John Barbata, Drummer for Turtles, CSN&Y, Airplane/Starship, Dead at 79

Share This:

John Barbata (Photo from his Facebook page)

Drummer John Barbata, whose long list of credits is topped by prime-era stints with the Turtles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, has died. His death, believed to be on May 8, 2024, was confirmed by reliable local sources in Ada, Okla., where he lived. No cause or place has been reported as yet. Barbata, who was known professionally at different times as John, Johny or Johnny, turned 79 on April 1, 2024.

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. Barbata’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.)

Related: Which other musicians have died in 2024?

In 1967, Barbata 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 such hits as “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Showed Me,” “Elenore” and “She’s My Girl.” 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.

Barbata remained with the Turtles into 1969, when he was recruited by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to replace their drummer, Dallas Taylor. Barbata 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.

In 1972, while CSN&Y were on hiatus, David Crosby introduced Barbata to Jefferson Airplane, who hired him to replace drummer Joey Covington. Barbata played on the band’s final studio album, Long John Silver, and the live Thirty Seconds Over Winterland, and when the Airplane packed it in, 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. Barbata contributed to the new group’s first four albums—Dragon Fly, Red Octopus, Spitfire and Earth—but was forced to leave in 1978 after being involved in a catastrophic car accident, breaking his neck, arm and jaw.

Related: How Jefferson Starship came together and fell apart

Barbata continued to work as a drummer after healing from the injuries suffered during the accident, but never regained the prominence he enjoyed during the ’60s and ’70s. During those decades, Barbata was also a prolific session drummer, appearing on recordings by such artists as Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Johnny Rivers, John Sebastian, the Everly Brothers and Judee Sill.

Watch Barbata perform “Happy Together” with the Turtles on The Ed Sullivan Show

Barbata wrote his memoir, The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer, and gave clinics in the years following his heyday as a performer. His book is available here.

Watch Johny Barbata sitting in with former Jefferson Starship bandmates Craig Chaquico and Pete Sears on a 2017 reprise of the band’s hit “Jane”

Jeff Tamarkin

30 Comments so far

Jump into a conversation
  1. rob66
    #1 rob66 12 May, 2024, 10:14

    Thank you, Best Classic Bands, for keeping us informed on music artists of our generation. Sadly this passing will not be mentioned on Sirius XM’s 60’s channel since they still continue to not play or acknowledge The Turtles due to a lawsuit that was settled years ago. The Turtles music was a big part of the sixties generation.

    Reply this comment
  2. Bob D
    #2 Bob D 12 May, 2024, 14:30

    He made an album with Joel Scott Hill and Chris Ethridge called L.A. Getaway in 1971. A must hear . Adios Amigo 🙁

    Reply this comment
  3. Mike Horsley
    #3 Mike Horsley 12 May, 2024, 14:33

    I met Johny Barbata in 2014 while he was promoting his book at Spinners Records in Fresno, Ca. Super nice guy and we chatted about the good old days of Rock & Roll. I did buy his book he signed it and its in my library today….Great read!!

    Reply this comment

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.