John Blackwell Jr, one of the world’s best drummers of all time, passed away today. He was just 43 years old. Part of the top 500 drummers on drummersworld.com, an internationally acclaimed authority on drumming, John Blackwell was noticed for his inventive way of playing and his showmanship. He could effortlessly play many styles of music, among which R&B, funk, jazz, fusion and pop.
Life and career
Blackwell was born in Columbia, South Carolina in the USA. He started drumming at the age of 3. Ever since his early childhood he experienced synesthesia (seeing colors for musical notes) and perfect sense of rhythm.
When he was only 17 years old he drummed with Billy Eckstine. After highschool he went to Berklee College of Music. In 1995 he went on tour with funk band Cameo, followed by a stint with Patti Labelle’s band. Prince came to a show in Minneapolis when Blackwell was her drummer. After the show they briefly spoke, with Prince complimenting him on his exceptional playing.
During his tenure with Prince Blackwell toured with, among others, Justin Timberlake, Crystal Kay, P Diddy, Maze, William “Bootsy” Collins’ Bootsy’s Rubber Band, D´Angelo and Charlie Singleton.
In 2009 he started his own band, The John Blackwell Project. In 2009 they released an album, 4Ever Jia. The title refers to his daughter Jia, who tragically died at the age of 2, due to an accident in a pond. John Blackwell released two drum DVD’s: John Blackwell – Technique, Grooving and Showmanship and John Blackwell.
His style and flair were noticed by Prince as well. In 2000 Blackwell was invited for the day to come to Minneapolis and jam with Prince and Larry Graham. One day turned into two days, which turned into a week. It clicked. On September 2nd, 2000, Blackwell was officially enlisted as Prince´s drummer. Until he died, Prince used Blackwell intensively as a live drummer. Blackwell can be heard on a lot of Prince albums as well, like the fantastic albums The Rainbow Children (2001) and N.E.W.S. (2003).
The first time I saw John Blackwell live, was during the Prince tour One Nite Alone… I had never seen such a formidable drummer. Such rhythm, tight and playful at the same time, a perfect combination.
What will remain with me forever is the aftershow on November 3rd, 2002, at Rotterdam’s Nighttown, where he played an inimitable drum-solo. Based on the slow rhythm of The One John Blackwell improvises ever so genius-like. He played intermissions of very fast peices, or even beats to entirely different songs (among which Dance On and When Doves Cry), only to return to the calm of The One time and again. Truly amazing, for which he received an ovation (and rightfully so).
Illness and passing
In June of 2016 (two months after Prince’s passing) John Blackwell announced that he couldn’t move his left arm and leg anymore. The cause was soon discovered: two tumors in his head. The surgery that followed was plagued by complications and resulted in a long stay at the extensive care unit. To pay for his medical treatment a GoFundMe campaign was started. In October 2016 a movie appeared on YouTube, showing John Blackwell bravely stating he would succumb his illness. The poignant movie made one wonder if that was going to be the case. Today the sad outcome became a reality. A few hours ago his wife announced John Blackwell’s passing on Instagram and Twitter.
Someone like John Blackwell must be remembered as he was during his musical life, full of musical fire:
John Blackwell image: youtube.com
John Blackwell posing and John Blackwell & Prince images: drummerworld.com
John Blackwell drummer image: eurweb.com
The John Blackwell Project – 4Ever Jia image: discogs.com
John Blackwell Zildjian ASBL alt1 image: lonestarpercussion.com