Johnny Rowan aka Blackie Onassis, best known as the drummer for Chicago rock band Urge Overkill, has died. The band confirmed Rowan’s death on their social media channels, writing, “Urge Overkill is saddened to report that Blackie has passed away. Please respect our privacy at this time. We are sending much love to his family and all his fans. We know he will be missed.” No cause of death was provided.
Nash Kato and King Roeser had already recorded two albums as Urge Overkill when Rowan joined ahead of 1991’s The Supersonic Storybook, the album that would lead to their breakthrough, which included the song “Today Is Blackie’s Birthday.” Just as Kato and Roeser had adopted stage names, Rowan became Blackie Onassis. In a quote surfaced by the Los Angeles Times, he explained, “I’m not Blackie Onassis because of my personal life, I’m Blackie Onassis because I drum in Urge. I like being Blackie Onassis; it’s like living in a musical wonderland.”
The band’s partially satirical revival of ’70s rock excess won them an opening slot on Nirvana’s tour supporting Nevermind, and “Goodbye To Guyville” from 1992’s Stull EP inspired the title of their friend Liz Phair’s instant-classic debut Exile In Guyville. Upon signing with Geffen, they hired rap hit-makers the Butcher Brothers to produce 1993’s Saturation, which yielded the alternative radio mainstay “Sister Havana.”
Quentin Tarantino used UO’s cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” to soundtrack Uma Thurman’s overdose scene in Pulp Fiction, which was appropriate because Rowan himself was getting deep into heroin at the time. He referenced his struggle with drugs on “The Mistake,” a track from Urge Overkill’s 1995 album Exit The Dragon. He was arrested for heroin possession not long after the album’s release, and Roeser left the band in 1996.
Rowan played on Kato’s debut solo album, 2000’s Debutante, but fell out of touch with his UO bandmates after that. He did not participate in Kato and Roeser’s 2004 reunion tour or the LPs they released in 2011 and 2022, but he continued in music to some extent, including an appearance on Joe Roncetti’s “Dead Friends” in 2016.