Patrick Simmons

Interview by Dennis Morgillo

Madhouse Magazine:    You've got a lot of exciting stuff going on. Let's talk about the tour, where you're going, where you've been, who you're going to be playing with?

Patrick Simmons:    Well, let's see, I'm leaving actually tomorrow to catch up with the band. We're starting out in North Carolina, I believe. Charlotte. God, we're going everywhere. We're kind of starting out in the south, going through the Carolinas. I think we're doing some shows in Florida. I want to say some shows in Texas. Going to be down in New Orleans, Tennessee, and then we're booking our way back to the west coast, but we're kind of going back and forth. We're kind of all over the place. We're doing a bunch of shows with Steely Dan, and we are doing a couple shows with the Eagles.

Madhouse Magazine:    That must be a lot of fun for you guys playing with the Eagles and Steely Dan. You must have had a lot of fun times with them over the years.

Patrick Simmons:    Both those bands, known those guys for a long time. We did dates in the very early '70s with both those bands. Prior to everybody becoming really popular, we used to share a lot of stages together.

Madhouse Magazine:    When you're up there playing, for you personally, what songs do you enjoy playing the most, whether vocally or the guitar work on it? Which ones do you have the most fun playing?

Patrick Simmons:    Boy, that's a hard one. I kind of enjoy playing everything, really, in one way or another. Everything has its own variables, as far as my own personal contribution. Probably the songs that you enjoy playing the most are maybe songs that you haven't played very much through the years. That's kind of always been part of our regimen is we'll certainly do most of the songs that your audience wants to hear that you know that they're going to be more focused on. That's rewarding in its own respect, just because it's great to have that connection with your audience and have that kinetic energy that gets created by that familiarity. But then there's songs that we play that are more deeper, I think probably we haven't played as much and the audience hasn't heard as much. Those are kind of the fun songs, I think, for all of us.

Madhouse Magazine:    Now I also understand you guys have some new music coming out, or you're working on it, writing on it. What's the status of this?

Patrick Simmons:    We've been working on some new tunes, yeah. It's something that I think we kind of continually do anyway. I would say, we are maybe halfway into a record, in terms of actual albums, which I don't think ... I suppose some artists do, but we don't really think in terms of albums ... I think we think more in terms of songs than we think of albums these days, just because sometimes you might not even release an album. You might just release some songs onto the internet just to release it so your core audience gets a ... You sort of connect with those people more.

Madhouse Magazine:    Do you have an ETA on when we might be able to hear some of this new music?

Patrick Simmons:    I think probably more than likely, like I said, we probably won't necessarily wait until we have a whole album. Once we get the majority of the tunes where we want them, we'll probably just throw a few of them out there on the internet and let the fans see what they think about it.

Madhouse Magazine:    Right, with this new environment, this new record business, it's a whole different way of releasing music.

Patrick Simmons:    Yeah. For bands like ours and for many bands, you're just trying to stay in touch with your audience. It always was true, but it's probably truer than ever that the bulk of your income, your support income and what takes care of your crew and all the people involved in the whole thing, it comes from touring. It's kind of always been that way. Having new music is a great tool to keep that alive, to let people know you're still out here playing. You have new music. People enjoy coming to hear new music and the old tunes as well, but I think it all adds to the whole package, that you have new and interesting things to present. That's the way we've always looked at it.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yeah, and it's kind of come full circle from 100 years ago when musicians had no other way to get their music to people, except live performances.

Patrick Simmons:    That's right. We've always felt that way anyway. I think we've always felt like we create our audience person by person, ticket by ticket. When people came and heard the band before we even really had any songs that people knew about, or even before we were recording, it's like creating a fan base, it's all about that connection to the individual. It really comes from the songs themselves and from the performance. We've always been pretty keenly aware of that.

Madhouse Magazine:    I understand that you are a motorcycle aficionado as well, and so am I. I heard this amazing story that you rode cross country with your wife from Atlantic City, New Jersey all the way to San Diego.

