John Rowan, the drummer for ’90s Chicago rock band Urge Overkill, who went by the alias Blackie Onassis, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 57.
A spokesman for the band confirmed his death to The Times. A cause of death was not given.
Onassis was the host of Urge Overkill during her time in the alternative rock limelight of the 1990s and played on the band’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon‘, which featured on Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 Pulp Fiction, and stayed with her until her last major label album, 1995’s ‘Exit the Dragon’.
A native of Chicago’s South Side, Rowan joined Urge Overkill, the Chicago band led by guitarists Nash Kato and Eddie “King” Roeser, in 1991. With Rowan on board, Urge Overkill morphed from practitioners of seedy neo-hardcore punk to suave purveyors of modernized punk arena-rock, playing their crunching riffs with a knowing wink and sporting medallions emblazoned with their “UO” logo. Though a late addition to the band, Onassis often summed up Urge Overkill’s appeal better than the founding members, such as when he described UO’s mission to Spin magazine in 1992: “We’re here to celebrate the swinger’s era – the late ’60s – reviving the playboy life when America was a fun place to be. The Golden Era of Vegas, Neil Diamond, Moonlight Dance and Anton La Vey!”
Kato and Roeser had already made two albums for the indie label Touch and Go when Rowan became part of Urge Overkill. He took the name Blackie Onassis and later said, “I’m not Blackie Onassis because of my personal life, I’m Blackie Onassis because I play drums in Urge.” I like being Blackie Onassis; It’s like living in a musical wonderland” – the drummer quickly became the focus of Urge Overkill’s self-created mythology. The 1991 album that got them noticed outside of Chicago, The Supersonic Storybook, featured a song called “Today Is Blackie’s Birthday,” which was not only a tribute to their new drummer, but a testament to a keener sense of wry humor.
Urge Overkill hunkered down in a bank building in Humboldt Park they aptly called “the bank” — once in the early 1990s all three members lived there — and stylized himself as lustful ’70s ladies’ men, a tongue-in-cheek pose alienating old folks Colleagues like engineer and producer Steve Albini. But the transformation gradually attracted positive attention from the group. They befriended Liz Phair, who later took the name of her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, from Urge’s kiss to the Chicago punk scene, Goodbye to Guyville, and received a positive review in Spin for The Supersonic Storybook. received. : “The band sounds like the MC5 fronted by Neil Diamond,” the magazine said. Soon Urge Overkill was gaining fans such as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde.
Nirvana recorded Urge Overkill as a support act on their Nevermind tour in 1991, which led to UO signing with Geffen Records in 1992. The group hired the Butcher Brothers, the hip-hop production unit that produced hits by Cypress Hill and Kris Kross. to produce his major label debut Saturation in 1993. A lustrous, oversized homage to classic rock elements, “Saturation” had an alternative rock hit in “Sister Havana” that put UO on the brink of mainstream success. When Pulp Fiction director Tarantino directed a memorable scene in which Uma Thurman’s character accidentally overdoses on heroin to Urge Overkill’s cover of Neil Diamond’s Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon, the group finally broke through.
Heroin was beginning to play a major role in Rowan’s personal life around this time, an open secret in the alternative rock community. Hole drummer Patty Schemel wrote in her 2017 autobiography, Hit So Hard: A Memoir, that in Chicago “finding heroin was as easy as ordering bags of Urge’s drummer, Blackie Onassis.” Overkill, who was a regular in town.” ” Allusions to Onassis’s addiction also appeared on Urge Overkill’s dark, sprawling 1995 album “Exit the Dragon.” On the brooding “The Mistake,” Onassis sang, “Sei careful what you take, the stakes are high / More than you will ever know, beware of the overdose.”
Shortly after the release of Exit the Dragon, Rowan was arrested for heroin possession. While the charges were later dropped, Urge Overkill went into a downward spiral that led to Roeser leaving the band in 1996. Kato tried to keep the group alive for a while, but instead released a solo album, Debutante, in 2000. “Debutante” included six co-songwriting credits from Blackie Onassis.
After Debutante, Rowan practically disappeared from view. Kato and Roeser re-formed Urge Overkill in 2004 without him. During a conversation with the Chicago Reader in 2004, the duo alluded to their bandmate’s missed video shoots and concerts, as well as having their passport confiscated on the eve of a trip to England. At the time, Rowan was living in Los Angeles but had had no contact with Urge Overkill.
Roeser told the reader, “I didn’t [Onassis’s] phone number. he has mine Say it like this. He can call me if he wants. I’ve had the same number for 10 years.”
Rowan is survived by his mother, Mary; his sister Anne; and his brother Tim.