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Johnny Barbata, Renowned Drummer of Iconic Rock Bands, Passes Away at 79

ADA, OKLAHOMA — The music world mourns the loss of Johnny Barbata, the legendary drummer whose beats resonated through the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll. Barbata, a stalwart in the industry, passed away at the age of 79.


Born in 1945 in Passaic, New Jersey, Barbata, also affectionately known as John, Johny, or Johnny, became a prominent figure in the California rock scene of the 1960s and 1970s. His journey into the annals of rock history began with the instrumental surf music band the Sentinals, where he played from 1961 to 1965.


Barbata’s career was a tapestry of collaborations with some of the most influential artists of the time, including Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Johnny Rivers, John Sebastian, the Everly Brothers, and Judee Sill. His talent behind the drum kit led him to audition for The Turtles in 1966, with a little help from Gene Clark of the Byrds. He secured his place in the band, performing on the timeless hit “Happy Together,” and other classics such as “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Showed Me,” “Elenore,” and “She’s My Girl.”


His dynamic performances extended beyond the recording studio to television, where he graced the stages of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” and “American Bandstand.”


In 1969, Barbata’s rhythm found a new home with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, replacing drummer Dallas Taylor. His contributions to the band’s live album “4 Way Street,” and various solo and joint projects by the band members, including Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away” and Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners,” were pivotal.


During a hiatus for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1972, David Crosby introduced Barbata to Jefferson Airplane, leading to his role as their drummer. He played on the band’s final studio album “Long John Silver” and the live album “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland.” As the Airplane disbanded, he continued with founding members in their side project, Jefferson Starship, contributing to four of their albums.


Barbata’s career took an unexpected turn in 1978 following a car accident that inflicted severe injuries. Despite a challenging recovery, he persevered, continuing to play drums, albeit never quite recapturing the prowess of his earlier years.


In his later years, Barbata settled in Ada, Oklahoma, where he raised his daughter, a testament to his enduring legacy. His memoir, “The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer,” published in 2007, offers a glimpse into the life of a man who beat the drums to the soundtrack of a generation.

Johnny with daughter, Leah, and David Crosby. Photo source: The Ada News

As the community of Ada and the broader music industry reflect on Barbata’s impact, heartfelt condolences are extended to my friend, his daughter Leah, and the Barbata family during this difficult time. Johnny Barbata’s rhythm will forever echo in the halls of rock ‘n’ roll history.

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