Backstage in Bakersfield, on a warm, late summer night, Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston, founding members of the Doobie Brothers, have just finished their soundcheck. As the last, plaintive notes of “South City Midnight Lady” seemed to still hang in the sweet, heavy air, the pair of veteran road warriors are asked about the news they had been made aware of less than 24 hours earlier.
They were, for the first time, going to appear on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For longtime fans of the band, this has been the ultimate no-brainer. What does a band have to do to simply get nominated? But the process, arcane, mysterious and yes, sometimes as unfair as it may seem, finally turned in favor of this legendary outfit. To Simmons and Johnston, rather than relief, shock or even surprise, both guys took it in stride much like they perform each night, with a smile, a shrug and a no-nonsense approach to what they do. “It’s a really nice thing,” said Johnston. “You just never know with these things. Fans always mention it to us and it’s not like we control any of it, so one of my first thoughts was, this will make the fans happy. And that’s really cool. We are honored.”
“We’ve been doing this for so long,” Simmons added, we still love being on the road doing what we do and anytime you get acknowledged for what you do, it’s appreciated. We’re very happy to be nominated. But whatever happens we’ll just keep doing what we do. But it was sure a nice call to get.”
In 2017, I wrote in the Huffington Post why I felt the Doobie Brothers were long overdue in terms of getting on the ballot. I mean, come on. For nearly 50 years they have thrilled millions of fans all over the world. They have worked as hard as any other major touring band, still putting in as many as 100 shows per year. They have recorded many successful albums, and are the architects of a recognizable, commercially successful and critically acclaimed sound. A boatload of signature songs including “Listen to The Music,” “Jesus Is Just Alright,” ‘Long Train Runnin’,” “China Grove,” “Black Water,” “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me),” “Takin’ It To The Streets,” :What A Fool Believes,” “Minute By Minute,” “Real Love,” “The Doctor” and more. Two of their songs hit #1, three additional ones hit the top 10, and eleven more of their songs hit the top 40. Two of their songs were nominated for the Grammies for Song of the Year in the same year, and one of them “What A Fool Believes,” won.
What more are they supposed to do?
They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004, have won four GRAMMY® Awards and sold more than 48 million records worldwide (including three multi-platinum, seven platinum, and 14 gold albums). Their 1976 Best of the Doobies has sold more than 12 million copies, earning rare RIAA Diamond status. In all, the Doobies have tallied five Top 10 singles and 16 Top 40 hits.
Yes, for some people, there is confusion over the two versions of the band; the original lineup featuring Tom Johnston, and the mid-late 70s version featuring Michael McDonald. Yes, the two eras delivered different styles, from the earlier rugged, rootsy rock and roll, to McDonald’s smoother, soulful approach. But it was all good. Today, they have gone back to the beginning, with Johnston back since the late 1980s, cranking out hit after hit after deep cut after deep cut with a relentless, workman-like grind.
They also go beyond just playing their hearts out.
As a recent Digital Journal editorial added in its defense of a Doobies hall induction, “They are a band that always gives back for causes that are dear to their hearts. The charitable organizations that they are involved with includes the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, Stand Up to Cancer, The National Wildlife Foundation, and many veterans non-profit charities. They have also donated their musical equipment to help advance music programs in schools.”
Today, along with longtime (1979) member John McFee, veteran Little Feat keyboard master Bill Payne, drummer Ed Toth, percussionist Marc Quinones and bassist John Cowan, Simmons and Johnston tour steadily all over the world, bringing their musical magic to diehards and new fans alike, continuing to craft legacy as one of America’s truly great musical products. They belong in the same conversation with the Band, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and the Eagles, among a few others others.
As the band took the stage in Bakersfield, after the rollicking opener “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” a fan (unbeknownst to the news) yelled out, “Doobies in the Rock and Roll all of Fame!” Johnston smiled wryly.
Is this the year they finally get the recognition that so many feel they deserve? They have long been atop many “How are they not in the Hall?” lists and hopefully, enough voting members realize the relevance of the Doobie Brothers. It’s time for them to listen to the music, listen to the legacy and listen to the fans, who have wanted this (deservedly) for years.