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Scatman John

Scatman John
Background information
Birth name John Paul Larkin
Born (1942-03-13)13 March 1942
El Monte, California, U.S.
Died 3 December 1999(1999-12-03) (aged 57)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
Years active 1976–1999

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.


  • Biography 1
  • Birth of “Scatman John” 2
  • International success 3
  • Post-Scatman’s World 4
  • Final years and death 5
  • Discography 6
    • John Larkin (1986) 6.1
    • Scatman's World (1995) 6.2
    • Everybody Jam! (1996) 6.3
    • Take Your Time (1999) 6.4
    • Listen to the Scatman (2001) 6.5
    • The Best of Scatman John (2002) 6.6
  • Videography 7
    • Music videos 7.1
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Born in El Monte, CA, Larkin suffered from a severe stutter from the time he learned to speak, 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 1980s, playing many engagements 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 it 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.[1] 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 fearful 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.

International success

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)" charted quite highly across Europe and remains his biggest-selling and most well-known song.[2] 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.[3]

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[4] as well as in Switzerland, Finland and Norway;[5] the album eventually sold millions of copies worldwide.[1] 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.[6]

Post-Scatman’s World

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, 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 wearing Scatman's trademark hat and mustache.

Final years and death

In June 1999, Larkin released his fourth and ultimately final album as Scatman John, Take Your Time. It was later revealed that he had been battling lung cancer 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.”[7] Scatman John died at his home in Los Angeles on December 3, 1999 at the age of 57. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea near Malibu, California.[8]


John Larkin (1986)

John Larkin is the debut album by John Paul Larkin (better known by his stage name, Scatman John), released in 1986.

Scatman's World (1995)

Scatman's World is an album by American musician Scatman John, recorded after the worldwide success of his debut single "Scatman". It is somewhat of a concept album dealing with an imaginary Utopian society named "Scatland". He speaks about this at length in the liner notes: "If you're wondering where Scatland is, you don't have to look too far; it's between your deepest dreams and warmest wishes". The songs deal with various elements of American society and many of them draw on Scatman's personal experience; "Popstar" is a tongue-in-cheek number about the shallow nature of stardom, "Quiet Desperation" deals with the homeless problem and "Time (Take Your Time)" is a harrowing song about his time in Alcoholics Anonymous. The album climaxes with "Song of Scatland", a ballad dedicated to the imaginary kingdom that was notoriously released as a single. "Hi, Louis" closes the album proper with traditional scatting over jazz piano and steady beats; the title is a reference to Louis Armstrong, to whom he later paid tribute on the track "Everybody Jam!". Scatman's World was very popular internationally, particularly in Japan, where it reached No. 2 and stayed on the charts for 40 weeks, selling more than 1,560,000 copies overall, and ranking as the 9th best selling album that was recorded by a non-Japanese artist of all time in that country.

Everybody Jam! (1996)

Everybody Jam! is the second album by Scatman John. The album continues along the thematic lines of the first album but with an evolved sound, and cemented his popularity in Japan, released there with five bonus tracks. The album released two international singles: the title track tribute to Louis Armstrong and "Let It Go", all of which were successful. Additionally, the Japanese bonus tracks "Pripri Scat" and "Su Su Su Super Ki Re i" charted successfully there as single releases. "The Invisible Man" is a cover of the Queen song, adding numerous ingredients not present in the original. Arguably the most popular song on the album is "U-Turn": a revamped version of "Hey You" which earlier appeared as the B-side to "Song of Scatland". The album reached No. 45 in Switzerland.[9] The album reached No. 17 in Japan and remained in the Top 40 for 9 weeks, selling just under 100,000 copies; a minor success compared to Scatman's World, but still an accomplishment for a foreign artist.

Take Your Time (1999)

Take Your Time is the fourth and final album by John Paul Larkin. It was his third recording under his stage name Scatman John. It was released on June 1, 1999, six months before his death on December 3; although he suffered from lung cancer through most of the recording, he still managed to record and release the album. The album had four singles released from it. Scatmambo which was used in the German film Love Scenes from Planet Earth. Japan got a double A side single, The Chickadee Song b/w Take Your Time. Take Your Time was issued in European countries, first with a 6 track release then a 4 track release with a memorial caption on the cover after his death. Ichi Ni San was also released as a 3 track single in Europe, proving popular in Germany.

Listen to the Scatman (2001)

Listen to the Scatman is an album celebrating the jazz work of John Larkin, although the last track is a dance track with scatting taken from various different songs on the album. The songs "Last Night I Dreamed" and "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" are taken from the 1986 self-titled John Larkin album. The rest of the album consists of staple jazz classics.

The Best of Scatman John (2002)

The Best of Scatman John is a 2002 compilation album of Scatman John's greatest hits.


Music videos

Year Video Director
1994 "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)" Kerstin Mueller
1995 "Scatman's World" Martin Weisz
"Song of Scatland"
1996 "Everybody Jam!" Hannes Rossacher
"Su Su Su Super Ki Re i"


  1. ^ a b Scatman John’s Interview with Ira Zimmerman,
  2. ^ Scatman John's “Scatman” single’s positions,
  3. ^ Scatman John’s “Scatman’s World” single’s positions,
  4. ^ Scatman John's "Scatman's World" album position in Germany at the Wayback Machine (archived December 12, 2009),
  5. ^ Scatman John's "Scatman's World" album’s positions
  6. ^ Zimmerman, Ira. “The Stutter and the Scat is the Same Thing” Scatman Interview, 1995-12-04
  7. ^ a few cool things › “Scatman John” Larkin – John Larkin LP (1986)
  8. ^ Remembering Scatman John Larkin Do You Miss Him
  9. ^

External links

  • Scatman John at the Internet Movie Database
  • Remembering Scatman John Larkin: a collection of thoughts and comments about the career of Scatman John and his impact on those who loved his music
  • Scatman John Discogs Profile: a short profile and list of singles and albums released by Scatman John or containing his music
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