By Don Wanlass
The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live currently has an exhibit that captures a special era in the Los Angeles music scene.
“California Dreamin’: The Sounds of Laurel Canyon, 1965-1977” captures 12 years of the Los Angeles rock scene that was a golden age, not only for music, but culture as well.
The exhibit includes artifacts from the musicians who helped shape the era that produced what became the Southern California rock sound: The Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Poco, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, Jackson Browne and many more.
It also offers a look at some of the harder-edged music of the era: the Doors, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Arthur Lee’s Love.
There are video interviews of many of the artists. A drum lesson with legendary session man Russ Kunkel showing how the drum parts to Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” came about, and photo exhibits by Henry Diltz and Graham Nash, to list just some of the highlights.
One of the bands on the scene in those days was the Turtles, which had a string of hit singles that included “Happy Together.”
Johny Barbata, the drummer on that single, has recently published his autobiography, “Johny Barbata: The Legendary Life of a Rock Star Drummer,” and will be in Southern California next week for book signing appearances in Santa Monica, Redondo Beach and Huntington Beach.
After playing with the Turtles, Barbata played with Crosby, Stills Nash and Young on the live “Four Way Street” album and in several other collaborations with those four singer-songwriters before joining the Jefferson Airplane.
He remained with that band when it became the Jefferson Starship.
All told, Barbata has played on more than 100 albums and 20 hit singles. And his book is full of stories of the musicians he played with and others that he hung out with.
Speaking by phone from his home in Oklahoma last month, Barbata talked about a few of the stories in the book.
He said the first song he ever played with the Turtles was “Happy Together,” when the band was recording it.
“The producer, Bones Howe, really liked by drum part and he told the band to hire me,” Barbata said. “Next thing I know, we have a hit single and we are on a plane to London to do some shows in England.
We get to London and there’s a white Rolls Royce waiting at the airport for us. The Beatles had sent it over to pick us up.
“That night we’re hanging out in a London nightclub. All the Beatles are there, Eric Clapton, Brian Jones [of the Rolling Stones], Jimi Hendrix, Graham Nash. It was an incredible night. I accidently spilled a pitcher of beer on John Lennon.”
That’s one of the many stories in Barbata’s new book.
He also talked about joining Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for a tour after original drummer Dallas Taylor was fired.
“I guess he didn’t get along with Neil [Young],” Barbata said. “Anyway, we opened the tour at the Fillmore East in New York. All the guys did their acoustic sets to start the show. [Stephen] Stills was the last one and he played an extra song during his set and every one else was mad at him backstage. A big argument breaks out and we’re supposed to go out for our electric set but they’re in a dressing room arguing.
[Concert promoter] Bill Graham is shoving $100 bills under the door of the dressing room trying to get them to stop arguing and come out and play.”
Now, 69, Barbata says he still does some session work and is looking forward to being out in Southern California for the book signing tour.
He will be at Santa Monica Music Center next Wednesday, at Harbor Music in Redondo Beach June 13 and at Beach Music in Huntington Beach June 14.