Dr. John

The Developing Arts And Music Foundation
Minneapolis, MN
November 2001

Perhaps one of the better-known progenitors of the New Orleans “voodoo” sound, Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack) has been working his musical mojo since the late 1950’s, when the 17-year old guitar player was a highly sought R&B session player, and talent scout for Ace Records. A gun accident in 1960 which cost him a finger, forced Rebennack to change instruments, and after a brief stint playing bass in a Dixieland outfit, he learned how to play electric organ, under the tutelage of the legendary New Orleans R&B keyboardist James Booker.

During the early 1960s, he earned his living doing session work for big names like Sonny & Cher, and the O’Jays, and even Phil Spector, but his true love remained the boogie-woogie blues style popularized by artists like Professor Longhair and Fats Domino.

In 1967, Rebennack recorded his debut solo album, titled Gris-Gris, an unprecedented fusion of that era’s psychedelic rock influence and New Orleans voodoo. Rebennack also created a flamboyant stage personae with which to perform his eclectic brand of musical gumbo, under the nom de plume of “Dr. John, the Night Tripper”, an affectionate reference to a renowned practitioner of hoodoo during the late nineteenth century. Several more albums followed in this style, until 1973, when he recorded his one and only hit single, “Right Place, Wrong Time”.

Throughout much of the 1980s and ’90s, Dr. John maintained somewhat of a cult status following, working within several varied realm of traditional R&B stylings, continuing to lend his talents to a wide range of artists including Edie Brickell, Marianne Faithfull, Beth Orton, and B.B. King. Much of his recorded output during this period was relegated to a slew of tribute albums, most of which were met with mild indifference, yet maintained his reputation as a credible interpreter of the genres he catered towards. Perhaps the most solid contribution in this vein was the 1987 release, In a Sentimental Mood, which featured heartfelt renditions of classic standards by Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, and Cole Porter. The early ’90s also saw the emergence of a short-lived collaborative project with jazz drummer Art Blakey, and sax man David “Fathead” Newman, called Bluesiana Triangle, which released two albums, which featured Dr. John as a pianist in a traditional jazz setting.

In 1997, Dr. John played on the Spiritualized album, Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space; they returned the favor by contributing to his 1998 release, Anutha Zone, which also featured such talents as Paul Weller, along with members of Supergrass, Primal Scream and Portishead.

Creole Moon (released October 2001), finds Dr. John in his sixth decade, returning to his New Orleans spiritual roots. An introspective album filled with the rich folklore of the Cajun country, celebrating the rituals of life and death, and everything in between. This spirited release features the jazzy funk of former JB, Fred Wesley, and brings together the influences of Cuban funk, African and Brazilian rhythms, and a smoking Latin melodic groove.

© J.Free / D.A.M.F.; 2001; 2022