Doobie Brothers’ Founding Drummer, John Hartman, Dies

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The Doobie Brothers in 1978. Top row from left, John Hartman, Patrick Simmons; center row from left, Michael McDonald, Keith Knudsen; front row from left, Jeff Baxter, Tiran Porter. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Records)

John Hartman, a co-founder of the Doobie Brothers, and the drummer on all of their biggest recordings, has died at age 72. Although the news was shared by the band on Sept. 22, 2022 on their social media platforms, the post omitted the precise date, cause of death or location. (It was later learned that the musician had died months’ earlier, on Dec. 29, 2021.) The band’s message called Hartman “a wild spirit, great drummer, and showman.” Hartman became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020 when the band was finally inducted after decades of eligibility.

Among the many classic rock recordings on which Hartman performed are their first hit, “Listen to the Music,” as well as “China Grove” and “Black Water,” from such albums as The Captain and Me, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, and Takin’ It to the Streets. His death was first announced by the Rock Hall on Sept. 20 in a brief “In Memoriam” post on its social media pages that also left out any details.

The Doobie Brothers’ full post read: “Today we are thinking of John Hartman, or Little John to us. 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 personality! We send our condolences to all his loved ones at this difficult time. Rest In Peace John.”

From the band’s official website: It all began in 1969, when drummer John Hartman arrived in Northern California. He was there to meet Skip Spence from the band Moby Grape and become part of a supposed band reunion that never quite got off the ground. But it wasn’t all for naught. Spence (who had also played in the Jefferson Airplane) introduced Hartman to his friend Tom Johnston, a local singer/songwriter/guitarist -and they connected. Hartman and Johnston began playing local Bay Area bars. They soon met singer/guitarist Pat Simmons, whose finger-style playing richly complimented Johnston’s R&B strumming-style, and the foundation for the Doobie Brothers was set.

While their debut album in 1971 did not chart, just a year a later, their second album, Toulouse Street, became a breakout sensation. Producer Ted Templeman helped the band craft a sound that was organic, yet radio friendly, and brought in Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne to add unique musical textures. A second drummer, Michael Hossack, had also joined the lineup.

From there the Doobies hit the road, tirelessly working their way around the world. They established themselves with a breathtaking run of hits on Warner Bros. Records that tapped into a myriad of American styles. “Listen to the Music,” “Jesus is Just Alright,” “China Grove,” “Black Water,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “Long Train Runnin’” and other anthemic singles confirmed their status as fine craftsman who could also rock arenas.

Watch the Doobie Brothers perform “China Grove” in 1974

Related: Our Album Rewind of The Captain and Me

In 1974, Steely Dan co-lead guitarist and session legend Jeff “Skunk” Baxter joined the band as third guitarist, one of many unique and talented players who would revolve in and out of the band over the years. The group’s expanded lineup was augmented in 1975 by Michael McDonald, whose soulful vocals and songwriting led to the hits “What a Fool Believes,” “Minute by Minute,” “Takin’ It to the Streets,” and “You Belong To Me.” Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, John McFee, joined in 1978 bringing his wide range of musical styles and experience recording with Van Morrison, Steve Miller, Elvis Costello, and The Grateful Dead to the band’s sound.

The Doobie Brothers are shown receiving a Platinum award for the 1973 album, The Captain and Me, in this photo from the April 6, 1974 issue of Record World

Hartman, born March 18, 1950, in Falls Church, Va., left the group in 1979, returning occasionally for reunions and recordings. [Fellow drummer alumnus, Chet McCracken, died in 2022, at age 75.]

The Doobie Brothers have won four GRAMMY® Awards and sold more than 48 million records worldwide (including three multi-platinum, seven platinum, and 14 gold albums). Their 1976 Best of the Doobies has sold more than 12 million copies, earning rare RIAA Diamond status. Their No. 1 gold-certified singles “Black Water” (1974) and “What a Fool Believes” (1979) lead a catalog of hits that includes five Top 10 singles and 16 Top 40 hits.

Related: Musicians we lost in 2021

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2 Comments so far

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  1. BeatleStone
    #1 BeatleStone 22 September, 2022, 18:47

    RIP John Hartman. Once a Doobie, always a Doobie.

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    • Sheryl Pelamati
      Sheryl Pelamati 26 September, 2022, 02:26

      I am so heart broken 4 the passing of John Hartman!! I’ve been a hard rockin doobie fan for 50 years!! I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them in concert several times. N once just stoppin in @ a local bar where I frequently visited! All the guys were there, doin the Dobbie stuff. I am truly sadden n all my prayers go out 2 his family n all the members of the Doobies! Peace

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