Legendary Drummer John Barbata of The Turtles and Jefferson Starship Dead at 79

Legendary Drummer John Barbata of The Turtles and Jefferson Starship Dead at 79 | Society Of Rock Videos

via City of Ada, Oklahoma / YouTube

John Barbata, a virtuoso drummer whose work graced the recordings of The Turtles, Jefferson Starship, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, has passed away at the age of 79. His death was confirmed by Rolling Stone, and though the cause has not been disclosed, the news reverberated through the music community, mourning the loss of an exceptional talent.

Tributes and Musical Beginnings

Jefferson Starship took to social media to honor their original drummer, saying, “We are saddened to hear of the passing of the great John Barbata, Jefferson Starship’s original drummer. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and fans. Rock in peace, Johnny!” This sentiment was echoed by Jefferson Airplane on Facebook, where they acknowledged his indelible impact: “Known for his exceptional talent, John left his mark on the music world by playing with bands such as The Turtles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jefferson Airplane, and Jefferson Starship.”

John Barbata’s journey in music began in New Jersey, where he was born, but it was in Southern California, where he moved as a teenager, that his career took off. There, he plunged into the burgeoning surf-rock scene of the early Sixties before a significant opportunity arose. In need of a new drummer, The Turtles, riding high on the success of a 1965 cover of “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” welcomed Barbata to their fold to replace founding drummer Don Murray.

Barbata’s introduction to The Turtles was soon followed by the rise of their number-one hit “Happy Together.” This success continued with another beloved tune, “She’d Rather Be With Me.” Throughout his time with the band, Barbata’s presence was felt on their last three albums, including 1967’s ‘Happy Together,’ and the inventive 1968 record ‘The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands’ where he earned co-songwriting credit on “Elenore” and on their 1969 offering ‘Turtle Soup’.

A Flourishing Career and a Crossroads Decision

As The Turtles’ era came to a close in 1970, Barbata kept pace with the evolving rock scene. A new chapter unfolded when he joined Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, enriching their sound during live performances that would ultimately be captured on the famous live album ‘4 Way Street,’ featuring the seminal protest anthem “Ohio,” written by Neil Young. Even after CSN&Y took a hiatus, Barbata’s connection with the group’s musical ventures remained strong, contributing to Neil Young’s ‘Time Fades Away’, Graham Nash’s ‘Songs for Beginners’, and also Stephen Stills’ 1970 solo album.

In 1972, a pivotal introduction by David Crosby led to Barbata becoming a member of Jefferson Airplane’s classic lineup, playing on their last studio album, ‘Long John Silver.’ He subsequently joined the ranks of the reimagined Jefferson Starship, making significant contributions to their discography with his drumming on albums such as 1974’s ‘Dragon Fly’, 1975’s chart-topping ‘Red Octopus’, 1976’s ‘Spitfire’, and ‘Earth’ from 1978. His tenure with the band eventually ended due to a car accident that sidelined him for a year.

Interestingly, Barbata’s story includes a noteworthy crossroads when he was approached with an invitation that would have altered the trajectory of his career. As he conveyed to the Phoenix New Times in 2014, “[David] Geffen walked over to me and said, ‘There is a new group forming, and they want you to be part of it. They are called the Eagles.’ I said, ‘Who the hell are the Eagles? I never heard of them.’” Ultimately, he declined the offer to remain with his current bandmates.

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