BL16 - Page 22



Music
VOODOO CHILD
Bluesman, shaman, legend: In the late Dr John, the world has lost
a true New Orleans original, who lived life in the fastest lane
A
dorned with elaborate
head-dresses, beads and
feathers and performing
with a skull atop his
piano, Dr John, who died on 6 June,
was one of the most recognisable
figures in music. He was also a
musician of towering importance
– an inductee of the Rock & Roll
Hall of Fame and the winner of six
Grammy Awards, who lived a
roller-coaster life that was as
colourful as a Mardi Gras parade.
Dr John was the persona of
Malcolm John Rebennack Jr, born in
New Orleans in November 1941.
Mac, as he became known, was
immersed in New Orleans’ cultural
melting pot from the beginning,
accompanying his father to local
nightclubs where he watched
musicians like Professor Longhair
rehearsing while Rebennack Sr, an
electricals man, fixed the PA.
Tutored by Walter ‘Papoose’
Nelson, who played guitar with
Fats Domino, Mac dropped out of
high school and was soon leading
his own bands and sitting in at
Bourbon Street clubs and strip
joints, falling into a life of petty
crime and developing a heroin
habit along the way.
JO N AT H A N
W I N G AT E
Wr i t e r a n d
b r o a d c a s t e r,
Boisdale Life
music editor
“When you’re in the game, the
whole lifestyle of it kinda takes
over,” he explained to me a few
years ago. “Whatever morals,
scruples and principles you’re born
with just disappear. I don’t
remember it ever hitting a lowest
point… It just kept sinking.”
At the age of 21, Rebennack’s
dreams of becoming a professional
guitarist disappeared when the end
of his left ring finger was blown off
by a gangster in Jacksonville,
Florida. “This guy was pistol
whipping my buddy, Ronnie
Barron, and I was freaked, ’cos
Ronnie’s mother told me she was
gonna chop my cojones off with a
butcher’s knife if anything
happened to her son. I’m trying to
get the gun, and I thought my hand
was over the handle, but it was over
the barrel, and pop! That was that.”
He asked his friend James
Booker to teach him to play organ,
and built a reputation as one of the
city’s most in-demand musicians.
His heroin habit eventually
landed him a two-year prison
sentence. After his release, he
relocated to Los Angeles, where he
became part of the Wrecking Crew,
a group of session musicians who
22
BOISDALELIFE .COM
SUMMER 2019
ISSUE 16
played with everyone from Aretha
Franklin to Frank Zappa.
In 1968 he released his debut
album, Gris-Gris, introducing the
world to his outlandish alter ego,
Dr John, The Night Tripper, loosely
based on a legendary Louisiana
voodoo practitioner of the 1800s.
The music of this shamanistic
showman wove voodoo
incantations and bayou patois into
a psychedelic gumbo of rock and
roll, Rhythm & Blues, funk and jazz.
“My original idea when was to
do a record so that we didn’t lose
a piece of our New Orleans culture
that was disappearing,” Rebennack
recalled. “We had all these strange,
wild instruments that really made
things like an exotic collage.”
Described by producer Jerry
Wexler as “the blackest white man
in the world”, Dr John continued to
draw on the African-American
heritage of pioneering New Orleans
musicians such as Jelly Roll
Morton, Fats Domino and Professor
Longhair throughout his career. He
worked with artists including the
Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and John
Lennon, and recorded a string of
timeless albums including Babylon,
Dr John’s Gumbo and In The Right
Place, which produced his sole Top
10 hit, ‘Right Place Wrong Time’.
He didn’t quit drugs until he was
in his fifties, but Dr John continued
touring the world and releasing
award-winning records throughout
his life. When he reflected on his
wildest days of the 1960s and ’70s,
he did so with the casual air of wry
amusement you only get from a
man who has lived his life in the
fastest lane imaginable.
“The managers said they were
gonna help me with my drug
problem,” he recalled of one
occasion he landed under lock and
key. “They put me in a psych ward
and had me declared incompetent.
It was a scam to f___ me out of the
money. I was only in for maybe a
week before I escaped,” he
chuckled. But how? “I had one of
my old ladies put some gum in the
door so that it didn’t lock. I told her
to get my shit together and wait in
the car for me, and we split. I just
walked out the door.”
IL L U S T RAT IO N : MA RT I N K IN G D O M
TABLE TALK





Powered by


Full screen Click to read
Paperturn flipbook system
Search
Overview
Download as PDF
Print
Shopping cart
Full screen
Exit full screen