Doobie Brothers original drummer John Hartman dies aged 72

John Hartman, the original drummer of the Doobie Brothers and founding member of the band, has died aged 72.

In a statement on social media that hailed him on Thursday as a “wild ghost” and a “close friend,” the band declined to disclose the date of death.

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

As he was: John Hartman, the original drummer of the Doobie Brothers and founding member of the band, has died aged 72;  pictured in 1978

As he was: John Hartman, the original drummer of the Doobie Brothers and founding member of the band, has died aged 72; pictured in 1978

“He was also a close friend for 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 Jan.’

Born in 1950 in Falls Church, Virginia, Hartman became a musician and moved to Northern California in the early 1970s.

While in San Jose, he became acquainted with Tom Johnston, who became the frontman of the Doobie Brothers and is to this day.

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

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

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

In 1971 they had released their self-titled debut album, but stardom continued to elude them, as neither the LP nor the lead single Nobody managed to reach the charts.

They continued to perform, eventually adding Michael Hossack, who had served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, as the second drummer to Hartman.

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

As the 1970s progressed, the band’s successes increased, with Hartman drumming on most of their biggest hits.

Original Performance: Pictured in 1974 London concert, Hartman was a founding member of the band in 1970 and played on their hits throughout that decade

Original Performance: Pictured in 1974 London concert, Hartman 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, which featured the Grammy-winning single What A Fool Believes – which Hartman was not on.

However, the band was rocked by internal tensions, including the mounting health issues frontman Tom Johnston faced along the way.

In the mid-1970s, Johnston was so physically exhausted from touring that he had to be taken to hospital with a bleeding ulcer — singer Michael McDonald to replace him when 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 the drums: Although he left the band in 1979, he returned about ten years later for their reunion album Cycles and is pictured with them in 1989 in Minnesota

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

Despite the Doobie Brothers’ crowning success in 1978, Hartman had had enough of the band and its churning internal dynamics, and in 1979 made his departure.

“Everything fell apart,” Hartman told the Rolling Stone a few years ago. “I remember sitting in California at a rehearsal and hearing Michael say he wouldn’t get out of his car out of fear.”

After leaving the band, Hartman embarked on a drastic career switch, trying to become a police officer even while graduating from a reserve police academy.

However, his past got in the way – after being made famous by a band named after drugs, he was turned down by 20 police forces throughout Northern California.

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

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

He confessed to the New York Times in the 1990s that his past with marijuana had done “major damage” to his sputtering police career.

“These guys still think I’m a credibility problem because of what I used to do,” he grumbled, persistently, “I got myself off the sewer.”

When his dreams of becoming a police officer went up in smoke 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, internal tensions rocked the band, and frontman Tom Johnston was temporarily replaced by Michael McDonald (third from left)

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

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

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

Now in his middle age, he took a more lenient 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 reached the height of their fame in the 1970s and are pictured in 1975 receiving a gold record from Warner Brothers chairman Mo Ostin

Details: The Doobie Brothers reached the height of their fame in the 1970s and are pictured in 1975 receiving a gold record from Warner Brothers chairman Mo Ostin

“We don’t wreck hotel rooms anymore,” Johnston said, “and we don’t have door wars with car rental companies, burning stages and that sort of thing.”

Hartman drummed on the 1991 album Brotherhood, but left again the following year and began retiring permanently 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 opportunity for a physical reunion because the ceremony was virtual amid the coronavirus lockdowns.

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