Welcome to Scatman's World.
Scatman John (real name: John Paul Larkin, March 13, 1942 December 3, 1999) was a singer and jazz/pop pianist, famous for singing despite having a Speech Impediment which made him stutter. As it turned out, that stutter translated into a truly impressive talent for Scatting, and in an improbable crossover (for the mid-1990s, that is), he applied that scatting ability not to his traditional jazz music which he devoted much of his life to, but to Europop/Eurodance music. Although born and raised in California, he was much more popular in Europe and Japan than he ever was in the United States. He is best known for the somewhat self-titled song "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)".
Before he came up with the Scatman persona, John Larkin was an accomplished jazz pianist, having even released a Self-Titled Album under his own name. It was a rough road getting to a music career, as Larkin had a speech impediment — a severe stutter, as mentioned earlier, one that he'd have for his whole life — that got him bullied through his childhood, and made him too embarrassed to try his hand at singing for much of his career. He still had a great passion for jazz and loved performing it, and Larkin went so far as to call music "a salvation" for him. He began primarily as a piano player, because he felt it gave him something to hide behind on stage, and he was immensely talented at it, which got his career some traction. Things changed during one fateful gig on a cruise ship, where he got up the courage to try some scatting during a performance. He got a standing ovation for it.
In the 1990s, Larkin and his wife had moved to Berlin, since jazz had a bit more popularity there than in America (by this point, in the Western world, even Kenny G was uncool). On a whim, his agent suggested Larkin try to combining his singing with modern Eurodance music and hip hop effects, which was all the rage at the time. Larkin, who'd been struggling for years to make a name for himself, was skeptical, as pop music like this was a young person's game. He decided to give it a try, but was nervous about his stutter putting off his potential audience. His wife told him to just make it part of his music, and thus, the Scatman was born.
Larkin went on to be considered a very inspiring example of how someone with a disability can turn his life around. He turned his stutter into an advantage in his music, as scat singing has a lot of repetition in it. He even points this out in his debut song, "Scatman" itself:
So check out my message to you.
As a matter of fact, don't let nothin' hold you back.
If the Scatman can do it, so can you.
Everybody's sayin' that the Scatman stutters
But doesn't ever stutter when he sings.
But what you don't know I'm gonna tell you right now
That the stutter and the scat is the same thing.
Yo, I'm the Scatman.
The Scatman's titular song was an international sensation, even if his home country of America only got it to #10 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club chart, and #60 on the Hot 100. His debut album, Scatman's World, got some impressive success from international audiences. He once claimed that he could barely start a performance in Spain, because people just wouldn't stop screaming for him. And then there's his spectacular success in Japan, where he became an icon, got his face on all types of merchandise, and Scatman's World sold 1.5 million copies.
Scatman John persisted with two further albums, Everybody Jam! and Take Your Time. These didn't quite take off to the same degree as Scatman's World, even to some countries where he'd previously sold like hot cakes. No music videos were made for the latter album, as it turned out John Larkin's health was beginning to deteriorate. In fact, midway through 1999, during a concert in Cleveland, he collapsed on stage mid-performance and was rushed to the hospital. John Larkin already knew what was wrong — he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer, and continued to record and perform despite this.
Following this mishap, he returned to his home in Los Angeles. Months later, John Larkin passed away from lung cancer on December 3, 1999, surrounded by family members. He was 57 years old. Worthy of note is one of his last public statements he made before his passing:
One posthumous album was later released in 2001, titled Listen To The Scatman, where the Scatman gets back in touch with his roots. It's a traditional jazz album, filled with old standards and John Larkin playing the piano once more.
Eurodance, when you get right down to it, wasn't necessarily a style of music that made for long careers (hello, Rednex!), but the Scatman has definitely not been forgotten. He still has considerable respect from the disability community, and his story continues to inspire people from all over the world. To the surprise of many, Lou Bega (yes, the "Mambo No. 5" guy) released a song in mid-2019 called "Scatman & Hatman", which heavily samples "Scatman."
A further look into his work, and life, can be found at That Other Wiki.
- John Larkin (1986; released under his own name)
- Scatman's World (1995)
- Everybody Jam! (1996)
- Take Your Time (1999)
- Listen to the Scatman (2001; released posthumously)
Scatman John and his work provide examples of:
- Artistic License Music: The "Scatman (ski-ba-bop-ba-dop-bop)" video has a drummer, trumpeter, and upright bassist in it, despite all of the instruments in the song being obviously synthesized.
- Clothes Make the Legend: His Nice Hat, which he wore in most of his music videos. His pinstripe suit and Porn Stache may also qualify.
- Cool Old Guy: He was already 52 when "Scatman" was released, and 53 when it eventually became a hit in 1995. He died only four years later at age 57, proving that you don't have to be young to make it to stardom.