Patrick Simmons:    We have done that a few times. She's done it three times. The first time she went on her 1915 Harley, and then the next time we went out, she rode a '34 VL, and I rode a 1929 Harley JD, both Harleys. Then we did it again two years ago, and I rode a 1914 two-speed. We're doing it this year, next September after we get off the road, after we get the Steely Dan dates and a couple of .... Well no, I take it back. It's before we do the Eagles dates. When we get off the road with Steely Dan at the early part of September, we're going to leave again from Portland, Maine, and it goes to Portland, Oregon. I'm going to ride a '28 Harley.

Madhouse Magazine:    If people don't know about motorcycles, the motorcycles from 1914 did not have shocks as we know them today, if any at all. What was that like on your body?

Patrick Simmons:    It's just like being on a carnival ride for about eight hours. It's kind of fun, just because of, to me, the novelty of it. I've always liked the old bikes, and it's fun. You hopefully are in good enough shape to do it in the first place, and it's neat. I dig the old bikes. I like the connection with the ... Everything's mechanical. There's nothing digital or electronic on it. Everything is rods and gears and movement that you can observe. It's all something that basically you have to maintain it through the thing. You don't have any support while you're riding. You have to be able to fix everything yourself. That's a big challenge. We have mechanics, but they can only meet us at the end of the day after we go 300 miles or so. They can't help you when you're in the middle of the ride. You have to be able to fix stuff yourself. That's a big challenge. So you carry tools and parts, and hopefully you have the part that if something does go wrong, that you have the part to fix it and the tool to fix it. That's really the long and the short of that. But it's really a fun way to explore America, the back roads of America, and it's a fun way to learn about what the vulnerability of the old bikes, what's going to go wrong. After doing it a few times, hopefully we have it figured out.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yeah. You guys are hardcore, your wife especially too.

Patrick Simmons:    Oh yeah, she's probably harder core than I am. Like I said, she's going to take her 1915. I'm going to be in a 1928. She's got the old bike. I got the new one.

Madhouse Magazine:    I understand that you met your wife at Sturgis? How did that come about?

Patrick Simmons:    We did. Yeah, we met at Sturgis, South Dakota at the motorcycle rally. The Doobies were there doing a benefit for the Biker's Fight Against Muscular Dystrophy, which Harley has been a big proponent, supporter of that effort. We did a benefit there in Rapid City during the Sturgis rally. She had a magazine called Harley Women in those days. She was there just doing stories for her magazine and came to the ... We had a press conference, and she came to the press conference. My friend that worked for Harley introduced us, and pretty much been together ever since.

Madhouse Magazine:    Wow, and that's what, 30 years or something you guys have been together?

Patrick Simmons:    It's going on 29 years now.

Madhouse Magazine:    Wow. That's something. That's like 100 in the rock world, right?

Patrick Simmons:    That's right.

Madhouse Magazine:    That's awesome. Now you guys have always been involved in the motorcycle culture too, the Doobie Brothers, going back to the very beginning. Didn't you guys start in biker bars and hanging around with the outlaw clubs?

Patrick Simmons:    We did a lot of playing in clubs around the Bay Area that the bikers liked to go to. We had a lot of friends that were motorcyclists. We did know a number of guys in the clubs as well. California is one of those hubs of the motorcycle world, just because of the great weather and great roads to ride. Tom Johnston and I were both living in the North Bay. I lived in Los Gatos and Santa CruZ, really great, great riding in those areas. I've had a lot of experience with bikes and the biker culture. Just lots of friends, and always into it most of my life, so that really was nice that the clubs found us, kind of took us under their wing a little bit.

Madhouse Magazine:    Did you guys ever witness any brawls or anything while you guys were playing?

Patrick Simmons:    Yeah, sure. Things don't last very long, fights. They're not like they are in the movies. It's like one guy throws a punch, and everybody grabs him and pulls everybody apart. That's usually the way it ends up.

Madhouse Magazine:    Do you have a big collection of guitars? What do you use on stage now?

