Steve MacLeod was in bed reading in his Halifax apartment in the early hours one Monday in August 1980 when he received a phone call.
He was about to go to sleep after putting in a shift at the Chronicle Herald, where he worked in the sports department.
On the other end of the phone was a work friend, telling him that he had to come down to The Misty Moon, a north-end Halifax bar, because rock superstars The Doobie Brothers were about to go on stage.
While MacLeod initially doubted what his friend was telling him, a promise from his colleague to do some dreaded work tasks if he was lying was enough to convince MacLeod to do the crosstown trek.
“I jumped out of bed, I threw my clothes on, jumped in the car and raced through the mostly empty streets of Halifax at 1 on a Monday morning,” said MacLeod.
When he pulled up to the Misty Moon, which was then located at the corner of Gottingen and Cunard streets, MacLeod could hear Long Train Runnin’ playing from outside of the building.
He entered the building, rushed up a long flight of stairs and paid a cover charge of a few dollars.
“I was just thrilled to be there and to witness something like this,” said MacLeod. “I mean, bands like that didn’t come to Halifax very often … they were about as big as you could get, other than maybe The Rolling Stones, in 1980.”
The night the Doobies played the Moon has become a legendary piece of Halifax pop culture history. While the people who were there disagree on some details, such as how many people were there — estimates range from a few dozen to a few hundred — The Doobie Brothers did play The Misty Moon.
Doobies coming back to Halifax
The band will also be back in town in a few days. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees are playing a show at the Scotiabank Centre on Friday, Oct. 13. It’ll mark their second time playing at that venue.
In 1980, the band was in town rehearsing for an upcoming tour that was kicking off with an Aug. 20 show at the Halifax Metro Centre. The tour was in support of their album, One Step Closer, which was to be released the following month.
But what brought them to the Moon?
Local musician Pat Riley was in the band that was playing at The Misty Moon when The Doobie Brothers gave an impromptu set. Riley said the person who did sound for his band, RAM, was also doing sound work at the Metro Centre. That person, George Barry Stevenson, was known as Scrapper, said Riley.
“He said to them, ‘Hey, there is a really good band playing up at the Misty Moon. It’s the last night, why don’t you guys come out and jam?'” said Riley.
The evening of Sunday, Aug. 17, 1980, was going to be the last night for the Moon at its Gottingen Street location, before it moved to a bigger location on Kempt Road.
Sam Moon was singing with RAM that night, which was billed as RAM n’ Sam. Moon remembers being on stage and seeing a group of eight to 10 men walk in together. He recognized one of them as Michael McDonald, The Doobie Brothers’ soulful singer. The group sat down at a table near the stage.
“We kept doing the set and I wasn’t totally freaked out,” said Moon. “I probably should have been, but I just did my thing and the band played.”
When their set finished, Moon wanted to say something to the group, so he approached the table. But he wasn’t sure what to say.
“I just kind of blurted out, ‘Hi guys. You feel up for jamming tonight?’ which was kind of brazen for me to do,” said Moon.
The Doobies said yes, but there was one problem. There was no keyboard on stage for McDonald to play.
Local singer Pam Marsh had a solution.
“I put my hand up and I said, ‘You know, I’ve got a couple. I got a Rhodes and a Wurlitzer. I mean, you can take your pick,'” said Marsh.
Marsh, McDonald and a third person affiliated with the Doobies — Marsh said it was drummer Keith Knudsen, others say it was a roadie — headed to her apartment on Green Street in the south end of the city. Marsh said she’s never had a driver’s licence, so it’s unclear who the vehicle belonged to or who drove.
At her apartment, she asked McDonald to show her the intro to Minute by Minute, which he did. The three then headed back to the Moon, with the two men hauling the keyboard up the long set of stairs.
By this time, Sam Moon and RAM were back on stage doing another set. McDonald went on stage and was getting the keyboard set up and a roadie got him plugged in. McDonald figured out the chord changes to Moon’s tune, Don’t Leave Me Out In the Cold, and seamlessly joined in.
When the song was done, Moon thanked McDonald for joining them.
“Michael, that was good, but I don’t think I could afford you,” Riley remembers Moon saying.
‘We wanted to play with them’
Riley said his band then decided to hand over their instruments.
“The rest of the guys are standing there,” he said. “It was kind of rude not to let them get up, although we all wanted to play with them, but they wanted to play.”
The Doobies played around a half-dozen songs on stage. This included Long Train Runnin’, Listen to the Music, which Marsh sang backup vocals on, and a cover of a blues song called Barefootin’.
“It was funny because Michael McDonald sang it barefooting, you know, not footin’,” said Riley.
‘Holy crap! This is actually happening’
For MacLeod, what was unfolding before his eyes felt like something he’d read about in Rolling Stone.
“When I arrived and heard that song, that trademark Doobies hit, [Long Train Runnin’], it was like, ‘Holy crap! This is actually happening,'” he said.
This wasn’t the first time The Doobie Brothers did something like this. In the group’s official biography, Long Train Runnin’: Our Story Of The Doobie Brothers, the group talks about sitting in with local bands, noting a time in July 1974 when they did this in Amsterdam.
What a Doobie believes
Patrick Simmons, a founding member of the Doobie Brothers, said they’d usually end up at bars after getting recommendations.
“Somebody says, ‘Hey, you should come down or you bump into somebody or you just stumble in,” Simmons said in a call from the road from Osage Beach, Mo., in August.
He remembers the night at the Moon and McDonald playing Barefootin’, but acknowledges his memories are “a little misty.”
Simmons said sitting in is something the band has always loved to do.
“You get an opportunity to have some fun, you know,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about to me. Music is as much a hobby as it is, you know, a vocation.”
Simmons said he’s looking forward to returning to Halifax. He loved the food on his first visit, particularly the seafood. He said he’s always wanted to come back as a tourist and called it “a magical place.”
After the impromptu Misty Moon show, the band became regulars at the Moon’s new location before their Metro Centre concert, said Ron Bone, who worked different roles at the bar, including bartending and bouncing. He said they gave the band a “wide berth,” which he felt the band appreciated.
“We treated them like normal people,” said Bone.
He said the band provided Misty Moon staff with tickets to the concert and allowed them to watch rehearsals.
The night the Doobies played the Moon lives on in Halifax lore, so much so that it features prominently in a recent master’s thesis written by Charlene Boyce.
“It seems like from what I saw online, from people posting random stories in Facebook groups about the Misty Moon or on different message boards over the years, that, yeah, there’s no possible way everyone could have been there,” she said in an interview.
While people’s recollections of the night may differ, the one thing people who were there can agree on was just how much fun they had, which is something Simmons appreciates.
“It’s pretty flattering that people would feel good about it and remember it,” he said. “We’re just guys like anybody else. Having people appreciate what you’re doing, it’s gratifying…. I like the idea that you’ve brought some happiness and good memories to people. That’s a wonderful thing about this life.”