Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

He turned an embarrassing condition into a huge success. Scatman’s career was interrupted by illness

Let’s be honest John Larkin he did not conquer the world with perfect piano playing technique. His scat singing skills probably wouldn’t have been noticed either, if it weren’t for an accident that led to the birth of one day in 1995 Scatman John.

His hit “Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)” dominated the charts and turned out to be a global phenomenon. The then 53-year-old musician became a star, attracting thousands of teenagers to his concerts. The black-and-white music video for the famous hit never disappeared from TV screens, and the song itself constantly filled radio receivers.

“Everyone stutters one way or another/So check my message to you/Truth be told, don’t let anything hold you back/If Scatman can do it, so can you,” we hear in the catchy song. It turned out that while the world was admiring a mustachioed guy in a hat and an unfashionable suit who was throwing out incomprehensible clusters of syllables at the speed of a rifle to a dance rhythm, he was trying to draw the listeners’ attention to the problem that had been the nightmare of his life since his early years. John had been stuttering for as long as he could remember, maybe that’s why he was a quiet person, often bullied by his peers because he was different.

“I remember sitting outside my house and I heard the voices of kids from school next door imitating me and making fun of the way I was talking. It really hurt. It just crushed me. I waited until the next day and ran after them. Rage inside me. “was so great that I would have beaten them unconscious if it wasn’t for my father’s intervention. I think that the pain I felt all my life made me the good person I try to be,” the musician recalled his young years in an interview for the specialist magazine magazine for speech therapists.

John Larkin he was a silent man who discovered his own little world enchanted by music. He quickly learned to play the piano, which in the following years became his tool for communicating with the world. “Playing the piano enabled me to speak,” he later said. He was fascinated by jazz music, and when he heard the song “How High the Moon” Ella Fitzgeraldhe discovered scat, which he was delighted with.

What is scat? It is a vocal technique in jazz music that improvises music using random syllables and sounds. Ella Fitzgerald was the pioneer of this singing method, and in our Polish backyard she is a scating champion Urszula Dudziak. Larkin discovered that when he sang, he forgot that he stuttered. 14-year-old John discovered something else. Alcohol, which also made the stuttering go away. This last discovery, reinforced in the following years by drugs, was his problem until 1987.

The breakthrough moment was the death of his friend, a saxophonist Joe Farrell, with whom he recorded his debut album, released in 1984. The musician was a member of John Larkin’s jazz quartet, which slowly gained recognition in the 1980s among jazz music lovers. After his departure, John abandoned music for some time and decided to undergo addiction treatment. Around the same time, he met his future wife Judy McHughwhich over the following years became, as he claimed, his life compass and greatest friend.

It was she who, impressed by her husband’s scat technique, persuaded him to return to his musical passion and add his singing to the performances. Before the first performance, John was terrified, but when he received a standing ovation after the performance, he believed that there was a method to this madness. Judy was also behind the decision to go to Berlin when it turned out that performing in local clubs was not financially profitable and led to nothing. “One day I came back from work exhausted and dissatisfied, I told her that we should get out of here because the rates for performances were getting lower. She packed us up without any discussion and that’s how we ended up in Berlin,” John recalled.

The German capital has always been a cultural and artistic melting pot. In the early 1990s, some club basements were filled with techno, and others with all kinds of jazz. From John’s perspective, Berlin looked like the promised land of jazz. He gained popularity very quickly and his performances became a local sensation. Larkin was no longer silent behind the piano. He was a stage volcano, not only did he sing and his scat delighted the audience, but he played the piano like nothing else Jerry LeeLewis in the best years of his career, jumping and dancing to the instrument. “It was as good as it gets, I was having a great time, and I was making $1,000 a week, and soon more,” John recalled of his Berlin days.

Manfred Zahringer, the musician’s manager was also delighted with his transformation. He tried to get Larkin a recording contract after receiving tapes from Judy of her husband’s recorded compositions. “I started to realize that I could really sing and that I was good, and after the concert at Cafe Moskwa, when over four hundred people were cheering for me, I believed in myself,” he said in an interview with the LA Times.

Apart from club appearances, they came Scatman he received employment in luxury hotels and on cruise ships. Money was no longer a problem, but the desired recording contract was not there. Manfred Zahringer recalled that the jazz scene in Germany at that time was rich and it was difficult for him to interest record labels in the talented American. However, this apparent inability to promote Larkin was turned into a crazy idea. “One day, Manfred called me from his car. He was coming back from some meeting and was almost shouting into the phone: ‘Your tapes are great. Nobody has scating like you. I have a strange idea. Don’t kill me, but maybe we can try scat-rap?’ “Okay, I’ll try everything,” John recalled.

Zahringer took matters into his own hands. He persuaded a young producer to cooperate Tony Catania and convinced me of the idea Axel Alexander, the head of BMG Ariola in Hamburg, who decided to take a risk and get involved in the project. Work in the studio progressed very quickly, and the famous hit was recorded in less than six hours. John began to panic that if the recordings became a hit, everyone would discover that he had a stutterer. Then, once again, Judy intervened and convinced her husband that if he was so afraid of being exposed, he should sing about it to forestall possible attacks and inspire other people struggling with this problem.

The combination of scat singing, jazz, rap and house beats turned out to be a hit. Initially, the recording gained popularity only in Germany, where it became the favorite recording of radio presenters, and when DJ Alex Christensenknown for the project U96, created a remix that conquered club dance floors, the single hit was sold 500,000 times. buyers.

The BMG label quickly realized the potential of the project Scatman John and decided to publish it throughout Europe and the world. It didn’t take long to see the results. “Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)” topped charts from Australia to Japan. In the Land of the Rising Sun, the musician achieved almost cult status. Even when his subsequent albums did not sell as well as his pop debut, the Japanese eagerly bought Scatman John’s recordings. The musician appeared in local commercials and television programs, and mascots with his image, drinks and telephone cards were sold in stores. Japan was flooded with scatmania, which resulted in a song recorded with local musicians “Su Su Su Super Ki Re i”.

No wonder Larkin was named Japanese artist of the year. He also won European trophies, including the MTV Music Award. He used his newfound fame to campaign for people who stutter and in 1996 received the Annie Glenn Award from National Communication Disorders Association. He often participated in many campaigns and actively worked for an American organization supporting people who stutter – National Stuttering Project. Scatman John has become a symbol of hope and an incredible inspiration for many hundreds of thousands of people struggling with this disorder.

“The fact that I stutter as long as I speak has forced me to find another way to communicate in another language,” he told The Independent. “My biggest childhood problem has now become my greatest asset. What I try to tell children today is that the Creator gave us all our problems for a purpose, and that your greatest ailments also contain a source of strength not only to overcome them, but also to face them. all other problems,” he added.

The musician released two more albums. However, their sales were not so excellent, which was due to his health problems, which prevented him from actively promoting them. In 1998, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which led to his death a year later. Until the last moments, despite the advice of doctors, he committed himself to work. His last album, “Take Your Time”, was released six months before his death. Two years later, another album was released, “Listen to the Scatman”, with scat – jazz compositions recorded in the early 1990s.

“I am a star not because I stutter, but precisely because I stutter. I am lucky. I had the best life. I tasted beauty,” Scatman John summed up his career.