in the band from one time or another has written a song that has ended up on the record. We’ve always tried to support each other. The cream floats to the top in terms of who’s gonna come forward with great songs.
This band has always been about the songs and the music. I’m always gratified if someone comes up with good songs, because that’s the hardest part.
Q: You wrote the Doobies classic “Black Water,” which has a distinct Southern feel to it. Where did that song come from and how did a guy from Washington state capture that Southern vibe so perfectly?
A: I listened to that kind of folk blues music, if you will, for so long before writing that song: Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Hot Tuna. Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane was a big influence on me. I love that kind of music.
When I started writing songs, a lot of my songs were coming from that place. When I wrote “Black Water,” I already had the riff, but the song really came together for me when I was down in New Orleans. We were down there doing some shows in the early ‘70s. The song really is about my experience there in New Orleans.
Q: This morning I heard “China Groove” in a Chili’s commercial. How do you feel about your music being in commercials?
A: (Laughs) It’s now part of American culture. I think it’s cool. And Chili’s? I like food. (Laughs)
It’s flattering to be included in that context. A little surreal, I guess.
Q: Is there a new Doobies Brothers studio album in the works?
A: We’ve been kind of scratching the surface. We went in and cut four songs just recently before we hit the road. They turned out really good. We’re not finished with them. They are just basic tracks with rough vocals. We’re shooting to maybe do the record over this winter to put it out next spring.
The Doobie Brothers play alongside Chicago at the Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheatre in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Sunday. Tickets are available at LiveNation.com.