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John Barbata, Drummer With Marquee Bands, Is Dead at 79


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

His death was announced on Monday in a post on Jefferson Airplane’s official Facebook page, which did not give a cause or say where or when he died.

Mr. Barbata joined the Turtles after leaving his high school band and enjoyed success almost immediately: He played on the band’s best-known song, “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 website, which is now defunct but archived by web.archive.org.

“We got it in one take,” he said.

“Happy Together,” written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, spent three weeks at No. 1 and came to be regarded as a pop classic. It has been performed by acts as varied as Mel Tormé, Weezer, Miley Cyrus and the punk band Simple Plan.

Mr. Barbata came to the Turtles not long after leaving San Luis Obispo, Calif., where he had first played with a band called the Sentinals as a teenager, for Los Angeles to pursue a career in music.

In an interview, Mr. Barbata, a self-taught drummer, spoke of the quick catapult to fame that “Happy Together” had given the band. He 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,” he wrote in his memoir, “Johny Barbata: The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer” (2005). (He was variously billed over the years as John, Johnny and Johny.)

He described one scene at a concert 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 left the Turtles in 1970 to join the wildly successful folk-rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He played on the band’s 1971 live album, “4 Way Street,” which sold five million copies that year, and later played on several of the band members’ solo recordings.

David Geffen, who had just started his first record label, Asylum, invited Mr. Barbata to join a new group called the Eagles, but he declined, saying he couldn’t leave Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, according to a profile of him in the book “Great Rock Drummers of the Sixties” (1989), by Bob Cianci.

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

John Barbata was born on April 1, 1945, in New Jersey. He 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 became a born-again Christian and decided to leave rock music.

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.”

Information about his survivors was not immediately available.

“I was very fortunate,” Mr. Barbata once 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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