Johny Barbata has banged out a living with some of rock ‘n roll’s biggest names, and he has some stories to tell.
Like the time the Beatles loaned his band the Turtles their sparkling white Rolls-Royce. The after-parties. The festival show before 150,000 people when the power went out and he banged out a 45-minute drum solo and got a five-minute ovation.
Or the time he met Albert Einstein.
“He ran out of gas on a lake when I was 3 years old. My parents were towing him back and my mom spoke fluent German so she was speaking to him,” the 69-year-old New Jersey native recalled of that moment near his hometown of Passaic. “He picks me up and sits me on his lap as my mom is talking to him. My first brush with fame at 3 years old.”
Barbata, the drummer for the Turtles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, has compiled a career’s worth of stories and remembrances in his 2007 autobiography “Johny Barbata: The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer.” He will be at the downtown Chicago Store, 130 E. Congress St., Friday afternoon to sign copies of the book and sell CDs, photos, drum videos and drumsticks.
“I’m like a traveling gypsy,” said Barbata, whose career dates to the mid-1960s and includes recording on more than 100 albums and 20 hit singles for artists including the Everly Brothers, Neil Young, Dave Mason, Johnny Rivers, Grace Slick and Tucson native Linda Ronstadt. His band the Turtles co-produced her debut solo album “Hand Sown … Home Grown” in 1969 and Barbata performed on the songs “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” and “Break My Mind.”
Barbata described the book as one big trip down memory lane.
“Every time I thought of a story or something that happened, I jotted it down and it turned out to be a chapter,” he said during a phone call from home in Ada, Okla., last month.
And boy does he have some stories to tell:
Meeting the Beatles. “We got off the plane (in Los Angeles) and there was this white Rolls-Royce there. … The guy held up the sign that said ‘Turtles’ and we looked at each other and we ran and jumped into this white Rolls-Royce. The guy proceeded to tell us the Beatles owned it and they were renting it out to us. That was great. We couldn’t believe it.
Partying with rock’s who’s who: “Later that night, we go eat at this four-star restaurant and the big record companies are giving us $400 bottles of French red wine. We got ripped and we thought we were going to go to bed. ‘Oh no, we’re going to take you to this club where all the English groups hang out called The Speakeasy.’ We go walking in there with our entourage and they usher us into the back to these two tables. I look over at the bar and there’s Paul McCartney having a glass of wine with Graham Nash. (Eric) Clapton was there. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was there. Rod Stewart. All these French and English models walking around. I look over next to us was Ringo (Starr) and John Lennon. … I’m sitting next to John and Ringo and I didn’t realize that they were stoned on acid. Here we are loaded on wine. … A roadie came over and tripped, spilled a beer on John Lennon … and that kind of broke the ice. So I leaned over to him and I said, ‘Well I guess if it hadn’t been for you guys we wouldn’t be here. Beatles, Turtles.’ He said, ‘Everything we got we stole from Chuck Berry.’ ”
He could have been an Eagle: “I was in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They were the biggest group in the world and David Geffen calls me into his office. ‘Hey there’s this new group and they want you to be (a member).’ ‘Well, who are they?’ ‘Well let me tell you they’re going to be big and they want you.’ ‘Well who are they?’ ‘Well they’re called the Eagles.’ ‘The Eagles? I’ve never heard of them.’ ‘Well they’re going to be big.’” (Don Henley was the Eagles founding drummer and eventually became the lead vocalist before going on to a pretty enviable solo career in addition to still being active with the Eagles.)