“Jesus is just alright with me / Jesus is just alright / oh, yeah!”
The lyrics inevitably swarm around in my head upon any mention of The Doobie Brothers. “Jesus is Just Alright” is one of many popular songs from the ‘70s rock band’s catalog, which also includes hits like “Black Water,” “China Grove” and “Takin’ it to the Streets.” They’re tunes Wilmingtonians will hear most likely when The Doobie Brothers play the Wilson Center on September 17.
“It makes you feel good when there’s that moment of everyone singing along,” Simmons admits of the fan-favorites. “You almost wait for those moments in the set. . . . We also try to throw in songs that allow sets to stretch out a little bit.”
With an almost 50-year career, The Doobie Brothers have a deep pool of deep cuts to dip into as well. They’ve recently started incorporating into sets “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” and “Clear as the Driven Snow” from “The Captain and Me” (1973), as well as “Eyes of Silver” and “Road Angel” off of “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits” (1974).
“If it feels good, we end up throwing it in there,” Simmons says. “Oftentimes, we’ll also reinvent them a little bit—like let the sax player have a solo here, or make a particular riff a little part to insert in the arrangement to extend [it] a little bit . . . or make up a part for a song to give it some dynamic lift.”
Simmons, who lives in Hawaii, is preparing to hit the road again with Tom Johnston (guitars, vocals) and John McFee (guitars, pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, vocals), along with Bill Payne (keyboards), Marc Russo (saxophone), Ed Toth (drums), and John Cowan (bass, vocals). While the original Doobie lineup has evolved since their inception in 1969, their songs continue to weave and thread across generations.
“We’ve got kids coming up to us, saying, ‘I’ve listened to all your albums all my life,’ or ‘I play guitar and pur band still plays your songs at gigs,’” Simmons recites. “Those are the moments that reaffirm we are on the right track.”
The Doobie Brothers have marked many milestones in roughly five decades: GRAMMY Awards; being among the first bands to play in simulcast on TV; playing with The Allman Brothers; meeting Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart, BB King, Muddy Waters, and others who Simmons and company idolize.
“I used to think, Gosh, I want to see those guys because they’re getting old. They might not be working or might not be around in five or 10 years,” Simmons says. “That’s kind of where we’ve gotten to in a certain respect.”
Now Simmons is among artists with lasting legacies and enduring passion for creating music. His years of experience, lessons learned, and collection of memories have lead him to at least one piece of sage advice for those looking to “make it”:
“Get the hell out of this business—it’s too hard!” he quips and laughs. “In all seriousness, I tell everyone to just practice, practice, practice. You can’t learn too much. I still learn all the time; I hear people do something, and go home and try to do what they’re doing. That’s the wonderful thing about arts and general: You just can’t learn too much.”
Nevertheless, Simmons thinks the modern music industry is a lot more “user-friendly” than people realize—for both artists and listeners. New mediums and the digital age have had a positive impact in the studio and on the live stage.
“Life is a lot easier on the stage and road when you don’t have to carry as much or travel with as much equipment,” he observes. “But the quality of music has markedly improved. . . . The way that bands present themselves is more studio-like, in terms of being able to hear the instruments more dynamically and apart from each other [on stage]. The quality of digital processing has smoothed out a lot of the rough edges for live presentation.”
The Doobie Brothers recently went into the studio to cut four new tracks. Two were written by Johnston, one a bit folk-driven, while the other is more straight rock ‘n’ roll. Simmons contributed two more, both cut with just an acoustic guitar and microphone.
“For my songs, one is a little more rhythmic and Latin-flavored,” he describes, “and the other is not exactly jazz but it’s more in that direction a little bit.”
While the aforementioned songs are still under wraps for now, Simmons anticipates releasing them a few at a time rather than wait for a record release. There could be a full-length album down the road, but folks won’t have to wait for new songs in the interim.
“I think an album in some ways is an antiquated concept,” Simmons observes. “I think when you look at artists these days you don’t have to wait for months and months for a strategic moment to release.”
The Doobie Brothers
with JD & The Straight Shot
Sunday, Sept.17, 7:30 p.m.
Wilson Center • 703 N. 3rd St.
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