By adding traditional jazz scat singing to infectious Euro-dance rhythms, Scatman John became one of the most unlikely pop stars of the '90s, if not all time.
While he was unmistakably a novelty artist, few novelty artists had a more fascinating life story. John Larkin, born in El Monte, California in 1942, had suffered from severe stuttering since childhood. He started playing piano at the age of 12, and became interested in scat singing after hearing recordings by classic jazz artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and especially Louis Armstrong, his primary influence. As he battled with his speech disabilities, he expressed himself artistically through his piano playing, and he became a professional jazz pianist during the 1970s. He performed at numerous clubs throughout Los Angeles, and his debut album, John Larkin, was released in 1986.
After moving to Berlin in 1990, he began singing for the first time, and his performances of jazz standards began receiving standing ovations. Manfred Zähringer, owner of Danish label Iceberg Records, caught one of Larkin's performances, and came up with the idea of him scatting over modern dance-pop. Larkin was hesitant at first, but after some encouragement from his wife and Zähringer, he wrote "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)," a highly energetic, catchy song about how he overcame stuttering. Released in late 1994, the song became a worldwide smash the following year, eventually selling over six million copies. "Scatman's World," a plea for international unity and harmony, soon followed, and also became a massive success. The full-length Scatman's World explored the concept of a utopian society called Scatland, and was another success, particularly in Japan, where it became one of the all-time biggest-selling albums by a non-Japanese artist. His second album, Everybody Jam!, was another hit in Japan, where he enjoyed his biggest fan base -- Scatman John toy dolls were produced, and he appeared in advertisements and on products such as soda cans.
Larkin was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 1998, and became less active, but he still recorded a final album, Take Your Time, which was released in June of 1999. He remained positive and optimistic through his music and his personal life, and he passed away on December 3, 1999 at the age of 57. Listen to the Scatman, a collection of jazz standards recorded under Larkin's given name, was posthumously released in 2001, and The Best of Scatman John appeared in 2002. ~ Paul Simpson, Rovi