Basic Background Info
John Blackwell was born September 9, 1973, in Columbia, South Carolina. John's father, John Sr., was a professional drummer turned electrical engineer. John Sr. gave his three-year-old son his first drum kit and frequently took him to concerts in Columbia. John Jr.'s first concert memory was a Sister Sledge show. Amid the thousands of people singing and dancing to "We Are Family," John Blackwell's attention wrapped around the drummer. "It seemed to me that the drums were the center of it all. I knew then that I would become a drummer."
As a teenager, John Blackwell played in his high school marching and jazz bands. His first professional gig was backing legendary jazz vocalist Bill Eckstine. John Blackwell studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and occupied himself performing with every jazz and R&B artists around town he could find. John Blackwell frequently played jazz at Ryles Jazz Club and Wally's in Boston, although he was truly a funk drummer. After playing at Ryles one night (a night he said he had played poorly and had been reprimanded), John Blackwell got a message offering him a position playing with Cameo, the funkiest of funk bands at the time. John Blackwell discussed the move with his father and decided to join Cameo, but he always planned to return to Berklee to finish school.
John Blackwell immediately left Boston and headed to Atlanta to join Cameo. John Blackwell played with Cameo for three years before leaving to play with Patti Labelle. John Blackwell was able to live in his hometown, Columbia, and traveled to play with Patti for three years. Patti and Prince were good friends and Prince appeared at her performances from time to time. After a performance in Minneapolis, Prince and Larry Graham approached John Blackwell. Larry gave him his business card and told him to keep in touch and Prince said, "You sounded unbelievable. I'll see you soon." And he did. After a performance in New York, Prince and John spoke and Prince invited John to join him after the tour with Patti was over.
After finishing the tour with Patti Labelle, John Blackwell met Prince and Larry Graham in Minneapolis. For nine months, John Blackwell regularly returned to Minneapolis to jam and record with Prince and Larry. John Blackwell then took a gig touring with Utada Hikaru in Japan. The day of the last show, he received a call from Prince's staff asking him to return to Minneapolis immediately. In Minneapolis, John Blackwell rehearsed with Prince for three months before embarking on tour with the New Power Generation.
Prince was also an accomplished drummer, so rehearsals were often demanding. On some tours, John Blackwell recalled, "he really wanted specific things. He would videotape the shows and watch them afterwards. If you weren't playing the parts the way he wanted them, he'd talk to you about it. If you kept playing things the wrong way, he'd deduct money from your check." Nonetheless, John Blackwell said Prince "gave me a lot of room to be myself." For instance, during a studio session, Prince decided he wanted the band to create a jazz-fusion album. There were no rules; "we just started playing and feeling out where the music was going." That album, N.E.W.S., was nominated for a Grammy Award.
During the Musicology tour in 2004, John Blackwell's two-year-old daughter Jia unexpectedly passed away. John Blackwell's instinct was to retreat from his music, but his wife, father, and many friends encouraged him to keep playing. In fact, Prince stopped the tour to allow John Blackwell some time to heal. Upon resuming the tour, John said, "I played every night for Jia." John and his wife Joann later had twins, a boy and a girl.
John Blackwell toured several times with Prince and remained on retainer for him for some time as well. While the retainer provided security for John and his family, he turned down opportunities with Mick Jagger, Christina Aguilera, Maxwell, and Destinyís Child. Unwilling to forego more opportunities, John Blackwell no longer worked on retainer with Prince so he was able to capitalize on new opportunities but was still able to jam and record with Prince if he was available at the time. In his off-time, John Blackwell recorded a lot with P. Diddy and also worked on a jazz fusion album of his own. John Blackwell is also a skilled clinician, and has toured teaching throughout the world. Recently, John toured with pop superstar Justin Timberlake.
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