Scatman John

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Scatman John
Background information
Birth nameJohn Paul Larkin
Born(1942-03-13)March 13, 1942
El Monte, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 3, 1999(1999-12-03) (aged 57)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • Vocals
  • piano
Years active1954–1999

John Paul Larkin (March 13, 1942 – December 3, 1999), known professionally as Scatman John, was an American musician. A prolific jazz pianist and vocalist for several decades, he rose to prominence during the 1990s through his fusion of scat singing and dance music. He recorded five albums, which were released between 1986 and 2001.

In the United States and Europe, Larkin is recognized for his 1995 singles "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)" and "Scatman's World". He achieved his greatest success in Japan, where his album Scatman's World (1995) sold over a million copies. Larkin was also a recipient of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's Annie Glenn Award for outstanding service to the stuttering community and a posthumous inductee to the National Stuttering Association Hall of Fame.

Early life[edit]

Larkin was born in El Monte, California. He had a severe stutter by the time he learned to speak. This stutter contributed to his emotionally traumatic childhood.[1] At age twelve, he began to learn the piano and was introduced to the art of scat singing two years later through records by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, among others.[2] The piano provided him with a means of artistic expression to compensate for his speech difficulties, and he "hid behind [the] piano because [he] was scared to speak."[3]

Musical career[edit]

His first known performance on a studio album was in 1981 on the album Animal Sounds by Sam Phipps. In 1986, he released the self-titled album John Larkin on the Transition label. This album was produced by John himself, along with Marcia Larkin. It featured Joe Farrell on saxophone.

"Scatman John"[edit]

To advance his career in 1990, Larkin moved to Berlin, Germany. Once there, he discovered an appreciative jazz culture and started playing jazz gigs.[4] This was when he first decided to take a monumental step away from his insecurities and add singing to his act for the first time, heavily inspired by the standing ovation he received for his rendition of the song "On the Sunny Side of the Street".[citation needed] Soon after, his agent Manfred Zähringer from Iceberg Records (Denmark) thought of combining scat singing with modern dance music and hip hop effects. Larkin was hesitant at first, terrified of being laughed at and criticized once again, but BMG Hamburg was open.[citation needed]

Larkin was worried that listeners would realize he stuttered, and his wife, 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)".[5] After his first big hit, 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 they gradually reached number one in many countries and sold over six million records worldwide.[5] "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)" charted highly across Europe and Japan and remains his biggest-selling and most well-known song.[6] 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.[5] In 2019, "Scatman's World" had some resurgence after becoming an internet meme.[7]

Following the success of these two singles, he released his debut album as Scatman John, also titled Scatman's World,[5] which entered the top 10 album charts in many countries including his then home Germany[8] as well as in Switzerland, Finland and Norway;[9] the album eventually sold millions of copies worldwide,[4] becoming so popular that a Scatman John design appeared on Coca-Cola cans.[10] He began a promotional and concert tour of Europe and Asia. Referring to a performance in Spain, Larkin said, "the kids screamed for five minutes straight, I couldn't start the song".[11]

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.[citation needed] In Europe, subsequent singles failed to replicate the chart success of his first two singles, giving him the title 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 wearing Scatman's trademark hat and mustache.[citation needed] The album reached No. 45 in Switzerland.[12]

Illness and death[edit]

In late 1998, Larkin was diagnosed with lung cancer, but he continued his musical work despite being told to take it easy from his substantial workload. In June 1999, Larkin released his fourth and ultimately final album as Scatman John, Take Your Time. Shortly afterwards, he was sent into intensive treatment.

Larkin died at his home in Los Angeles on December 3, 1999, at the age of 57, surrounded by his wife Judy, his mother Harriet, and his brother Bill. He was cremated, and in 2001, his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean near Malibu, California.[13]



  1. ^ Andrew Egan (January 24, 2017). "How Scatman John Got Over His Stutter".
  2. ^ Perrone, Pierre (December 23, 1999). "Obituary: John Larkin". The Independent. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  3. ^ OLIVER, MYRNA (December 8, 1999). "John Larkin; Scat Singer Overcame Stuttering". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Scatman John’s Interview with Ira Zimmerman,
  5. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1998). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Dance Music (First ed.). Virgin Books. p. 300. ISBN 0-7535-0252-6.
  6. ^ Scatman John's “Scatman” single’s positions,
  7. ^ Scatman John's "Scatman's World" single’s positions,
  8. ^ "Scatman John's "Scatman's World" album position in Germany". Archived from the original on December 12, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link),
  9. ^ Scatman John's "Scatman's World" album’s positions
  10. ^ "Scatman Coke can". CokeCollection.
  11. ^ Zimmerman, Ira. "The Stutter and the Scat is the Same Thing" Scatman Interview, 1995-12-04
  12. ^ "Scatman John - Everybody Jam! (Album)". Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  13. ^ "Remembering Scatman John Larkin TOC".

External links[edit]