News of the Doobie Brothers’ impending induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has Tom Johnston “still pinching myself,” Patrick Simmons “a little overwhelmed” and Michael McDonald declaring that “it’s more excitement than an old man can handle.”
They’re happy about it, in other words.
“I think it’s something we’re all looking forward to, for sure,” McDonald — whose tenure with the Doobies yielded Grammy gold — tells Billboard, The honor, of course, dovetails with his rejoining the band for a 50th anniversary tour during the summer, an upcoming book about the group and new music from the current lineup. “Everybody’s really excited about this and looking forward to getting together with all the other guys and having that evening together to celebrate. I think all of us share in that sense of pride of having been in the Doobies and been a part of that band and gotten to play that music for so many years.”
Johnston concurs that “everybody’s pretty jazzed” about the induction news, especially since it was the Doobies’ first time on the ballot after being eligible since 1971. (The Doobies were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.) “We’ve talked about it,” Johnston says, “not a lot over the years but it comes up because the fans are always saying, ‘When are you gonna be in the Hall of Fame?’ — and we hear that a lot. And of course there’s no answer for that, because we don’t know. But the fan support has been awesome, a huge part of everything.”
The induction is particularly resonant for Simmons, who co-founded the group with Johnston in San Jose, Calif. and is the only constant member of the Doobies throughout its many lineup changes. “I’m a really lucky guy,” he says. “All these guys certainly deserve the recognition. It would sound egotistical if I said I deserved it, but I think the band deserves it. I always wanted to be part of a great rock band…and to be part of something even bigger is kind of a dream come true. I can’t stress enough how much I feel like the music and what we’ve done deserve some recognition, and I’m glad it’s happening.”
The Doobies’ induction on May 2 in Cleveland will also include current member John McFee and previous members Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, John Hartman, the late Michael Hossack, Tiran Porter and Keith Knudsen. The current lineup will likely perform at the ceremony, according to Johnston, while plans to include former members will be discussed during the interim.
“I think it’ll be great,” Simmons says. “I do keep in touch from time to time with all these guys, so it’s nice we’ll be doing something like this together. I know that everybody, even the guys that haven’t been involved with the Doobies for awhile, are all still active and playing. So for us to be together and play again, I think it’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be a real fun time for everybody.”
The Doobies are currently gearing up for a February residency at the Venetian in Las Vegas, but the Rock Hall induction will provide the real launch for the 50th anniversary celebration. The tour with McDonald (and an additional horn section) kicks off May 23 in Los Cabos, Mexico, by which time Johnston and Simmons hope to release an EP of new music produced by John Shanks. Five songs are done and ready, according to Johnston, and sound “very different than anything this band has ever done.” Another two songs were recently written and may be included if they can be recorded in time. The book, by an outside writer, is also in motion.
“It’s a big-deal year — I’ve never seen anything quite like this in the career of the band,” Johnston notes. And McDonald adds that he’s anxious to rub elbows with other inductees, including the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode.
“What I like about the Hall of Fame is that they’ve really made that effort to induct a well-rounded group of people each year,” he explains. “They’re usually people who have done their part in kind of sculpting what our idea of popular music is at this point. And what I’m always surprised about is when we get to these events and bands that probably seem so diverse and maybe even disconnected from a musical standpoint usually have kind of a mutual admiration for what each other does. So I always look forward to meeting the other artists and getting to know people at these events.”