October/November 2023

Playing a couple great shows late October, the best month of the year!  Click “Shows” page here for details - a solo show at the Cinema Bar on Oct 24 in Culver City, CA and performing with Rick Shea and Pi Jacobs at the Urban Press Winery in Burbank, CA on Oct 26 for Pi's “Last Thursdays” songwriter showcase series.

Also - scroll down below the gig poster here - I had a great opportunity to interview Patrick Simmons, co-founder of the Doobie Brothers for a story published in the Beachlife Ranch Magazine for the festival of same name in Redondo Beach (also published in The Easy Reader news).  They chopped the story down quite a bit for magazine space leaving out a lot of  the recent news incluceing the Doobies latest album so I posted the original manuscript below as well.  Also you'll see my show review of the Saturday show of the three-day festival where I interviewed the great Jim Wilson of Mother Superior, the last best hard rock band - check out the story explaining his world, he was playing bass in Marc Ford's band, the Black Crowes guitarist from their prime era.

September 2023

Doobie Brothers story and Pat Simmons interview full manuscript:

Headlining Beachlife Ranch, Saturday, Sept. 23

By Garrick Rawlings

Long before Americana was recognized as a genre in the music industry, The Doobie Brothers, since their inception in San Jose, CA in 1970, were already exactly that. Coming out of the late 1960’s Bay Area hippy scene, most bands focused on folk and psychedelic rock, meanwhile the DB were way out in front of the pack incorporating R & B, gospel, blues, jazz, country rock and biker boogie, whilst incorporating extraordinary vocal harmonies on top of it all throughout their expansive repertoire. Celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band, their 2020 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the 2021 release of their 15th studio album Liberté on this tour, the DB bring their uplifting and joyous brand of rock and roll to Beachlife Ranch, headlining on Saturday night.

Remarkably, original band founders Patrick Simmons (guitar/vocals) and Tom Johnston (guitar/vocals) are still at the helm, and touring with the Doobie Brothers (DB) for the first time in over 25 years Michael McDonald (keyboards/vocals), who joined in 1975 is back with the band. DB veteran John McFee (guitar/pedal steel/violin/vocals) who joined in 1979 and returned full time beginning in 1993 makes this tour quite a special event with this quartet of vintage DB members on board. 

The variety of styles the individual musicians bring to the band is what makes them so attractively eclectic. The band evolved from a group named Pud, where original DB drummer and co-founder John Hartman started a band with Moby Grape’s legendary singer/songwriter Skip Spence (formerly of Jefferson Airplane), who in turn brought in Johnston and a short time later they joined up with Simmons and the seeds of the DB were sown. 

The foundation of their perfect meld of diversities lay within Johnston’s appreciation of Elvis Presley and R & B artists like Little Richard and James Brown coupled with Simmons’ love of straight up 1950’s rock and roll like Bill Haley, the country fingerstyle of Chet Atkins and Doc Watson’s flatpickin’ style. As a fan, Simmons was influenced by watching guitarist Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) performing around the bay area who in turn, turned him on to traditional bluesman like Reverend Gary Davis and Jessie Fuller. From the beginning, they were well adept in both acoustic and electric music, creating wonderful blends of both.

They jammed around the bay area without a proper band name for a little while until their friend Keith “Dyno” Rosen made the suggestion, “Why don’t you call yourselves the Doobie Brothers because you’re always smoking pot?” Reportedly none of the band members were fond of this name and figured they’d eventually come up with a better one but never did. Evidently, they got used to it; the artwork on the inner sleeve of their most popular album, 1978’s Minute by Minute, is a blown-up photo of a sole roach [burnt end of a raw cannabis joint] which has adorned many a college dorm walls and stoner abodes over the years.

The DB lineup evolved over the years resulting in a constant and successful progression of style; their recording career beginning in 1971 with their eponymously titled debut album. On their 2nd album, 1972’s Toulouse Street, original bassist Dave Shogren was replaced by Lawndale’s own Tiran Porter (Leuzinger High School alumni, 1966), becoming one of the early integrated bands. Like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers before them, they added a 2nd drummer at this time, Michael Hossack. Toulouse Street was where the DB found their sound, scoring their first big chart hits with the Johnston penned “Listen to the Music,” & “Rockin’ Down the Highway.”  A big part of that success was hiring famed producer Ted Templeman (Van Morrison, Montrose, Van Halen, Nicolette Larson) who went on to produce all the classic era DB albums, from the 1970’s into early ‘80’s.

