Why Johny Barbata Chose to Drum for CSN&Y Instead of the Eagles

Categories: Interview


For fans of The Turtles, CSN&Y, and Jefferson Airplane/Starship, as well as patrons of Milano's Music in Mesa, June 7 promises to be, at very least, an opportunity to meet an interesting member of rock 'n' roll's expansive past. Johny Barbata, who played drums for all of the previously mentioned acts, as well as one of the more accomplished session drummers in music history, will be signing autographs and telling stories of his glory days in, as he likes to call it, "rock 'n' roll heaven."

Barbata, 69, currently resides in Oklahoma, but continues to play drums and look for that next big opportunity to make another hit record. He got his first taste of rock stardom after the regional success of his high school band, The Sentinals, and their California radio hit "La Tinia." In his memoir, The Legendary Life of a Rock and Roll Drummer, which will be available at Milano's, he describes playing a gig in Kingman, Arizona, in 1962 for "nine -- count' em -- nine Navojo Indians. They loved us." From that point on, though, Johny Barbata typically played for way more than nine people.


A born storyteller, it is easy to see how Barbata ingratiated himself to some of the most powerful and popular people in rock and roll in the late '60s and throughout the '70s. He spent a lot of time both jamming and rubbing shoulders with so many household names that it is interesting that he never became one himself, although his humble nature makes it easy to understand why he did not go after the spotlight. Barbata joined The Turtles just before they recorded their hit song, "Happy Together," and his life was never the same after that.

While The Turtles were already a tremendously popular group when Barbata joined them, the success of "Happy Together" took the band to brand new heights. Barbata's unique drumming style has been widely noted as a propelling force behind the song's popularity, which found it on top of the charts for several weeks in 1967. Whether he would admit or not, Johny Barbata is and was widely influential among his peers, even the ones who have never even heard his name. The Turtles managed to even warrant an audience with the Beatles on their first European tour later that year.

"We got flown to London and when we got off the plane, we saw this white Rolls Royce sitting there. Somebody told us it was sent for us, so we ran up to it and jumped in. They told us it belonged to the Beatles. ... Later, they took us to a club called the Speakeasy. The Speakeasy was where everyone from the British groups hung out," tells Barbata.

Later in the evening, Barbata found himself sitting between John Lennon and Ringo Starr, talking about Chuck Berry.

"We were drunk on $400 bottles of red wine and they were tripping on acid," according to Barbata, but this was not the most important first impression Barbata made that evening.

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