Patrick Simmons:    I got a few old guitars. Most of my guitars are guitars that I played. They're old now, because I've had them so long, but really I play just about everything I've ever owned. About 1970 I started playing 335s, Then I played the 335s up to about, I would say, about 1979, '80 maybe. Then I started playing Stratocasters. I just love ... I had never really played them. I bought one from a friend of mine. I started playing that guitar, and I loved the sound of it. I loved the action. I really just switched horses in midstream and started playing Strats. I've been playing them ever since. 

Patrick Simmons:    Jeff Baxter actually played a Strat for years. It was a parts guitar, just blanks with a neck that he bought one place, and a body that he made or something. That's kind of what my guitars are. I played Jeff's guitar, I played it in a few sessions and here and there. I really liked it. Then when I had that opportunity to own a Strat and started playing it all the time, then it was like, "That's it. That's what I want."

Madhouse Magazine:    What do you think is going to happen with the future of guitars, with Gibson declaring bankruptcy? What do you think is going to happen? Do you think we'll run out of guitars someday, or will kids always want to play them?

Patrick Simmons:    I doubt that's going to happen. There's more guitar players than you can imagine. It sounds like Gibson's going to kind of fall back on their musical instrument company. I suspect that no matter who is the controlling entity in that company, I think it's a badge of pride to have that as your company basically. People are always going to buy Gibson guitars. They've always been a great guitar. They even more recently, they've been making some great guitars. Pretty much true to the brand, the quality level has always been up there. I haven't seen any falling back, as far as what they're creating, as far as their instruments are concerned.

Patrick Simmons:    Like with all companies, everybody wants to be bigger and make more money. When it comes to investment, companies that sort of purchase these corporations and these entities, they seek to snowball one thing into another, and sometimes it doesn't work. I think some of the electronics, gears, and different aspects that they had tried to make a go of, I think they weren't finding success. That was starting to bleed off capital from the more successful entities, which forced them to reorganize.

Madhouse Magazine:    It's kind of like when that major corporation bought Harley back in the '60s, '70s, whenever it was, and almost ran them into the ground.

Patrick Simmons:    Exactly. Yep, exactly.

Madhouse Magazine:    I've always been wanting to ask this question, now that you mentioned Jeff Baxter. As a kid watching him, I was like, "Why was he allowed to sit down?" No other guitar player is allowed to sit down. Who said he could sit down and play?

Patrick Simmons:    He kind of decided that's what he was going to do. We didn't really care. If that's what he wanted to do, that's fine. Yeah, I don't know.

Madhouse Magazine:    I'll have to ask him when I speak to him. I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about, of course, “What's Happening”. In 1978 The Doobie Brothers appeared on the TV show “What’s Happening”. How did that come about?

Patrick Simmons:    That was kind of a lark really. Our publicist at the time came to us with the idea of doing the show. I was a fan of the show. I watched the show, so I-

Madhouse Magazine:    It was a funny show.

Patrick Simmons:    ... couldn't believe that we had that opportunity. He had been friends with the producer of the show through some other production that he had done for some other musical thing or something. That was kind of the connection there. Then he brought it to us. Some of the guys are going, "Eh, that doesn't really make sense." I thought it was kind of cool, simply because I liked the show. When I was a kid, I was a big Ozzie and Harriet fan. I liked the music, some of those sitcom things. I thought, "That would be fun." Kind of classic. It turns out it was a lot more iconic than I ever would have imagined.

Madhouse Magazine:    It's 40 years later, it's the 40th anniversary. People are still talking about it, right?

Patrick Simmons:    Yeah. We were going to do one little show, and then they said, "No, this is turning out so good. We want to make it a two-part thing, and to be continued." We said, "Well that's fine. Sure. That would be cool." It was a calculation on our part to sort of connect with a more urban, African American audience, simply because a lot of our music was as much R&B as it was pop and rock.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yeah, absolutely.

Patrick Simmons:    It was just a cool opportunity in that regard to go.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yeah, absolutely. Because I remember I was a little kid at this time, I was going to an all black school at the time. I was the only one who knew the Doobie Brothers and What's Happening. But after that, everyone’s saying to me, "Oh Dennis, who are these Doobie Brothers." Did you notice a lot more black people at your concerts after that?

