A very rare 1986 album by John Larkin surfaced earlier this year (2010) that gives a very unique insight into John’s music before he reached the pop charts as “Scatman John.” A friendly blogger converted it to MP3 and put it online!
It’s amazing sometimes where a little investigation into a record can lead you. I came across this sealed copy of the John Larkin LP on the Transition Records label a few years ago (forget where I found it), and held onto it due to the abstract, raw, avant-garde jazz that it contained. The album features Joe Farrell on tenor sax, the only name I knew at the time, and was recorded in 1984 in Los Angeles and pressed down the street from me in Los Feliz. I remember the screaming, grunting and other noises that at times made the album difficult for me to listen to. I put it on the shelf for a while and assumed I’d get back to it later.
When unearthed it a couple months ago I was able to find out a wealth of information about the previously unknown to me “Scatman John”. According to his bio on Wikipedia, Scatman was born in El Monte and suffered a severe stutter that scarred him as a youth, and it continued throughout his life. He began playing piano at the age of 12 as a release, and began scat-singing around 14 after hearing records like the ones Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, among others.
He played gigs all through LA in the 70′s and 80′s, and in 1986 he released John Larkin, supposedly on an extremely limited pressing. By this time, Scatman was dealing with serious drug and alcohol addictions, as was his friend Joe Farrell. When Farrell passed in ’86 due to bone cancer, Scatman, with a lot of support from his new wife Judy (who was overcoming her own problems with alcoholism) decided it was time to make the change and move in a new direction.
In 1990 Scatman took his act to Berlin, Germany, finding initial success with the jazz scene there and added singing to his performances. His agent with Iceberg Records, Manfred Zhringer, came up with a concept for John; combining scat singing with Hip-Hop and modern dance tracks. He was skeptical, but eventually recorded “Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)”, which went to the top of the charts in countries worldwide and sold 6 million copies. He released another single and an album, Scatman’s World, both of which went on to sell millions more. By the time second album was finished being released, they had Scatman toys and Coke cans in Japan.
He fell ill and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998 while recording his last album Take Your Time. Even while suffering, Scatman remained positive saying “Whatever God wants is fine by me… I’ve had the very best life. I have tasted beauty” before passing in 1999 in Los Angeles.
After reading the Wiki entry, I went back and listened to the album. This Scatman isn’t the European star Scatman. This is Scatman releasing his demons, his anger, his frustrations, the mourning of a friend’s passing. It’s intense, real intense, but I understand why now.
Fortunately for John, he was able to turn his self/socially-perceived shortcoming into a postive. In his own words he was “”turning my biggest problem into my biggest asset”. Besides his music accolades, he was distinguished by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and received the Annie Glenn Award for outstanding service to the stuttering community and National Stuttering Association Hall of Fame.
Scatman has a site dedicated to him, with people from all over globe writing in and leaving respects for John, his music, how music affected them personally, how it helped them cope with their own difficulties and just all kinds of inspired/inspiring notes from fans. Music is powerful, indeed.
This release lacks proper ID3 tags and artwork, so I have compiled a “cleaned up” version with full tags, track numbers, embedded artwork, etc. No re-encoding has been performed, just tagging:
Download the John Larkin LP here