Friday, May 29, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Pat Simmons Jr., Son of a Rock & Roll Legend, Is Not Your Typical Show Biz Kid

Pat Simmons, Jr.  and his trusty ukelele
You know what some people say about the children of celebrities: They're spoiled. Ungrateful. Lazy. Offspring of the rich and famous, especially rock stars, are selfish and clueless, right? Steely Dan's Donald Fagen once noted that show biz kids "Don't give a f**k about anybody else."

But absolutely none of that applies to Pat Simmons Jr. (left), with whom I recently enjoyed a very interesting and enlightening talk. 

Simmons, 24, is one of the more chill, positive and grateful spirits I've encountered. A respected ecologist, social activist and organic farmer, Pat is a smart, good-natured, mellow soul who works with children and is a cancer survivor. And he just happens to be the son of a rock music legend. 

If you've been anywhere near a radio in the past 43 years, you know that Pat's dad, Patrick Simmons, a founding member of the Doobie Brothers, is a bonafide rock star and gifted singer-songwriter who penned such classics as Black Water, South City Midnight Lady, Dependin' On You, Echoes of Love, One Step Closer and more. The Doobies have sold more than 40 million records and won four Grammy Awards.

Pat Jr., who moved with his family from the Redwood country of Northern California to the North Shore of Maui when he was six, has traveled in a bus with his dad on Doobie Brothers tours just about every year of his young life. Why? Because dad wanted his kid to come along. And the kid loved every minute of it.

"I learned how to walk on a tour bus," says Pat, who's the opening act on the Doobies' current national tour, which stops at Humphrey's in San Diego on Wednesday night (June 3). "I was raised on a tour bus, and from hotel to hotel," Pat says. "Every single summer of my life."  

But when Pat steps off that magic bus, his life couldn't be any more different. Earning a degree in Ecology from Evergreen State College in 2012, Pat is now an outspoken and respected environmental activist in Hawaii. 

Pat Simmons Jr. at charity benefit
He cares deeply about the natural world and saving his beautiful island paradise from menacing chemical companies like Monsanto and other corporate invaders. A courageous survivor of testicular cancer, Pat, who's now cancer-free, is fighting to stop the proliferation of Genetically Modified Food (GMO) in Hawaii. 

Sadly, he says, the state and local governments of Hawaii are not as opposed to the idea as they could and should be.

Pat also staunchly supports the current fight by Hawaii's indigenous people to halt the construction of the largest telescope in the world atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the big island of Hawaii that at 14,000 feet is the highest point in all of the Islands.

There are already more than a dozen telescopes on Mauna Kea, but the site of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope is a sacred place where Hawaiians have gone to pray and meditate for centuries. Astronomers say this is the most ideal spot in the entire world for a telescope to study the moon, the planets and the stars. But Pat says enough is enough.

"I'm absolutely opposed to it. Building this telescope on this spot would be a breach of spiritual protocol," Pat says. "The Hawaiian people go there to pray. Hawaii came from the volcano, it is a very sacred place for them. Building this enormous telescope, many here say, would be the ultimate desecration."

Some scientists actually respect what Pat and others are saying. Adam Burgasser, an astronomer from the University of California San Diego who has lived in Hawaii, recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune, "The astronomer in me wants to see it built, but I also recognize that this is sacred land. Consider the outcry if we built the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Dome of the Rock or the Sistine Chapel."

A Career in Music?

Not surprisingly, protecting the earth isn't the only thing for which the young Simmons has passion. He loves to sing, has a natural ability to tell poignant stories that connect with people, and he plays a bunch of musical instruments, including acoustic guitar, metal and wooden flutes, harmonica, djembe, drums, didgeridoo, mandolin, banjo, dobro and thumb piano, and ukelele, which is the first instrument he learned

Pat Simmons. Jr. (left), Elvis Costello, & Patrick Simmons
And the father could not be more proud of the son. 

"Pat's music and his activism go hand in hand," says Patrick Simmons, the elder (left). "The things he sings about are the things he is passionate about. I've watched him grow as a musician, and a songwriter, and I can honestly say I'm very proud of his accomplishments."

Simmons, the father, continues, "Naturally I'm happy to see him evolve in his attachment to music, but I never forced him to make this choice. Rather it was a natural inclination on his own part, and I support him 100 percent, if he wants to explore a musical path. Wherever it leads him will be a place of discovery and growth. As far as I'm concerned that's what we're all here to do. There's nothing better than sharing music with my son. Something I love, with someone I love. It's the best!" 

Pat the son is taking the musical side of his life a little more seriously these days. He writes beautiful, earnest songs, mostly about the land he loves. His songwriting influences include everyone from Jack Johnson to Cat Stevens, and there's a strong reggae vibe in much of what he does. His greatest musical inspiration he says is Bob Marley. His music also has touches of folk, blues and the classic rock for which his dad is known. 

