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Tribute to John Blackwell 1973-2017


R&B, Jazz, Funk, Pop

Remarkable Artists he had played the drums for:

- Prince

- D' Angelo

- Justin Timberlake

John Blackwell and Prince

For many people Blackwell is characteristically the best drummer of Prince. It is said that the best Prince's era was with John Blackwell.


John grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and started playing drums at the age of 3, learning from his father John Blackwell Sr, a drummer himself.

As a teenager, John played in high school marching and jazz bands.

He played in jazz clubs from the age of 13 until he graduated from high school.

At 17, he played his first big high profile show with the singer and swing bandleader Billy Eckstine.

After high school, he attended Berklee College of Music, graduating in 1995.


From 1995 until 2016, John had played for many successful pop, funk, hip-hop, jazz and fusion stars, including Prince, Justin Timberlake, Cameo, Patti LaBelle, Utada Hikaru, Crystal Kay, P Diddy and Charlie Singleton.

He played at the 2008 and 2011 Buddy Rich Memorial Concert.

He released his debut album in December 2009, called The John Blackwell Project.

He has two educational drum DVDs. The first one is a two-disc set entitled "John Blackwell-Technique, Grooving and Showmanship" and the second one is self-titled "John Blackwell" and it is part of the Hudson Music Masters Series.

He had endorsements from Tama Drums and Zildjian cymbals and sticks. After a long co-operation with Sabian and Vater, he moved to Zildjian.

Blackwell with his Hendrix signature series snare drum.

John Blackwells Hendrix Drums signature series snare drum.

John Blackwells Tama signature series snare drum.


Marcus William was John Blackwell's teacher. A gospel drummer who helped him build and develop his foot technique.


Because of his marching drumming backround, Blackwell's grooves were made with rudimental orchestations.

John Blackwell was incredibly fast with his right foot and he was recognised for being able to play semiquavers with single pedal.

Performing Style:

John Blackwell was a real show man. He was a performer himself. He liked to wear a pork pie hat and do criss cross tricks with his sticks while he was playing. A real funky drummer with a unique and creative way to play.

He played with so much passion and never missed a beat. An authentic groove drummer.

The famous John Blackwell's Criss Cross


In July 2016 Blackwell announced that he had lost the sense of his left arm and leg due to a brain tumor. On July 4, 2017, his wife announced his death. He was 43.

I had the pleasure of watching John Blackwell live during Buddy Rich's memorial concert in 2012 in London. To be honest, I cancelled a trip to Scotland that was booked months earlier, to be able to go and see John Blackwell playing live.

One of the things I will regret for the rest of my life is that I didn't go to meet him in person after the show.

Until we meet again...

Sources: , , private archive

Written by:

Alberto Christodoulou

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