- Cover Version: Aside from Listen To The Scatman, which was made up mostly of traditional jazz numbers, he did a Eurodance version of Queen's "The Invisible Man."
- Cute Kitten: From "Everybody Jam!":Louie even said that you could teach your cat scat.
- Disability Superpower: Spelled out in "Scatman," his signature song. John Larkin had a lifelong stutter, which, as mentioned before, gave him godly scatting powers. He himself described it as "turning my biggest problem into my biggest asset". Or, as Todd in the Shadows put it:Todd: This is like the Speed Metal of scat!
- Early Installment Weirdness: His first album, John Larkin (1986) was recorded before the creation of his Scatman persona, features straightforward jazz, without any kind of dance/rap fusion, and (this is the kicker) barely has any scatting!
- Electro Swing: It's clear that the 'jazz vocal-meets-dance music' sound that the Scatman made his name with was meant more as a novelty at the time, but in retrospect, Scatman John could be considered electro swing's Ur-Example.
- Gratuitous Japanese: "Ichi Ni San... Go" (one, two, three, go) has a good amount of this, and there are other examples, owing to the Scatman's popularity in Japan.
- Gratuitous Spanish: "Chickadee Song", chock full of Latin pop elements, has lots of this from a backup singer. Also, "Scatmambo", of course.
- Ironically Disabled Artist: He was a talented pianist and vocalist who spent his whole life struggling with a severe stutter. He incorporated this into his music by including a lot of scatting, which includes a lot of repetitive sounds.
- Location Song:
- "Lebanon", a slow and darker tone piece in which Scatman half-talks about a number of general historical and other apparently strong points Lebanon has. The other half is questioning whether they still persist, "or has their song been silenced". Trademark scatting is scarce.
- "Song of Scatland" is a less upbeat Scatman song talking about an imaginary, "magic" place, its tenets and beliefs. People of Scatland are idealistic and pure, having had "complete childhoods", "developed imaginations", and Scatman speaks of how to get there. Furthermore, unlike album versions, children's imagery and vocals are used for chorus parts in the music video version.There is only love and happiness in Scatland. Hatred and resentment?
Well, that's unheard of. It's unheard of.
- Motor Mouth: Many people have tried to imitate his scatting, but even with the lyric sheet present it's not that easy.
- Nice Hat: As mentioned above, Scatman was rarely seen without his trademark hat.
- No Export for You: His Japanese exclusive songs... Until the internet and MP3s became popular.
- One-Man Song: "Scatman".I'm the scatman!
- Rock-Star Song: Pop star song, actually, simply titled "Popstar". Awfully weird coming out of a man in his 50s.
- Sampling: A bit of Louis Armstrong speaking and playing the trumpet is sampled in "Everybody Jam!", fittingly, as it is a tribute to the man.
- He has also been sampled himself. One example is All About The Girls by Japanese artist MiChi, which also goes on to show how popular and beloved he was in Japan. And of course there's the aforementioned "Scatman & Hatman".
- Scatting: Well, duh. It's right there in his name. He took it up as a way to deal with his stutter from his love of jazz music.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Along with his trademark Nice Hat, part of his Iconic Outfit was his black pinstripe three piece suit.
- Secretly Dying: Most people didn't know he had advanced lung cancer until it took his life, as he continued to record and play after his diagnosis.
- Self-Empowerment Anthem: "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)" explicitly says this:Everybody stutters one way or the other,
So check out my message to you,
As a matter of fact, don't let nothin' hold you back.
If the Scatman can do it, brother, so can you.
- Singer Name Drop: "Yeah, I'm the Scatman!"
- Speech Impediment: He had a stutter for his entire life. As is common with those who stutter, he could sing without missing a beat.
- The Stoic: Invoked for the "Scatman" music video; Larkin was directed to maintain a dead-serious expression for the whole video. It really sells the sound of the song.
- Strictly Formula: A lot of Scatman songs are like this. Very verse-chorus-verse, with chanted/rapped verses, sung choruses with John Larkin's scratchy voice, and a scatted main riff. Of course, this all goes out the window on Listen To The Scatman.
- Tropaholics Anonymous: John Larkin was in AA, and referenced it in several of his songs.
- Utopia: Scatland is a magical society based around peak human achievement, racial harmony and love and happiness, and where hatred and resentment is "unheard of."
- Virtual Ghost: "Everybody Jam!" is a virtual duet between Scatman John and the late Louis Armstrong. The song is based around Louis' trademark trumpet sound, and the Scatman does his thing playing off of that. In the video, Louis is projected onto a wall and they share a little banter together. It's quite a treat to hear considering how much of an influence Louis was on John Larkin.
in celebration of the world of Scatland...