Dr. John ► Monday Musical Appreciation
Please read the story My Days With John Sinclair, in
which Dr. John makes a surprise guest appearance

Blowing out 76 candles on his cake today is Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, better know to the world as Dr. John.

Dr. John became known to music lovers with the release of his first LP Gris-Gris in the late 60s. However, he had already paid his musical dues by then. He quit high school to play professionally in clubs in New Orleans. He also produced mono singles for a few local artists. His guitar-playing career was almost over before it started when his left ring finger was shot off after he came to the defense of a band mate. He switched to bass guitar for a while, but finally settled on piano.

After a run in with the law, and a 2-year stretch in a federal prison on drug charges, headed to Los Angeles. There “he became a “first call” session musician in the booming Los Angeles studio scene in the 1960s and 1970s and was part of the so-called “Wrecking Crew” stable of studio musicians. He provided backing for Sonny & Cher (and some of the incidental music for Cher‘s first film, Chastity), for Canned Heat on their albums Living the Blues (1968) and Future Blues (1970), and for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on Freak Out! (1966), as well as for many other acts”, according to the know-it-all Wiki.

This hypnotic tune is from his first LP
When it became time to record his first LP, he adopted the name Dr. John Creaux after a Dr. John Montaine, a New Orleans historical character, rumoured to have been an African potentate and a practitioner of voodoo. According to the WikiWackyWoo:

He recalls reading about the original Doctor John in his youth, a purported Senegalese prince who came to New Orleans from Haiti, a medicinal and spiritual healer. The Doctor was a free man of color who lived on Bayou Road and claimed to have 15 wives and over 50 children. He maintained a fascination with reptiles and kept an assortment of snakes and lizards, along with embalmed scorpions and animal and human skulls. His specialization was healing, and as such, in selling gris-gris, voodoo amulets that protected the wearer from harm. Gris-Gris became the name of Dr. John the musician’s famed debut album, his own form of “voodoo medicine”.[8]

Rebennack was not supposed to be the Dr. John fronting this gumbo stew of a band. That was should have been Ronnie Barron, a singer friend from New Orleans. However, Barron’s manager talked him out of it and he went to work for Sonny and Cher instead. So Rebennack took the role of Dr. John and, ironically, the studio time for Sonny and Cher, when they were unable to make their sessions.

Gris-Gris was not a big hit, but has grown in popularity in retrospect. However, it wasn’t until his sixth LP, In the Right Place, that Dr. John was in the right place. The tune Right Place, Wrong Time was a Top 20 hit. And Dr. John has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Over the last number of years, Dr. John has been releasing tributes to various artists The first was Duke Elegant, dedicated to the tunes of Duke Ellington; then came Mercernary, highlighting the wonderful songs of Johnny Mercer; and Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, a look at the first scat singer, Louis Armstrong.

Just this year, Dr. John also got the tribute treatment. The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: A Celebration of Mac & His Music is a CD and DVD concert, featuring Bruce Sprongsteen, Anders Osborne, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, Chuck Leavell, Mavis Staples, John Fogerty, and, as they say, many more. The concert was produced and arranged by Don Was.

Watch the official trailer followed by some righteous Dr. John music.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.