John Hartman, Doobie Brothers Co-Founding Member & Drummer, Dead at 72: Report

by Taylor Cunningham

The members of the Doobie Brothers are mourning after losing their co-founder and original drummer, John Hartman.

“Today we are thinking of John Hartman, or Little John to us,” the band wrote on Facebook on Sept. 22. “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.”

John Hartman and Tim Johnston Formed Doobie Brothers in 1971

John Hartman was born in Falls Church, Virginia on March 18, 1950. Twenty years later, he moved to San Jose, California to follow his musical dreams. It was there that Moby Grape’s Skip Spence introduced him to singer and guitarist Tom Johnston. And the duo formed the now four-time Grammy-winning bad Doobie Brothers with singer and guitarist Tom Johnston.

“When Johnston turned on, it was loud,” Hartman told Rolling Stone in 2020. “Pretty soon the cops came and said, ‘You gotta stop.’ So we toned it down.”

For the first year, Hartman served as the band’s sole drummer, then the members added Michael Hossack to the group. Until 2016, the Doobie Brothers continued using two drummers on stage. But Hartman wasn’t always in the rotation. He played two stints with the guys, the first being from 1970 to 1979. After that, he walked away due to mounting tension.

“Everything was falling apart,” he continued. “I remember sitting in a rehearsal in California and hearing Michael [McDonald] say he didn’t want to get out [of] his car because of some anxiety.”

Those issues broke up the band in 1982.

The Band Reunited For a Benefit Concert in 1987

It took another five years for the members to reunite at a benefit concert for the Vietnam Veterans Aid Foundation. John Hartman also returned for the event. The late drummer then continued with the Doobie Brothers for another five years.

Hartman then performed on two reunion albums, Cycles (1989) and Brotherhood (1991), before retiring for good in 1992.

During his nearly 20 years with the band, Hartman played for its biggest hits, including Long Train Runnin’, Listen To The Music, and Black Water. He also drummed for What A Fool Believes, which won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1979.

In 2020, John Hartman reunited with his former bandmates one last time when the Doobie Brothers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.