Scatman John

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • pianist
  • Vocals
  • piano
Years active1960–1999

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. As of 2023, Larkin has sold over 20 million albums worldwide and went 15 times gold and 18 times platinum.

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. Outside of his musical activities, he had deepened exchanges with stuttering organizations and established the Scatland Foundation in 1996 to support people who stutter.[1] Larkin was 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.[2] 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.[3] 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."[4]

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.[5] 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, inspired by a standing ovation he received for a performance at the Cafe Moscow in Berlin.[6] 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 Tony Catania and Ingo Kays, he recorded the first single, "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)".[7] 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.[7] "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)" charted highly across Europe and Japan and remains his biggest-selling and most well-known song.[8] 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.[7] In 2019, "Scatman's World" had some resurgence after becoming an internet meme.[9]

Following the success of these two singles, he released his debut album as Scatman John, also titled Scatman's World,[7] which entered the top 10 album charts in many countries, including his then home Germany[10] as well as in Switzerland, Finland and Norway;[11] the album eventually sold millions of copies worldwide,[5] becoming so popular that a Scatman John design appeared on Coca-Cola cans.[12] 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".[5]

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 "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.[13]

Illness and death[edit]

In late 1998, Larkin was diagnosed with lung cancer. In June 1999, he 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, his ashes are scattered at sea.[14] He was married to Judy McHugh Larkin, who died in 2023.[15]



In 2022, 23 years after his death, Jeff Chi wrote and illustrated Who's The Scatman?, a graphic novel biography published in German. The comic details Larkin's rise in fame and career, as well as his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.[16][17] To gather details about Larkin's life, Chi conducted video chats with those who knew Larkin during his jazz days and Eurodance phase, including John's manager Manfred Zähringer, the producers of his hit singles and albums, and musicians who knew him during his career.[18]

In March 2023, a biopic on John's life was announced via The Hollywood Reporter.[19] The rights to the life story were given by his estate and the film is set to feature unparalleled access to the entire Scatman library, as well as previously unpublished private home videos.


  1. ^ "Biography - Scatman John". December 3, 2022.
  2. ^ Egan, Andrew (January 24, 2017). "How Scatman John Got Over His Stutter". Tedium. Archived from the original on November 28, 2022.
  3. ^ Perrone, Pierre (December 23, 1999). "Obituary: John Larkin". The Independent. Archived from the original on February 28, 2017. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  4. ^ Oliver, Myrna (December 8, 1999). "John Larkin; Scat Singer Overcame Stuttering". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on October 23, 2019. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c 'The Stutter And The Scat Is The Same Thing",, Ira Zimmerman, Advance for Speech Pathologists and Audiologists Magazine. November 20, 1995
  6. ^ Stewart, Zan (December 21, 1990). "Pianist Has Found Right Voicings". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 23, 2023.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Scatman John's "Scatman" single's positions,
  9. ^ Scatman John's "Scatman's World" single's positions,
  10. ^ "Scatman John's "Scatman's World" album position in Germany". Archived from the original on December 12, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2008.,
  11. ^ Scatman John's "Scatman's World" album's positions
  12. ^ "Scatman Coke can". CokeCollection.
  13. ^ "Scatman John - Everybody Jam! (Album)". Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  14. ^ "Remembering Scatman John Larkin TOC".
  15. ^ "Judy Larkin Obituary".
  16. ^ "WHO'S THE SCATMAN von Jeff Chi - PPM Vertrieb". Retrieved May 14, 2023.
  17. ^ "Zwerchfell Verlag - Independent Comics seit 1988". Retrieved May 14, 2023.
  18. ^ Moises, Jürgen (May 3, 2022). "Nürnberger Zeichner hat einen Comic über Scatman John gemacht". Sü (in German). Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  19. ^ "Scatman John Feature Film in the Works (Exclusive)". March 28, 2023.

External links[edit]