Pat has been immersed in music all his life. He's been given the rare opportunity to open for and jam and share the stage with such artists as Jack Johnson, The Wailers, Boz Scaggs, Chicago, Willie Nelson, Dave Mason, Buddy Guy, The Turtles, Little Feat, Kenny Loggins, Los Lobos, War, Tower of Power and Xavier Rudd.

Growing up and playing in a band with Willie Nelson's two sons, his Maui neighbors, Pat says they all felt some pressure to be successful in the music biz because of their parents. But they let go of that soon enough. Hawaii just has a way of chilling you out.

"I just stay present in the moment now," he says. "Life is so short. I find happiness in just being a human on this earth, taking care of the land and each other and sending good messages."

But he does plan to record an album. And he loves playing for people. Usually barefoot. And like just about everything in his life, Pat says, the music gigs happened organically. When he opens for the Doobies now, he performs six or seven songs. He's clearly gaining more confidence in his vocals and honing his performance chops. He loves telling stories about the songs he sings, and his sincere but laid-back stage persona instantly appeals to audiences. 

"I invite my dad up on the last song," Pat explains. "We do 'Ventura Highway' [by America] a lot, and people love it. We did a Maui show last autumn with [former Doobie Brother] Michael McDonald, it was a benefit show for the Pacific Cancer Foundation in Maui. Michael did 'How Long,' the Ace song."

Despite the fact that the music business is often very corrupt, Pat says, making music is a great way to make a living. "I just want to do it honestly," he says. "The music industry is crazy and not conducive to my healthy lifestyle. I'm doing it so I can spread positive messages. Maui is a big deal to me, and I am honored to be able to use music as a vehicle for change in the world. Each song I write is a true story about my life. I'm glad that people enjoy it."

Fellow Cancer Warriors

Pat and I talked for quite a while about what it means to be a cancer survivor. He doesn't take anything for granted anymore. Like me, he endured chemotherapy and is just very happy to be alive. And we also agree that emotions definitely affect your immune system, both positively and negatively.

"I don’t know what the cancer is from," he said. "I was in a serious depression for a while, and I never was depressed.  I went through that first breakup. I was never a sad person, I am really stoked most of the time. But I was stuck in that sadness for month or two."

Pat started chemo in the autumn of 2013 and completed it in January 2014. He's been cancer free ever since. "I feel good," he says. "And I am really conscious of what I put in my body. I've had a lot of good mentors in my life, people who have taught me about plant medicine. I have a Chinese herbalist. And I keep my physical body in shape with hiking and surfing." 

Pat seems to have an old soul but a youthful heart. He knows how lucky he is to have seen so much of the world at a young age. The real key to Pat's success, I believe, is his natural talent and appeal, of course, combined with the fact that he clearly has such good parents. He is loved, and his dad is a demonstrably positive force in his life. 

Being a rock star is often antithetical to being a good parent. 
But Pat's parents did a great job. Pat's mom, Cristine Sommer-Simmons, is a globally respected motorcycle enthusiast and journalist. "My mom and dad met in 1989," Pat says. "She started the magazine Harley Women. She went to cover a Doobies concert during the big motorcycle event in Sturgis."

Enjoying the Ride

Pat is clearly enjoying the ride. He recently sent out this endearing message to his growing number of fans:

"Giving thanks for the land of my ancestors welcoming me and guiding my journey along the way, it's been a wonderful opportunity to share the message of Aloha 'Āina with the south east of America, may the sacred waters of this land flow clean & clear with love, may the forests & creatures of this land be in peace. mahalo nui especially to my dad & the Doobie family for supporting my work. I'll be back out in June for the west coast tour! See you then! Bless all the mothers out there! Especially our great grandmother Earth, she has given us so much. Mahalo ke akua, aloha, a hui hou, mālama pono."

He says he's looking forward to his upcoming gig at Humphrey's, the marina-side San Diego resort and outdoor concert venue where he'll be jamming with his old man Wednesday night. 

"My dad's band plays there every single summer," Pat says. "I have great memories of the place, especially the swimming pool. It's where I learned how to swim."


  1. Good write-up, I'm regular visitor of one's site, maintain up the excellent operate, and It’s going to be a regular visitor for a long time.

  2. This is a gorgeous place, and I won't soon forget it. Attended an event here sponsored by the company. The reception hour was held in one of the rooms next to the hall in party city locations NY. I loved their buttery mashed sweet potato.

  3. Nice write-up. I was looking for Pat Simmons info (we grew up in the same area) and enjoyed more reading about his son (I lived on the Big Island for 8 years) even more than about Pat (we played the same coffeehouses in the Los Gatos area).

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Sorry I missed this kind note when you wrote it last year.