May 30, 2024

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John Barbata, Turtles and C.S.N.Y. Drummer, Dies at 79


John Barbata, the drummer for the Turtles, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who walked away from rock music at the height of his career, has died. He was 79.

His death was announced in a social media post by Jefferson Airplane on Monday. A cause of death was not given and a list of survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Barbata joined the Turtles after leaving his high school band and enjoyed success almost immediately, drumming on the band’s best-known track, “Happy Together,” released in 1967.

“I heard that the Turtles were looking for a drummer, they called me down to the studio to try me out on some session work, the first song we recorded was ‘Happy Together,’” Mr. Barbata wrote on his now defunct website, archived by web.archive.org.

“We got it in one take,” he said.

The song spent three weeks at No. 1 and became a pop classic. It’s been performed by acts as varied as Mel Tormé, Weezer, Miley Cyrus and the punk band Simple Plan.

Mr. Barbata came to the Turtles after leaving his high school band, The Sentinals, in San Luis Obispo, Calif. for Los Angeles to pursue a career in music.

In an interview, the self-taught drummer spoke of the quick catapult to fame “Happy Together” had given the band and recalled performing on television programs like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and witnessing the passion of 1960s teen fans up close.

“The Turtles was the first and last group I was in where the kids were still screaming and going crazy,” Mr. Barbata said in his memoir, “Johny Barbata: The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer.”

He described one scene at a show in Alabama where he and his bandmates had to blaze their way through a crowd of girls pulling at their hair and ripping buttons and whatever else they could off their bodies to keep as souvenirs.

He would leave the band in 1970 to join Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, playing on the folk rock band’s live album and tour “4 Way Street” in 1971, which sold five million copies that year. He later played on several of the band members’ solo works.

David Geffen, who had just started his first record label, invited Mr. Barbata to join a new group called the Eagles, but he declined, saying he couldn’t leave C.S.N.Y., according to a profile on him in the book “Great Rock Drummers of the Sixties” by Bob Cianci.

The last bands that he joined were Jefferson Airplane, which he joined in 1972, and its later offshoot, Jefferson Starship. His drums appeared on Jefferson Airplane’s final studio album “Long John Silver.” He also worked as a session drummer.

John Barbata, born on April 1, 1945 in New Jersey, said he had worked on more than 100 albums and had a hand in 20 hit singles by the end of his musical career, though he was not always credited.

After surviving a serious car accident in Northern California in 1978, he was dropped by Jefferson Starship. At age 33, he decided to leave rock music and become a born-again Christian.

He dabbled in Christian music and eventually settled on a ranch in rural Oklahoma with his wife and daughter, and made and sold redwood coffee tables, according to “Great Rock Drummers of the Sixties.”

“I was very fortunate,” Mr. Barbata said. “I had a great career. Most drummers only go around once. I went around three times and played with the best musicians in the world.”



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