Johny Barbata: Drummer Turtles, CSNY, Jefferson Airplane/Starfish


Early Beats: Johny Barbata's Musical Beginnings

Johny Barbata was a renowned drummer whose extraordinary talent and versatility made him a pivotal figure in rock and pop music. He was born in 1945, in Passaic, N.J., but made his name as part of the California rock scene of the ’60s and ’70s. John’s first band of any significance was the Sentinals, an instrumental surf music group based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., between 1961-65. (The band also included future keyboard star Lee Michaels.)

Hitting It Big: Johny Barbata with The Turtles

Starting his career in the 1960s, Barbata first gained prominence as a member of The Turtles, where in 1967 he had auditioned for the Turtles at the suggestion of the Byrds’ Gene Clark, and he joined that hitmaking outfit in time to perform on the group’s chart-topping classic “Happy Together.” He also contributed drums to hits like “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Showed Me,” “Elenore”  and “She’s My Girl.”

John Barbata was a member of the band when it performed such high-profile gigs as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and American Bandstand.

Rock Legends: Joining Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

John remained with the Turtles into 1969, when he was recruited by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to replace their drummer, Dallas Taylor. He can be heard on the quartet’s live album, 4 Way Street, as well as solo and collaborative projects by all four co-leaders of the band, including Neil Young’s Time Fades Away and Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners

Soaring High: Johny Barbata and Jefferson Airplane

In the 1970s, Barbata’s career soared even higher when he became the drummer for Jefferson Airplane, later transitioning to Jefferson Starship. His powerful beats and creative percussion were instrumental in shaping the band’s sound on iconic tracks like “Volunteers” and “Miracles.” Throughout his career, Johny Barbata’s drumming has been characterized by its technical proficiency, adaptability across genres, and ability to enhance the music’s emotional impact.

Starship Days: Innovating with Jefferson Starship

In 1972, while CSN&Y were on hiatus, David Crosby introduced John to Jefferson Airplane, who hired him to replace drummer Joey Covington. He played on the band’s final studio album, Long John Silver, and the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland, and when the Airplane disbanded, he played with members Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg on their 1973 album Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun, then joined the offshoot they were forming, Jefferson Starship. 

John contributed to the new group’s first four albums—Dragon FlyRed OctopusSpitfire and Earth—but was forced to leave in 1978 after being involved in a catastrophic car accident, breaking his neck, arm and jaw.

John continued to work as a drummer after healing from his injuries, but never regained the success he enjoyed during the ’60s and ’70s. He became a prolific session drummer, appearing on recordings by  artists like Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Johnny Rivers, John Sebastian and the Everly Brothers 

A Drummer's Tale: Insights from Johny's Autobiography

John’s influence extends beyond his performances; he has also been a mentor and inspiration to countless drummers. His autobiography, “The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer,” offers an in-depth look at his journey through the highs and lows of the music industry. Despite facing numerous challenges, John’s resilience and passion for music always kept him active in the industry.

Reflections and Reverberations: Looking Back on a Legendary Career

 Johny Barbata passed away on May 8 2024 on his ranch in Oklahoma. He had turned 79 a month earlier. John will continue to be celebrated as one of rock’s greatest drummers, known for his contributions to some of the most memorable songs in music history. He left  an indelible mark on every band he has played with.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Stephen A Chandler

    Wow– An excellent Drummer whom has played with Great Bands.
    Unbelievable. A opportunity to see his Era.

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