Original Doobie Brothers drummer John Hartman dies at 72

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

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

“Today we think 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, original Doobie Brothers drummer and co-founder of the band, has died aged 72; photographed in 1978

‘He was also a close friend for many years and an integral part of the band’s 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 settled in Northern California in the early 1970s.

While in San Jose, he was introduced to Tom Johnston, who became the leader of the Doobie Brothers and remains to this day.

The band gradually formed and began playing in the San Jose area, naming themselves after one of the slang terms of the day for marijuana cigarettes.

Looking back: The 1976 Doobie Brothers lineup is pictured, namely (clockwise from bottom left) Skunk Baxter, Hartman, Patrick Simmons, Keith Knudsen, Tiran Porter and Michael McDonald

Looking back: The 1976 Doobie Brothers lineup is pictured, namely (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 fame continued to elude them as neither the LP nor its first single Nobody managed to hit the charts.

They continued playing and eventually added Michael Hossack, who had been in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War, as second drummer alongside Hartman.

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

As the 1970s progressed, the band’s hits increased, with Hartman playing drums on most of their greatest hits.

Original race: Hartman, pictured performing in 1974 in London, was a founding member of the band in 1970 and played on their hits throughout that decade

Original race: Hartman, pictured performing in 1974 in London, was a founding member of the band in 1970 and played on their hits throughout that decade

In 1978, they released 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 growing health issues frontman Tom Johnston faced 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 McDonald to replace him while he recovered.

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

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

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

Despite the resounding success of the Doobie Brothers in 1978, Hartman had grown tired of the group and its tumultuous internal dynamics, and in 1979 he left.

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

After leaving the group, Hartman embarked on a drastic career change and attempted to become a cop, even graduating from a reserve police academy.

His past, however, stood in his way – rising to fame for a band named after drugs, he was shunned by 20 police departments across Northern California.

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

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

He confessed the New York Times in the 1990s that his history with marijuana had become a “major culprit” for his splintered police career.

“These guys always think I’m a credibility problem because of what I was doing,” he grumbled, insisting, “I got picked up in the sewers.”

As his dreams of being a cop died on the vine in the late 1980s, he found himself falling 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 leader Tom Johnston was temporarily replaced by Michael McDonald (third from left)

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

He jumped on board a Doobie Brothers benefit for Vietnam veterans in 1987 and joined them full-time for their Cycles reunion album in 1989.

Hartman continued to record and tour with the band, performing internationally to destinations as far afield as the crumbling Soviet Union.

Now middle-aged, he’s taken a softer approach to the touring lifestyle, telling 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 awarded a gold disc by Warner Brothers chairman Mo Ostin

Details: The Doobie Brothers enjoyed the height of their fame in the 1970s and are pictured in 1975 being awarded a gold disc by Warner Brothers chairman Mo Ostin

“We don’t trash hotel rooms anymore,” Johnston clarified, “and we don’t have door wars with rental cars and hot scenes and things of that nature.”

Hartman played drums on the band’s Brotherhood album in 1991, but left again the following year, entering permanent retirement from the Doobie Brothers.

Two years ago, he and his former bandmates were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame together, but were denied the chance of a physical reunion because the ceremony was virtual amid coronavirus lockdowns.


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