Next up was 1973’s The Captain and Me (“Long Train Runnin’” and “China Grove”) followed by 1974’s What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits where Simmons hit paydirt with the funky, southern influenced and first DB #1 hit, “Black Water.” This was drummer Keith Knudsen’s first album with the band, replacing Hossack. Another essential addition to the band, expanding into a sextet, was esteemed, original Steely Dan guitarist, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter who guested on two previous DB albums joining the band full-time prior to their 1975 album Stampede.

In 1976, upon the recommendation of “Skunk” Baxter, the DB fortuitously invited Michael McDonald into the band after being impressed with working with him while in Steely Dan. McDonald’s first album with the band was Takin’ It to the Streets and the title track was his first big hit with the band as singer/songwriter followed by “It Keeps You Runnin’.” Johnston suffered severe stomach ulcers during this time, reducing his workload resulting in a shift in the band’s sound to a more soulful and mellow vibe with the addition of both McDonald’s voice and multiple keyboard skills, especially the Hammond B3 organ.

Johnston’s last album with the band prior to future reunions was Livin’ on the Fault Line, released in 1977 and was the first DB album since their debut that didn’t contain a top 40 hit. However, the DB most successful album was around the corner. The 3x platinum selling, #1 charting and Grammy nominated album, Minute by Minute, released in December of 1978 cleaned up at the 1980 Grammy Awards winning four for the #1 charting “What a Fool Believes” single, along with a nomination for the title track, bringing the DB to the peak of their success. 

Minute by Minute was Baxter and Hartman’s last album with the band and after the follow-up, One Step Closer (1980), likewise was McDonald’s last until future reunions. One Step Closer was McFee’s first album as full-time band member continuing through 1982’s Farewell Tour after which the band erroneously thought they were calling it quits. The One Step Closer single “Real Love,” was the last DB top-ten hit until “The Doctor” arrived from the 1989 reunion album Cycles.

Prior to joining, the long-serving DB ‘secret weapon’ McFee was famous for his pedal steel work on Van Morrison’s 1971 album Tupelo Honey. He also recorded with Steve Miller, Grateful Dead and Emmylou Harris to name only a few.  He’s also responsible for the great guitar work on Elvis Costello’s cherished 1977 debut album My Aim is True (featuring the hit “Allison”), produced by Nick Lowe, this before The Attractions became Costello’s long running band. McFee was in a band called Clover at the time, which later morphed into Huey Lewis and the News. When the DB took a five-year break after their 1982 “Farewell Tour,” McFee co-founded the highly regarded country-rock band Southbound with former Doobie’s drummer, Keith Knudsen and from Elvis Presley’s TCB band, keyboardist Glen Hardin and bassist Jerry Scheff, who was later replaced by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Stu Cook.

The DB have recorded and toured on and off in various lineups since then; keyboardist Bill Payne, co-founder (along with Lowell George) of the legendary band Little Feat contributed to many DB records as a session man since the beginning, had been a touring member since 2015. Payne bowed out for this tour as Little Feat has re-formed, picking up the pieces after the sad death of guitarist/singer Paul Barrere in 2019. McDonald now takes over the numerous keyboard duties.  Rounding out the current touring band is John Cowan (bass), Ed Toth (drums) and Mark Russo (saxophone).

Their new album released in 2021, Liberté, is their first collection of all-new music since 2010’s well received reunion with producer Ted Templeman, World Gone Crazy (2014’s Southbound is a tribute album where an array of contemporary country artists sat in with DB for new versions of their many hits). Liberté came together when their new management team, Irving Azoff and Karim Karmi, who recently took over upon the retirement of their career-long manager, and winemaker Bruce Cohn, suggested to Simmons and Johnston that they try working with the award winning and prolific multi-instrumentalist/writer/producer John Shanks (Van Halen, Melissa Ethridge, Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, Goo Goo Dolls). 

