Doobie Brothers have paid tribute to drummer and co-founder John Hartman, who has reportedly passed away.
“Today we’re thinking of John Hartman, or Little John to us,” the Doobies wrote in a social media post. “John was a wild spirit, great drummer and showman during his time in the Doobies. He was also a close friend for many years and an intricate part of the band’s personality! We send our condolences to all his loved ones at this difficult time. Rest in Peace John.”
Born March 18, 1950, in Falls Church, Va., Hartman moved to San Jose, California. around 1970. There he formed what would become the Doobie Brothers with singer and guitarist Tom Johnston after being introduced by Moby Grape’s Skip Spence. Hartman and Johnston shared a house, and the drummer was blown away by his bandmate’s power.
“When Johnston turned on, it was loud,” Hartman recalled Rolling stones in 2020. “Pretty quickly the police came and said, ‘You have to stop.’ So we toned it down.”
Guitarist Patrick Simmons and bassist Dave Shogren would be recruited to fill out the original Doobie Brothers lineup. The band’s self-titled debut album — produced by Ted Templeman — would arrive in 1971. At the time, the Doobies were known to be wild and regularly associated with the Hells Angels. Hartman turned heads during the making of the band’s debut album when he pulled out a gun in the studio.
“It was a gag – a starting gun,” the drummer later confessed. “It scared me [the producers] so bad. I had no idea they were so sensitive or fragile. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized.”
Hartman was the Doobie Brothers’ sole drummer upon their formation, but after the release of their debut album, the band added Michael Hossack as a second drummer. The band would use a dual drummer from 1971 until 2016, when touring member Ed Toth became their sole drummer.
Hartman’s first tenure with the Doobie Brothers lasted from 1970-79, playing on several multi-platinum albums, including 1973’s The captain and meThe 1974s What were once vices are now habits and the 1978s Minute by minute. The latter became the band’s first and only No. 1 LP on the Billboard 200 and spawned the chart-topping, Grammy-winning single “What a fool thinks.”
Although the group enjoyed massive commercial success, tensions within the band were strained. Drug use within the group created a flammable situation. In the meantime Michael McDonald, who had joined the Doobies in 1975 and replaced Johnston, was a perfectionist in the studio, a trait that did not sit well with some of the band’s other members. In 1979, after a tour in Japan, Hartman left the Doobie Brothers.
“Everything was falling apart,” he said recalled decades later. “I remember sitting at a test in California and hearing Michael say he didn’t want to get out of his car because of some anxiety.”
The group later disbanded in 1982, but after a five-year hiatus, the Doobie Brothers reunited in 1987 to perform at a benefit concert for the Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation. Hartman was among the alumni who participated in the show, which sparked a successful reunion tour that same year. The drummer appeared on two subsequent reunion albums, the 1989s Bicycles and the 1991s Brotherhoodbefore leaving the band for good in 1992. He was introduced into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Doobie Brothers in 2020.
In his life after the Doobie Brothers, Hartman trained to be a police officer. The drummer graduated from a reserve police academy in 1988 and spent several years working for his local police department. But when he wanted to be hired as a full-time officer, Hartman’s rock star past proved problematic. The former drummer was turned away by more than 20 police departments because of his admitted past drug use when he was in the Doobie Brothers.
“These guys still think I’m a credibility problem because of what I used to do,” Hartman declared in 1994 after unsuccessfully suing a police department for what he believed to be discrimination. Although he insisted he had “nothing to hide”, Hartman expressed his annoyance at being judged based on his past. “Who knew? You gotta grow up. Kids eat pasta. Kids eat dog food. But there are some things you don’t want to do. Take drugs. I could have been a Janis Joplin.”
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They remain an intriguing dichotomy of a band.