By On Patrol staff
The Doobie Brothers have been playing music for more than 40 years, but what they saw this summer had to be a first.
“We met Bryan, a [triple] amputee in a wheelchair,” guitarist and vocalist Tom Johnston said. “When everyone started dancing, he just rolled right into the crowd. He didn’t let his injuries stop him from having a great time.”
The Grammy Award-winning group continued their tradition of performing for service members, headlining this summer’s “A Salute to Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Tradition of Service.” Their concert was part of the commemoration preceding the closing of the 102-year-old military care and rehabilitation center in Washington, D.C.
“I have been on air bases and aboard ships, in the Philippines, Mediterranean, and in the Indian Ocean and other places,” Johnston said. “This was a more historic occasion, and this is the first time we’ve done this for injured people. We were moved and inspired.”
The Doobie Brothers came to prominence in the 1970s with rock songs like “Listen To The Music,” “China Grove,” and “Black Water.” A pair of hits in the 1980s—“What A Fool Believes” and “Minute By Minute”—won them a total of four Grammys. Their first album in a decade, “World Gone Crazy,” was released in September 2010 and debuted in the top 40 on the Billboard top 200 albums chart.
The group has sold more than 30 million albums and was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.
They have been playing for troops since the mid-1980s, when vocalist and guitarist Pat Simmons and Johnston went on USO tours of overseas bases as part of all-star bands in successive years.
“I had such a good time on the tour, and we have always believed in supporting our men and women in uniform,” Simmons said. “Other than the fact that we are older, and the troops are younger, I don’t think much has changed. People still love to rock out, and so do we.”
While the military audiences they play to are just as enthusiastic as in decades past, Simmons noted that the band’s behind-the-scenes focus has shifted to highlighting the help needed for the thousands of veterans returning from current wars.
“We are pretty much constantly involved in working to create funding for organizations that provide assistance to returning vets in need of outreach programs, housing, counseling, jobs, health care, and whatever else is needed,” he said. “There is no end to the help that’s needed for our veterans. Bringing attention to these issues is very important to us.”
Simmons sees the work that was done at Walter Reed—and the work that will be done at the facilities’ new locations in Bethesda, Maryland, and Fort Belvoir, Virginia—as growing more prominent in the coming years.
“The amazing history of the facility at Walter Reed will live on for all those patients and their families who were part of the experience,” he said. “I have every confidence that the spirit of that effort will continue as the country moves towards an improved, even more modern, state of the art hospital.
“As long as we are a force in the music industry, we will seek to be a part of the effort to improve the lives of our returning American heroes.”
Stories in this Series
Dec 4, 2011
In the Aftermath: Ten Years of War and Change
In the past decade, the United States military has adapted to a very old kind of warfare for which it was unprepared, developed new tools to defeat terrorists, and—most of all—seen extraordinary determination and courage from a new generation of great Americans who are part of an all-volunteer force.