I was very sorry to hear that John Blackwell passed away yesterday. John had found out that he had two brain tumors last year. After the diagnosis, he focused on his fight to survive, losing the use of an arm when doctors removed part of his brain while removing the tumors. Unfortunately John was unable to recover.
John was best known as the incredibly energetic drummer for Prince’s New Power Generation, a position he held for 12 years. He graduated from Berklee College of Music before being recruited by Prince in 2000. In addition to the NPG John also performed with Patti LaBelle, Justin Timberlake and Cameo.
Beyond being a Prince fan, I was drawn to John’s playing by his instructional videos online. His solo video Technique, Heroes & Influences is full of pointers and techniques to improve your groove in a variety of genres. John’s appearance on Drumeo titled Drumming Discipline & Improvisation was also a great example of “what to play” and “when to play it.”
John had many fans and admirers including top-name professional drummers such as Gregg Bissonette, Dennis Chambers, Antonio Sánchez, Billy Cobham and Chad Smith. All of them have cited John as one of the best sideman in the business.
It is unfortunate that we tend to take people for granted until they are gone. I was convinced that John was on his way to recovery and had not thought about him for a long time. His death came as a complete shock to me.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help cover his medical bills and it reached more than $78,000 in donations as of Tuesday. I am not sure what the status of that page is in light of John’s passing but it is wonderful to see the affection he received. I know I prayed for John on more than one occasion and I continue to pray for his family.
As a drummer we have a plethora of recordings and performances that will keep John’s legacy as a musician alive. In addition to the links above here is a concert performance showing the energy that John had night after night while on tour with Prince: