John was born in El Monte, California, on Friday the 13th of March 1942. He was born a stutterer. As a child, growing up in a nearby Californian district of El Sereno, John used to pretend to play piano on his mother's coffee table, until he got his own at the age of 12. He seemed to be hooked from the start. At 14, John heard Ella Fitzgerald scat-singing on a song called "How High the Moon". This song, he said, stole his heart. It was his introduction to scat-singing and to jazz, along with the likes of trumpeter Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Art Pepper and Bud Shanks, musicians John was influenced by from an early age.
John's stuttering problem made his childhood "traumatic", and the consequences began to unfold. John took his first drink at 14 and realising it made him "feel better", the problem escalated. By the time he was 18, John was playing piano in a band doing gigs around Southern California with two other guys from his college, and drinking had become a regular part of his life.
John became the professional Jazz pianist he always wanted to be. After "playing almost every Jazz club in Los Angeles," John's personal life was becoming unbearable. He had moved onto drugs and his alcoholism still had a hold on him.
In 1984, John was still playing Jazz, and had joined up and recorded with Joe Farrell - a saxophonist who also failed to control his own drug problem. Farrell died in his 40's in 1987, which was the year John decided, at the age of 45, "enough is enough". Admitting he was "totally defeated" by drugs and alcohol, John made the decision to get himself cleaned up.
After getting dry and sober, John still persued a career as a Jazz pianist. He added singing to his act after getting standing ovations in several of his performances. He also married Judy, who John said made him feel "utterly complete". They both made a move in 1990 to further John's career. "I came home one night and said to Judy - 'let's get out of here'. So we packed our bags, rented out our condominium, and moved to Berlin."
John began playing on Cruise ships and in various bars and clubs around Germany, gigs secured by his agent, Manfred Zahringer. Manfred tried for a couple of years to get John on a jazz record, knowing he was talented at scat-singing, a jazz art form constituting improvising a melody using random syllables and noises. John found it easy because of his stuttering; he said both "came real close". He also had the rare ability to sing up to four notes at a time.
One day Manfred suggested the idea of combining John's scat-singing technique with modern dance, pop, techno, and urban rap. John said he'd try anything, yet said "Yeah right. It'll never work." BMG Hamburg supported the idea, and John was sent off to work with two dance producers, Tony Catania and Ingo Kays, and spent 6 hours in a recording studio. He chose the stage name "Scatman John" and they made the first single.
The Scatman "image" became the now infamous hat, moustache, and suit. John's main fear was the world discovering he stuttered. Judy suggested he talk about stuttering in the lyrics to the first song, "Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)", and intended for it to inspire kids, resulting in "if the Scatman can do it, so can you". The single was released in Europe, and sales were slow to begin with. John remembered watching it week by week, and recalls saying time and time again, "It won't climb any higher." Then it escalated to amazing proportions. It became number one in almost every country it was released in, selling over 6 million copies to date.
Mildly shocked by his sudden launch into success, John decided that "Scatman" could be used as a vehicle to help others. He wrote lyrics dealing with overcoming adversity, accepting yourself as you are, and finding peace in a crazy world, all relating back to John's own experience. He became an advocate and hero within the stuttering community, and earned several awards for his contribution to stutterers around the world... even setting up a foundation to aid stutterers. His second single, "Scatman's World", had similar success, and his debut album of the same name holds the world record for being sold in more countries than any other during 1995 and 1996 and started outselling established artists such as Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson in some corners of the world.
During his career, John sold over 20 million records worldwide, and went 15 times gold and 18 times platinum. He has countless awards to his credit, including 'Artist of the Year' awards from Germany and Japan, the MTV award for Best Male Artist, and Europe's Goldena Award. Despite all this, John remained down-to-Earth and level headed, probably because fame came to him at the age of 52 and he'd "got his priorities sorted".
John's main ambition was always to help others, and for those who knew him and for his fans around the world, he became a hero and icon, helping people through his music and when he could, on an individual basis.
After releasing over 15 successful singles and two hit albums, John's third album, "Take Your Time", was released in 1999. Nobody could have guessed it was his parting gift to the world. John's health had started to trouble him from 1998, but it was put down to his workload and suspecting heart trouble, John was told to take it easy. Yet he still finished recording new material into 1999. In that same year John was diagnosed with lung cancer. John's uplifting attitude never faded. Commenting that he had "the very best life", John went through intensive treatment and remained positive, saying "whatever God wants is fine by me". Sadly, John's condition worsened and after a long battle, John died on the evening of the 3rd of December at his home in Los Angeles. During that week, the shocked world gradually learned it had lost a much-loved and talented hero, inspiration and friend.