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John Barbata, Drummer for the Turtles and Jefferson Starship, Dead at 79

John Barbata, the drummer who played on classic recordings by the Turtles, Jefferson Starship, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, has died, Rolling Stone has confirmed. He was 79.

Jefferson Starship paid tribute to Barbata on social media, writing, “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!”

The news of Barbata’s death on May 8 was first reported by Best Classic Bands. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Jefferson Airplane also honored Barbata on Facebook, writing, “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. Back in ’72, during a hiatus for CSN&Y, David Crosby introduced John to the Airplane, who hired him instantly. You can hear John’s drumming skills on the band’s final studio album, Long Live John Silver, as well as the live album Thirty Seconds Over Winterland.

The New Jersey-born Barbata moved in his teenage years to southern California, where the drummer got his start in surf-rock bands in the early Sixties. The Turtles, a year removed from their hit rendition of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” in 1965, enlisted Barbata to replace their founding drummer Don Murray.

Soon after joining the Turtles, Barbata and the band recorded their Number One hit, “Happy Together,” followed by another hit, “She’d Rather Be With Me.”  

Barbata would remain the Turtles’ drummer for the Flo & Eddie-led band’s final three albums together, 1967’s Happy Together, 1968’s The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands — where Barbata earned a co-songwriting credit for the hit “Elenore” — and 1969’s Turtle Soup

Soon after the Turtles dissolved in 1970, Barbata was recruited to step in as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s drummer, joining that Rock Hall-inducted band for a stretch of concerts that were documented on the live album 4 Way Street. That album featured the original live version of the Young-penned protest anthem “Ohio.”

CSN&Y had a temporary breakup following 4 Way Street, but Barbata remained in its members’ universe, playing on Neil Young’s Time Fades Away, Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners, Stephen Stills’ 1970 self-titled record and more. 

By 1972, Barbata was asked, at the behest of Crosby, to join the last incarnation of Jefferson Airplane’s classic lineup — recording one studio album, 1972’s Long John Silver — and then spent most of the Seventies with the reincarnated Jefferson Starship. With that ever-changing band, Barbata played drums on four LPs: 1974’s Dragon Fly, 1975’s Red Octopus (which contained the hit “Miracles”), 1976’s Spitfire, and 1978’s Earth, after which a car accident and a year-long recovery forced him to depart the group.


Barbata was later known for his infamous decision to decline an invitation to join the Eagles amid his tenure with CSNY. “[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,’” Barbata told the Phoenix New Times in 2014.

After his time with Jefferson Starship, Barbata largely withdrew from the music industry, eventually relocating to Ada, Oklahoma. He published a memoir, The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer, in 2005. “I’ve got stories in there about meeting the Beatles, Elvis … I even met Albert Einstein when I was a kid,” he told the Ada News in 2010.

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