Patrick Simmons:    We always had a real good connection with the African American community, I think, simply because I think music when we kind of gained our success, music was a lot more ... I don't know what the word is.

Madhouse Magazine:    Like a melting pot really. Kind of they played everything.

Patrick Simmons:    Yeah, it wasn't so segmented and so compartmentalized. It wasn't just black radio and pop radio. It was kind of intermingled. Stax Volt and Motown was just as big on pop radio as anything else. When our music came out, the Isley Brothers and Aretha Franklin and Al Green and stuff, they all had big ... Otis Redding, they all had big hit records. They'd play our record, and then they'd play Otis Redding. It was kind of like we were luckily among that great contingent of black artists that I was, to this day, I'm ultimately proud of that aspect.

Patrick Simmons:    Then to be, as time went on and our music became a little more R&B, we ended up on more urban stations with our music. Then dance was such a huge craze that, once again, we were able to kind of bridge that a little bit, even though we weren't what I would call disco. You could still dance to our music.

Madhouse Magazine:    Absolutely.

Patrick Simmons:    Then since then, we've had remixes of "Long Train Running" and "Listen to the Music" that did end up in dance formats. I had sort of a dance tune when I put out a solo album back in the early '80s. I had a song that ended up on the dance charts. It felt crazy. It's a career that I have had. I'm basically more of what I would call an Americana kind of guy.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yeah, yeah. That's great. You've done it all.

Patrick Simmons:    But that worked, so I lucked out. All of that kind of worked for us. It was a great, great time for music. I think music, it's still a great time for music. There's so many great things happening out in the marketplace that I really dig. It continues, and it's changed, certainly, the way that it's presented. The appreciation I think is still there much the same.

Madhouse Magazine:    You've had a great career, an amazing career, and you seem to have a great life. I'm so jealous of this life from what I hear. You live in Hawaii. You get to ride motorcycles, play guitars. You have a nice wife, kids, grandkids. You seem to be enjoying yourself.

Patrick Simmons:    I have been fortunate. I do feel pretty blessed. Life has its ups and downs.

Madhouse Magazine:    Of course.

Patrick Simmons:    I've had to work, and that's something that has been good for me. It's taught me a lot. If you got to work for things, I think it really makes a difference in your perspective and your appreciation, not only of what you gain for yourself, but of what the challenges are for other people out there, and kind of always trying to help others achieve their dreams. My son is a musician. I've been trying to help him to move forward with his career. He's doing really well.

Madhouse Magazine:    He's Patrick Simmons Jr?

Patrick Simmons:    Yep, yep. He's up for a couple of Hawaiian music awards here in Hawaii. Which he's excited about that. That's coming up pretty soon. We'll see what happens with that. Just to get a nomination is a big deal for any musician. It's hard to ... There's so many musicians here and so many great musicians and writers, producers, and players. It's amazing, which is true pretty much of the country at large. It's amazing since I moved to Hawaii, how many great, great musicians. Some of them really are, I would say, they're not really well-known outside the state, but there's just some incredible players and singers here that are beyond great, which I love that. They're very much supported here in the state. It's really a musical atmosphere everywhere. People love music. It's part of the culture. It's been a great thing.

Patrick Simmons:    Again, in terms of my own achievements and so on, I don't take it for granted. I'm really appreciative, and the reason we're still doing well is because we've worked at it and we still continue to get out and tour. I love that. I love being able to play. I think I'll probably end up, as long as I don't ... Speaking for myself, I would probably continue to play until I really couldn't do it anymore. As long as I can do it, I'd love to be out there doing what I love to do best.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yeah, and you must be in good shape if you can ride cross country on a 1915 bike. You'll be doing it for many years.

Patrick Simmons:    I'm trying. I'm trying.

Madhouse Magazine:    Yeah, so it's going to be an exciting summer for you guys. I want to personally thank you for all the music. It's brought a lot of joy to my life. I want to thank you for that.

Patrick Simmons:    That's very nice of you. I really appreciate it.

Madhouse Magazine:    Have some good riding out there in Hawaii. Thanks, Patrick.

Patrick Simmons:    Thank you, brother.


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