During a break between this year’s tour legs that brings the DB to Redondo, Simmons was excited to talk about their latest release, “Shanks was a friend of our manager and he introduced us to see if we’d all be interested in working together and we hit it off. John was excited with the prospect of working with us and it was one of those ‘jump into the’ water and see how it works things and it worked out really good. I love working with the guy, he’s a great person and an amazing artist in his own right as far as his musicianship and his production chops are incredible.”

In regards to how difficult it is to ‘click’ with artistic collaborators Simmons explains, “…you never know, we’ve been through the process of sitting down with various producers and talking to them before we ever get involved and you have a feel whether or not there’s a chemistry there and it was immediate with John. John is such a great writer and we’ve been taking advantage of it, enlisting him to work with us on songs, we enjoy the process both Tommy [Johnston] and I. Before, it was just Tommy and I working on songs together and having John was just a magical moment for both of us. I’ve written songs with people using that process where you close yourself into a room and just work it until you come up with something.  There’s certain kind of writers that I work with that won’t take no for an answer - we’re gonna make it happen regardless. It’s one of those things where every time, they really have a passion for songwriting and it’s such a catalyst to get in a room with someone like that because they spur you on to levels that otherwise you might not get to. Ted Templeman was that way too, it speeds things to the point of delivery.”

Simmons is a California boy to the core who now splits his time between Maui, Hawaii and Mendocino County on the North Coast of CA, a long-time motorcycle enthusiast who still loves to ride his favorite, a 1928 Harley Davidson JD called ‘Norge,’ named after the blue color the old Norge brand refrigerators were painted. He is looking forward to performing in Redondo, relating to the lifestyle, “I grew up in San Jose and I lived in Santa Cruz for a long time, I’m kind of a coast rat, I used to surf a lot in Santa Cruz and I surfed in Hawaii, I’ve surfed the North Coast too but it’s a little colder up there! It’s a beautiful country, we’re pretty fortunate, America is a beautiful place.”

On the setlists for this tour, “We’re doing a little bit of something from almost every album, from the very early stuff to our most recent Liberté, I don’t think almost, I think something from every album we’ve recorded, it’s a long set. I don’t know what we’re going to do in Redondo Beach exactly, it depends on how much time we have but normally we’re doing about a 2 ½ hour show, we get quite a few songs in there 20 to 34 songs in the set. It’s a good cross section of the music for the audience I think, they get to hear a lot of stuff. To have Mike McDonald with us these days is a bonus, he did a tour with us 26 years ago, I think that was the last time so yeah, it’s been a long time.  He’s more firmly entrenched these days, in other words, we’re doing more of his songs than we did back then because that was kind of a brief moment where he was just hanging around for a little while. It’s nice for the rest of us, it takes a little of the weight off, we get to share the load a little bit, which is nice. And then to have a longer presentation for the audience, it’s a little more special.”

When questioned about the longevity of his career, beginning in his early 20’s and being successful on up to now, rocking into his 70’s, “Well you know, every day is a gift, that’s all I can say. I know that regardless of what we would be doing as a band, I love music, I would be playing at home for myself and doing whatever I could to be productive, continue to write songs. Having the band work with is an incredible joy for me, I’ve been playing in this band for over 50 years and it’s been a continual reward playing with these guys, I feel like I’m playing with some of the great singers and writers, both Tommy and Mike, and John McFee is a fabulous musician, we’ve got these incredible sidemen Mark Russo on saxophone, Mark’s been playing with us for 27 years. It’s something I don’t take for granted, I love playing, I always wanted to be in a band, I get to travel the world, meet people, see things, I feel like I’m in high school still, I get to play with great, great people and have fun with my friends! A lot of that is serendipity, the chemistry, in so many respects it’s just an accident, to meet up with somebody and hit it off and having the longevity of the band, it’s a happy accident.”

To borrow from their friends, the Grateful Dead, “what a long strange trip it’s been!” The DB have sold more than 48 million records world-wide and in 2004, were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and now for the first time, they are here in Redondo Beach on Saturday night at the Beachlife Ranch Festival!

Poncho Sanchez @ San Pedro Music Festival!


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