In a social media message on Friday, the Doobie Brothers shared the sad news of drummer John Hartman’s passing, writing, “Today we are thinking about John Hartman or Little John to us.” When John was with the Doobies, he was a freewheeling character, a phenomenal drummer, and a charismatic performer. He was 72. There was no immediate word on what caused the death.
John Hartman, a co-founder of the group, will be honored with the other eight original Doobie Brothers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the year 2020. He had quit the often reforming band a long time ago.
John Hartman was a part of the band throughout its original run of number one successes, which included such classics as “Listen to the Music,” “Long Train Runnin’,” and “What a Fool Believes.” From 1971 until his first departure in 1979, he was one of the two drummers the Doobies used live. After leaving for good in 1979, he came back to the group in 1989 for a reunion album and stayed until 1992.
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They are presently on their 50th-anniversary tour, which includes a date in Portland tonight, but Hartman will not be joining them. There are four original members announced for this tour: Michael McDonald, Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons, and John McFee.
After his second departure from the Doobie Brothers, Hartman considered a career in police enforcement. After admitting drug usage while in the Doobies, he was reportedly “finding that aim hard to accomplish because of his first employment” when the New York Times interviewed him in 1994 about his pursuit of a career as a full-time police officer (which were named after slang for marijuana).
John Hartman Drummer Dies at 72
John Hartman had graduated from a police school and been on the force for three years at the time of the article’s publication, but he claimed that 20 agencies in the northern California region had turned him down for a position. His case against the Petaluma Police Department for discrimination was thrown out of court.
John Hartman said that his drug usage had become out of hand by the mid-1970s, but that after being challenged by other band members, some of whom had their own issues with the substance misuse that was common at the period, he finally kicked the habit in 1975. Hartman said to the Times, “I’ve lifted myself up from the sewer,” referring to his decision to stop using drugs a few years into the band’s career.
When asked who was in charge of the band, John Hartman said he was, adding that he was “the white Buddy Miles” in an interview with Cameron Crowe for Rock magazine in 1973. According to Crowe, Hartman “is infatuated with his own intimidating body,” and at times he might have been mistaken for one of the Hell’s Angels who used to attend the performances back in the band’s poor beginnings. He also puts it to good use in his own life. Or, as the teen rock writer described it, “let’s put it this way… he attempts” to intimidate Hartman during an interview.
John Hartman was overjoyed that the band had made it out of the club and into AM-FM radio. “Am I excited to go back to performing bars and clubs again?” he asked Crowe in 1973. Let me put it this way. If you were driving a Volkswagen but secretly desired a Cadillac, and then you were given the opportunity to upgrade, would you return to the VW? Who, in their right mind, would want to return to a watering hole? Jesus… alcoholics and monoids, poor compensation or none at all…
After relocating to central California in 1969 from the east coast, Hartman became roommates with guitarist Tom Johnston at San Jose State. Around 1970, the two roommates met singer-guitarist Patrick Simmons, and the band’s foundation was set. The band went by the moniker Pud, and they gained a kind of residency at a tavern in the Santa Cruz highlands frequented by bikers called the Chateau Liberté. “It was one of those places where you overdo it on the drinks and then go outside and puke,” Hartman told Rolling Stone. “That was stunning, dude!”
They were contracted to Warner Bros., but their first album didn’t do very well; leader Hartman quipped that it was because his rough-looking face was featured prominently on the cover. The Doobies’ career skyrocketed in 1972 because of the success of “Listen to the Music,” which appeared on their second album, “Toulouse Street.”
After “Takin’ It to the Streets” was released in 1976, the band’s focus shifted to McDonald’s and away from Johnston. Hartman and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter both left the band in 1979 due to internal strife within the group; Hartman said, “Everything was going apart.” After a farewell tour in 1982, Hartman and the other remaining original members reunited in 1989 without McDonald.
Due to the pandemic, the scheduled 2020 Rock Hall induction event including the original members has been canceled and reduced to a video presentation.
John Hartman, who had left the music industry over three decades before their approaching induction, scoffed at the “yacht rock” label during an interview with Rolling Stone. I can’t believe how beautiful that is!” he said. For the next three weeks, I plan on laughing my head off.
In 2021, a documentary on the band called “Let the Music Play” was produced, although critics pointed out that Hartman was the only prominent surviving figure from the band who wasn’t interviewed for it.
The craftsman home that Johnston and John Hartman shared in San Jose’s early 1970s was overwhelmingly recommended for historic classification by the San Jose Historic Landmarks Commission in 2021.
In Memoriam: As co-founder and original drummer of the Doobie Brothers, John Hartman delivered propulsive rhythms to the band's chart-topping songs that filled the 1970's airwaves. pic.twitter.com/YQof1wuslT
— Rock Hall (@rockhall) September 20, 2022