- NEW ORLEANS BLUES -
Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, better known by the stage name Dr. John, is an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist, whose music combines blues, pop, jazz, zydeco, boogie woogie and rock and roll.
In spite of his self-appointed title, the good Dr. was never much of a student. He attended a Jesuit high school, but fared poorly because he spent his nights playing guitar in the city’s booming after-hours scene. That—and the fact that he was usually stoned out of his gourd—did not help his grades. When the Jesuit fathers offered him a choice between his studies and his music, he ended his formal relationship with school and gleaned much of his education from the pimps, prostitutes, and hustlers that surrounded him.
There was one teacher who had an impact on Mac. New Orleans boogie woogie pianist Professor Longhair attracted the young guitarist’s attention with his joyful bounce and his flashy attire. Like Mac, Professor Longhair did not come by his title through formal schooling, but few in New Orleans would question the man’s authority. Mac cut his teeth backing the Professor and other local legends in his early teens.
Though his career was just getting started, Mac’s guitar-playing days came to an end early. While coming to the defense of a bandmate in a bar brawl during a Jackson, Mississippi, gig, Mac’s finger was blown off by a gunshot. It was then that he adopted the piano. After moving to L.A. and adopting his stage name, Dr. John became a member of the famed Wrecking Crew, a roster of L.A.’s most sought-after studio musicians.
Dr. John backed artists as diverse as Sonny & Cher, Canned Heat, and Frank Zappa, while forging his own identity as “The Night Tripper,” a shamanic, psychedelic, hoodoo man whose live performances drew equally on bayou country medicine shows of the 19th century and the monster-movie performance-art of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. On his 1968 debut, Gris Gris, Dr. John stirred up a hallucinogenic potion of psychedelic smoke, Santería chanting, and Frenchman’s Street bounce.
In spite of a lifelong struggle with addiction, Dr. John was compulsively prolific, producing a raft of critically embraced and alluringly strange records through the 1970s. With the end the psychedelic era, albums like Dr. John’s Gumbo (1972) and In the Right Place (1973) represented a concerted shift in direction. Both would become Big Easy standards. It was along this path that Dr. John would ultimately stride for much of his career, incorporating the jazz, rock, blues, funk, and zydeco around him and ultimately authoring a style that can only be described as his. Often imitated but never equaled, this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, winner of six Grammy Awards, and honorary Doctor (finally) of Fine Arts courtesy of Tulane University, is New Orleans music.
Clancy's comment: I love blues, but sadly have never made it to New Orleans.