John Blackwell, Jr. Prince’s former drummer trying to beat health scare
One of Prince’s former drummers who lives in Tampa is trying to get his rhythm back. He’s trying to beat a life-changing health scare. John Blackwell, Jr. performed with Prince for 15 years. With a sharp hat on his head and decked out in a snazzy suit Blackwell is considered a master drummer and is known for his unique style of drumming. These days he plays all over the world but that music came to an abrupt stop recently.
We’re getting a rare inside glimpse at what it was like to work with Prince from a Tampa drummer who’s played for Patti Labelle, Justin Timberlake and Chaka Khan to name a few.
John Blackwell Jr. smiles big when he thinks back on the invitation of a lifetime when Prince asked him to jam with him at the superstar’s Paisley Park estate in suburban Minneapolis. Blackwell says Paisley Park has a recording studio, sound stage, living quarters and even a basketball court that Prince got a lot of use out of. He says, “If he didn’t do music he could have been a NBA player.”
Blackwell says he’ll never forget while walking through the facility they walked across the basketball court and Prince picked up a basketball and shot it several times sinking every single shot. Blackwell says what was more impressive, “He was in high heels. I’m not kidding.”
Blackwell was playing with R & B singer Patti Labelle at the time and his visit with Prince was an audition of sorts. Prince was so impressed that 8 months later he asked Blackwell to join his band where he played for 15 years.
Blackwell is from Columbia, South Carolina from a large family of musicians. He’s a graduate of Berklee College of Music and says Prince was a musical genius. He was self taught and could play all his instruments as well write and perform songs. He says Prince would often carry a notebook and an old fashioned cassette player when he’d come up with a tune in his head.
He says Prince would come in and say, “Hey John play the beat and I’d play the beat. He’d say play the bass and he’d play it and he’d tell the keyboard player…play the keyboard and then it would become a song and he’d say keep recording and I’ll tell you when to stop.”
Blackwell says they’d do that 9 or 10 songs in a row and then Prince would say, “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. We’d come back tomorrow and the songs would be finished. Completely finished.”
Blackwell says he’ll miss everything about Prince. His humor and his talent but most of all his friendship as a father figure guiding his career and pushing him to be better. He says, “If I had any more tears I’d be crying right now.” That was my brother. I mean he was there for me where I lost my daughter, my mom, and dad.”
“I got to Japan and this.” He picks up his lifeless left hand and then drops it and adds, “And this left leg just dropped out on me.”
Blackwell is now recovering at Tampa General Hospital’s Rehabilitation Center. He’s had to put down his drumsticks after major surgery and describes what the surgeon had to do. “He basically took out a part of the brain where the tumors were.”
Blackwell now spends his days now just learning how to walk again. “I was like, impossible. How did this happen?”
With his wife Yaritza and friend, John, who is also a drummer by his side, Blackwell knows the therapy he’s scheduled to do each day could make all the difference in whether he picks up his drumsticks again.
“I get lazy as everybody knows. I’ll be like, ‘I don’t want to go,’ but then something tells me in my mind, ‘Hey bro if I’m going to get out of here and get back to the drums, go to your therapy.'”
Blackwell says Prince was like a father figure to him and recruited him to play with him. He says a dear friend recently told him that he can just imagine Prince calling for him to play even in heaven. Blackwell laughed saying, “I can hear Prince now say ‘I’ll just call John.’ No you ain’t! I don’t want to do that gig. Not yet.”
Meanwhile, Blackwell says he’s going to fight hard to get back in the drummers seat because he’s just not ready to give up on his love of drumming.
John has medical insurance but isn’t able to earn a living when he’s not playing so a specialGoFundMe account has been set up for him to accept donations. John is also in the process of writing a book about his time performing not only with Prince, but Justin Timberlake and Patty LaBelle just to name a few.