The Doobie Brothers paid tribute to their co-founder and “wild spirit” drummer John Hartman on Thursday (Sept. 22) in a post announcing the 72-year-old rock veteran’s death. “Today we are thinking of John Hartman, or Little John to us,” read a social statement from the group. “John was a wild spirit, great drummer, and showman during his time in the Doobies.”
At press time no additional information was available on when Hartman passed or his cause of death.
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“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,” read the statement. Hartman moved to Northern California to join what was planned as a Moby Grape reunion with that band’s leader, Skip Spence, in 1969 that never materialized, according to a band bio.
But after Spence introduced him to future bandmate singer/guitarist Tom Johnston, the pair started playing gigs in Bay Area bars, adding in singer/finger-picking guitarist Pat Simmons to the lineup. The band’s 1971 Warner Bros. debut featured original bass player Dave Shogren, who split before the Doobies recorded their 1972 follow-up, Toulouse Street. The latter finally got them on the charts thanks to the easy-rocking hits “Listen to the Music” and “Jesus is Just Alright/Rockin’ Down the Highway.”
By 1972, the Doobies had added new bassist Tiran Porter as well as second drummer Michael Hossack, initiating what would become their signature double-percussionist sound. They continued to churn out a string of indelible AM-radio hits throughout the decade, including “China Grove,” “Black Water,” “Long Train Runnin’,” What a Fool Believes,” “Minute by Minute” and “Takin’ it to the Streets.”
Hartman left the group in 1979 before the release of the band’s ninth album, 1980’s One Step Closer. He returned 10 years later and played on 1989’s Cycles and 1991’s Brotherhood before leaving again in 1992. The beloved drummer was on hand in 2020 when the Doobies were inducting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
See the band’s statement and watch a 1977 live version on “Takin’ it to the Streets” below.