Doobie Brothers’ Patrick Simmons Welcomes Country’s Influence With ‘World Gone Crazy’
For over 40 years, the Doobie Brothers have been one of the most successful and musically well-traveled bands in all of rock 'n' roll. They've always incorporated outside styles into their music, from folk to soul and, of course, country -- which features strongly on the title track of 'World Gone Crazy,' their first new album in a decade.
Pat Simmons, the longest-tenured Brother and one of the main songwriters in the band, tells Taste of Country about the new record, the group's ability to maintain their own sound while exploring new music and undergoing many lineup changes, their unconscious crossover to country radio and his past and present interest in country music.
It's hardly a surprise that country music would pop its head up in your sound, right? You've always been successful at pulling influences from other worlds.
Exactly. Although we came from a rock 'n' roll background, a lot of our ideas came from other forms beyond rock 'n' roll. We've experimented with a lot of different stuff through the years.
So it wasn't a conscious choice to make a country record this time?
It never has been conscious. I think, if anything, we've probably tried to be more of a mainstream band through the years, to take those elements that are more traditional and incorporate them into a more contemporary kind of a sound. That's probably the goal of most contemporary music, really. I think more people want to reach a larger audience. So you end up taking your cues from your own idols and [you] try to come up with ideas that are similar to theirs. Not that you're copying people, but you look at people and get inspired.
Who were your early influences?
My early childhood, it was '50s rockers. I loved Bill Haley and the Comets. Also, I got into fingerpicking pretty early on as a kid, so I idolized Chet Atkins forever. I think all guitar players look up to him a lot. I was a huge Doc Watson fan, and then I loved more traditional kind of blues players like the Reverend Gary Davis.
Are you a fan of modern or traditional country music?
Of course. There's some great bands out there. I like Zac Brown Band a lot. I love what Darius Rucker has done, with his entry into the country music world. I hate to even say this, 'cause I loved Hootie and the Blowfish, but I like this more -- there's something about it that fits him better, for me, anyway. He's singing really great. He's matured a lot as an artist. I love what Reba's been doing lately. I think she nailed it in a good way with 'Turn on the Radio' and that stuff.
I was a huge Hal Katchum fan. I've always loved Wynnona. I think she's a great artist. I've got some esoteric people that I like -- I love David Ball. I'm a huge Sam Bush fan ... probably a lot of people don't know who he is, a Nashville player that's on records all over the place, and also played in New Grass Revival. I mentioned Doc Watson before. To me, that's still country music. It's not popular but it's something I really like. There's some people that aren't really country music, but country people know who they are. Amos Lee, he's country in a different way. He's a very interesting artist, always has been. Again, skirting the boundaries of country. I love Ray LaMontagne -- he may be more Americana, but I dig it.
Listen to the Doobie Brothers, 'World Gone Crazy':
When you call a song 'World Gone Crazy,' is that something you believe is happening?
The story within the song is about a guy struggling to make ends meet. He works and works to try and keep his head above water. It's not a complicated theme, but it's something that most of us deal with on one level or another. The idea is not that it's any crazier than it's ever been, just the same old crazy world that we've been dealing with. The narrator's also someone down in New Orleans, and that's where the message gets a little more real, because of all they've had to deal with the last decade or so. It's been a challenging time for the people down there.
How did you end up working with Willie Nelson on the new album?
Willie has been a friend of mine for a number of years. I've played poker with him a few times, he has a place here in Maui [and] that's where I got to know him. He was always saying, "One of these days we'll have to write a song together." So finally, when we got started on this project, I had a track idea for a song called 'I Know We Won' that I thought would be perfect to get him in on. We put our heads together on it, and then he pretty much wrote the whole second verse and the chorus, and we collaborated on the vocal arrangement. Then, I thought it'd be great to have him sing on it, too. So I sang the first verse, he sang the second [and] we kind of jumped in together on the chorus. It's not your typical Willie Nelson song. I won't say it's rock 'n' roll, but it's a Doobie-ish thing.
Are you past the point of getting starstruck around people like that now?
Oh no, I always pretty much get a little tongue-tied around Willie. He's an icon, you know? But he's a great guy, a gracious, giving person. He makes you feel comfortable even if you are a little starstruck.
Have you been happy with the response to the record?
I have. We labored on this for a few years, on and off, in between touring. Of course, it was great to be working on some new material, but to be back working with [famed producer] Ted Templeman again was such a treat. It had been 28 years since we recorded with him.
Ted, who produced all our stuff for Warner Brothers, came to one of our rehearsals. He had been retired for a while. He had gotten a bit stir crazy, you know? He asked if we had any demos [and] then he came back and said, "I really like some of the ideas. Would you be into going in and working on some of this?" Of course, we were thrilled.
Was it his idea to re-record 'Nobody' from your first album for this album?
Yes, that was Ted's idea -- he wanted to do something from the first album, I think for nostalgia as much as anything. We always liked that song. We felt good about it, but it wasn't recorded too well, nothing from that record was. There was no bass [and] the drums were kinda crappy sounding. We were pretty much neophytes as far as recording. It was fun to take something from that era and revitalize it. We added a few parts, and sonically it was just a much better performance. Ted wanted to come full circle -- not the end of the line, but 40 years later, here's what a song sounds like performed by the band today. I think we did a lot better job on it.
So, it doesn't signal any retirement plans?
No, no. We are touring, as per usual, this summer. [We] usually play at least 100 shows every year -- last year about 130, maybe a few more. We're always keeping busy. We're heading to Australia in March, doing some shows in Asia ... we're always up to something fun.