John Paul Larkin
(13 March 1942 – 3 December 1999), better known by his stage name Scatman John
, was an American musician who created a fusion of scat singing and dance music, best known for his 1995 hits "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)" and "Scatman's World".A stutterer, Larkin stated that scatting was "turning my biggest problem into my biggest asset". Scatman John sold millions of recordings worldwide and was named "Best New Artist" in the Echo Awards in both Japan and Germany. He was a recipient of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's Annie Glenn Award for outstanding service to the stuttering community and National Stuttering Association Hall of Fame.
Born in El Monte, California, Larkin suffered from a severe stutter since his beginning of speech which led to an emotionally traumatic childhood. Even at the peak of his success in 1995, journalists reported that during interviews he “hardly finishes a sentence without repeating the phrase at least six or seven times.” At age twelve he began to learn piano, and was introduced to the art of scat singing at the age of fourteen through records by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, amongst others. The piano provided him with a means of artistic expression to compensate for his speech difficulties. He remarked in a 1996 interview that “playing piano gave me a way to speak… I hid behind the piano when I was performing because I was scared of talking.”Larkin became a professional jazz pianist in the 1970s and '80s, playing many gigs in jazz clubs around Los Angeles. In 1986, he released the self-titled album John Larkin
on the Transition label. This album was Produced by Philip Cacayorin at the Hollywood Central Studios. While copies of which are now extremely rare, he claimed to have “hundreds of them lying around in [his\] closet at home.” Around this time, alcoholism and drug addiction were also beginning to take a hold of his life. When fellow musician and friend Joe Farrell, who also had a drug problem, died of bone cancer in 1986, Larkin decided to beat his habits. He eventually did so, largely with the help of his old friend Wilson McCutchan and his new wife Judy, also a recovering alcoholic. “You have talent,” she told him. “I’m going to make something out of you.”
Birth of “Scatman John”
To advance his career in 1990, Larkin moved to Berlin, Germany. From there he discovered the appreciative jazz culture and started playing jazz gigs. Here he decided to add singing to his act for the first time, inspired by the standing ovation he received for his rendition of the song On the Sunny Side of the Street
. Soon after, his agent Manfred Zähringer from Iceberg Records (Denmark) thought of combining scat-singing with modern dance music and hip hop sounds. Larkin was resistant at first but BMG Hamburg was open.Larkin was mainly scared that listeners would realize he stuttered, so Judy suggested that he talk about it directly in his music. Working with dance producers Ingo Kays and Tony Catania, he recorded the first single, "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)", a song intended to inspire children who stuttered to overcome adversity. He adopted the new name and persona of Scatman John.
In 1995, at age 53, Larkin became a worldwide star. Sales of his debut single were slow at first, but gradually reached number-one in many countries and sold over six million records worldwide. "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)" which charted quite highly across Europe remains his biggest-selling and most well-known song. He later followed up with the song "Scatman's World" entering the UK Singles chart at number 10, which met lesser but still notable success, selling a million copies and charting highly throughout Europe.Following the success of these two singles, he released his debut album as Scatman John, also titled Scatman's World
, which entered the top 10 album charts in many countries including his then home Germany as well as in Switzerland, Finland and Norway, which eventually sold millions of copies worldwide. He began a promotional and concert tour of Europe and Asia. “At an appearance I did in Spain, the kids screamed for five minutes straight, I couldn’t start the song”, he once recounted.
The second Scatman John album, Everybody Jam!
, was released in 1996. While nowhere near as successful on an international level as his debut, the album and accompanying single took off in Japan, the country in which he would see success on a larger scale than anywhere else in the world. He was so popular there that Japanese toy stores sold dolls of his likeness and he appeared on phone cards and Coca Cola cans. In Europe meanwhile, subsequent singles failed to replicate the chart success of his first two singles and he was often regarded a two-hit wonder. The Japanese version of Everybody Jam!
included a total of five bonus tracks, including the hit singles there Su Su Su Super Ki Re i
and Pripri Scat
, which were commissioned by Japanese companies for commercials for cosmetics and pudding respectively. The Ultraman franchise even jumped on the Scatman bandwagon, releasing a single titled Scatultraman
, the cover art of which featured the Ultraman characters in hats and moustaches.
Final years and death
In June of 1999, Larkin released his third and ultimately final album as Scatman John, Take Your Time
. It was later revealed that he had been battling ill health since late in 1998. He continued work on the album despite being told to take it easy from his substantial workload. He was later diagnosed with lung cancer and soon went into intensive treatment. Even while suffering, Larkin remained positive saying “Whatever God wants is fine by me… I’ve had the very best life. I have tasted beauty.” Scatman John died at his home in Los Angeles on December 3, 1999 at the age of 57. He was cremated and was dispersed at sea near Malibu, California.