John Hartman dead at 72: Doobie Brothers original drummer passes away as band hails him as ‘close friend’ and ‘wild spirit’
John Hartman, the original drummer of the Doobie Brothers and a co-founder of the band, has died at the age of 72.
In a social media statement Thursday hailing him as a ‘wild spirit’ and a ‘close friend,’ the band declined to reveal the date of cause of death.
‘Today we are thinking of John Hartman, or Little John to us. John was a wild spirit, great drummer, and showman during his time in the Doobies,’ the band wrote.
The way he was: John Hartman, the original drummer of the Doobie Brothers and a co-founder of the band, has died at the age of 72; pictured in 1978
‘He was also a close friend for many years and an intricate part of the band personality!’ the statement continued. ‘We send our condolences to all his loved ones at this difficult time. Rest In Peace John.’
Born in 1950 in Falls Church, Virginia, Hartman became a musician and struck out to northern California at the dawn of the 1970s.
While out in San Jose, he was introduced to Tom Johnston, who became the frontman of the Doobie Brothers and remains so to this day.
The band gradually formed and began gigging around the San Jose area, naming themselves after one of the era’s slang terms for marijuana cigarettes.
Throwback: The Doobie Brothers’ 1976 lineup is pictured, to wit (clockwise from bottom left) Skunk Baxter, Hartman, Patrick Simmons, Keith Knudsen, Tiran Porter and Michael McDonald
By 1971 they had released their self-titled debut album, but stardom continued to elude them as neither the LP nor its lead single Nobody managed to hit the charts.
They continued to perform and eventually added Michael Hossack, who had been in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, as a second drummer alongside Hartman.
With two drummers in tow, they put out their second album Toulouse Street in 1972 – and became an international sensation.
As the 1970s progressed, the band’s successes mounted, with Hartman playing drums on most of their greatest hits.
Original run: Hartman, pictured in concert in 1974 in London, was a founding member of the band in 1970 and played on their hits throughout that decade
In 1978 they put out their most famous album Minute By Minute, featuring the Grammy-winning single What A Fool Believes – which did not include Hartman.
However the band was rocked by internal tensions, including the mounting health problems that frontman Tom Johnston was facing down on the road.
In the mid-1970s Johnston was so physically worn out from touring that he had to be rushed to the hospital with a bleeding stomach ulcer – leading singer Michael McDonald to replace him as he recovered.
McDonald remained a part of the Doobie Brothers even when Johnston came back, and it was McDonald who co-wrote and sang What A Fool Believes.
At the drums: Although he quit the band in 1979, he returned about a decade later for their reunion album Cycles and is pictured performing with them in Minnesota in 1989
Despite the Doobie Brothers’ crowning success of 1978, Hartman had had enough of the band and its roiling internal dynamic, and in 1979 he made his departure.
‘Everything was falling apart,’ Hartman told the Rolling Stone a couple of years ago. ‘I remember sitting in a rehearsal in California and hearing Michael say he didn’t want to get out his car because of some anxiety.’
Having left the band, Hartman embarked on a drastic career change and tried to become a cop, even graduating from a reserve police academy.
His past however stood in his way – having become famous for a band named after drugs, he was rejected by 20 police departments all over Northern California.
Process: Hartman continued recording and touring with the band, including at this 1989 concert in Bloomington, Minnesota, but retired again in 1992
He confessed to the New York Times in the 1990s that his history with marijuana had become a ‘major liability’ to his sputtering police career.
‘These guys still think I’m a credibility problem because of what I used to do,’ he groused, insisting: ‘I’ve picked myself up from the sewer.’
As his dreams of being a cop died on the vine in the late 1980s, he found himself drifting back into the career that had made him a star.
As seen in 1976: In the 1970s the band was rocked by internal tensions, and frontman Tom Johnston was temporarily replaced by Michael McDonald (third from left)
He hopped aboard a Doobie Brothers benefit for Vietnam veterans in 1987 and joined them full-time for their reunion album Cycles in 1989.
Hartman continued recording and touring with the band, with international gigs to destinations as far-flung as the crumbling Soviet Union.
Now middle-aged, he adopted a milder approach to the touring lifestyle, telling the Associated Press: ‘The road treats us the same, we just don’t treat it the same.’
Details: The Doobie Brothers enjoyed the height of their fame in the 1970s and are pictured in 1975 being given a gold record by Warner Brothers chairman Mo Ostin
‘We’re not trashing hotel rooms anymore,’ Johnston specified: ‘and we’re not having door wars with rent-a-cars, burning up stages and things of that nature.’
Hartman drummed on the band’s 1991 album Brotherhood but left again the following year, beginning a permanent retirement from the Doobie Brothers.
Two years ago, he and his former bandmates were inducted together into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but were denied the opportunity for a physical reunion because the ceremony was virtual amid the coronavirus lockdowns.