Original Doobie Brothers drummer John Hartman has died aged 72


John Hartman, the original Doobie Brothers drummer and co-founder of the band, has died aged 72.

In a statement on social media Thursday hailing him as a “wild spirit” and a “close friend,” the group declined to release the date of the cause of death.

“Today we think of John Hartman, or Little John for us. John was a wild spirit, great drummer and showman during his time in the Doobies,” the band wrote.

What It Was: John Hartman, the Doobie Brothers' original drummer and band co-founder, has died at age 72;  photographed in 1978

What It Was: John Hartman, the Doobie Brothers’ original drummer and band co-founder, has died at age 72; photographed in 1978

“He was both a close friend of many years and an intricate part of the band’s personality!” the statement continued. “We extend 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 headed to Northern California at the dawn of the 1970s.

While in San Jose, he met 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 itself after one of the era’s slang terms for marijuana cigarettes.

Return: The 1976 line-up of the Doobie Brothers is pictured, namely (clockwise from bottom left) Skunk Baxter, Hartman, Patrick Simmons, Keith Knudsen, Tyran Porter and Michael McDonald

Return: The 1976 line-up of the Doobie Brothers is pictured, namely (clockwise from bottom left) Skunk Baxter, Hartman, Patrick Simmons, Keith Knudsen, Tyran Porter and Michael McDonald

By 1971, they released their self-titled debut album, but fame 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 along with Hartman.

With two drummers, they released their second album Toulouse Street in 1972 and became an international sensation.

As the 1970s progressed, the band’s success grew, with Hartman playing drums on most of their biggest hits.

Original version: Hartman, filmed in concert in 1974 in London, was a founding member of the band in 1970 and played on their hits during that decade

Original version: Hartman, filmed in concert in 1974 in London, was a founding member of the band in 1970 and played on their hits during that decade

In 1978, they released their best-known album, Minute By Minute, featuring the Grammy-winning single What A Fool Believes, which did not feature Hartman.

However, the band was rocked by internal tensions, including the increasing health problems that frontman Tom Johnston encountered on the road.

By the mid-1970s, Johnston was so physically exhausted from touring that he had to be rushed to hospital with a bleeding stomach ulcer – lead singer Michael Macdonald filling in for him while he recovered.

Macdonald remained a part of the Doobie Brothers even when Johnston returned, and it was Macdonald who co-wrote and sang What A Fool Believes.

On the drums: Although he left the band in 1979, he returned about a decade later for their reunion album Cycles and is pictured playing with them in Minnesota in 1989.

On the drums: Although he left the band in 1979, he returned about a decade later for their reunion album Cycles and is pictured playing with them in Minnesota in 1989.

Despite the Doobie Brothers’ crowning success in 1978, Hartman grew fed up with the group and its exciting internal dynamic, and in 1979 he left.

“Everything was falling apart,” Hartman told the A rolling stone several years ago. “I remember sitting in rehearsal in California and hearing Michael say he didn’t want to get out of his car because of some anxiety.”

After leaving the band, Hartman made a drastic career change and tried to become a cop, even graduating from a reserve police academy.

However, his past got in his way – after becoming famous with a group named after drugs, he was rejected by 20 police departments throughout Northern California.

Process: Hartman continued to record and tour with the band, including this 1989 concert in Bloomington, Minnesota, but retired again in 1992.

Process: Hartman continued to record and tour with the band, including this 1989 concert in Bloomington, Minnesota, but retired again in 1992.

He admitted to New York Times in the 1990s that his marijuana history had become a “major flaw” in his sprawling police career.

“These guys still think I’ve got a trust issue because of what I’ve been doing,” he snorted, insisting: “I rose from the sewers.”

As his dreams of being a cop died on the vine in the late 1980s, he found himself returning to the career that made him a star.

As seen in 1976: The 1970s saw the band rocked by internal tensions and frontman Tom Johnston was temporarily replaced by Michael McDonald (third from left)

As seen in 1976: The 1970s saw the band rocked by internal tensions and frontman Tom Johnston was temporarily replaced by Michael McDonald (third from left)

He boarded the Doobie Brothers’ benefit for Vietnam veterans in 1987 and joined them full-time for their 1989 compilation album Cycles.

Hartman continued to record and tour with the band, with international gigs as far afield as the collapsing Soviet Union.

Now middle-aged, he has adopted a softer 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 presented with a gold plaque by Warner Brothers Chairman Mo Austin

Details: The Doobie Brothers enjoyed the height of their fame in the 1970s and are pictured in 1975 being presented with a gold plaque by Warner Brothers Chairman Mo Austin

“We don’t break up hotel rooms anymore,” Johnston elaborated, “and we don’t have rental car wars, burning down stages and things like that.”

Hartman drummed on the band’s 1991 album Brotherhood, but left again the following year, beginning a permanent retreat 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 a physical meeting because the ceremony was virtual amid the coronavirus lockdown.



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