Dr. John

  • Rock, blues, funk and jazz singer and songwriter born Malcolm (Mac) Rebenneck in New Orleans Louisiana in 1941. Died in 2019 from a heart attack.
  • His father ran an appliance shop in New Orleans that also sold records. This gave him connections with the local music industry, exposing Rebenneck to the recording studios for artists like Little Richard and Guitar Slim. At the age of 13, he met blues artists Professor Longhair and he was impressed by the singer’s flamboyance and style on the stage. He began to perform guitar with the Professor, beginning his career as a professional musician. Rebenneck’s first studio work was in 1955, and at the age of 16 he was a member of the musician’s union. He began to perform with local bands and at 17 he had co-written his first rock and roll song, Light’s Out. He also did work as a producer for other artists.
  • In 1960, he injured his hand while firing a gun, making it difficult for him to play guitar. He initially switched to bass guitar, and then to piano, making this his primary instrument for his future work. In the early 60s, he got into trouble selling narcotics and running a brothel – this landed him in prison for two years. When he got out of jail in 1965, New Orleans was shutting down music venues to clean up the city, making it hard for local musicians to find work. Rebenneck decided to move to Los Angeles to find work as a session musician. During the 60s and 70s, he became part of the “Wrecking Crew,” supporting artists like Sonny & Cher, Canned Heat and Frank Zappa.
  • Growing up in New Orleans, Rebenneck was fascinated by Louisiana voodoo, and in the late 60s, he decided to create a stage show and recording based on the life of a Senegalese prince and spiritual healer named Dr. John Montaine. Rebenneck called himself Dr. John, The Night Tripper. In 1968, his debut album was released, Gris-Gris, and his stage show combined New Orleans rhythm and blues with psychedelic rock and roll, complete with voodoo costumes and religious ceremonies. The album featured Dr. John on vocals and keyboards, with support from other artists on instruments from guitar to saxophone to flute to bongos – many of the artists were brought into Los Angeles from New Orleans for the recording. The album did not chart, but it later was acclaimed by the critics – Rolling Stone ranked it at #356 on its Greatest Albums of All Time list.
  • Three more albums followed from 1969 to 1971 that had a similar style – Babylon, Remedies and The Sun, Moon & Herbs. The latter album was his first to chart (barely), and it included Eric Clapton on guitar and Mick Jagger on backing vocals. In 1972, he released Dr. John’s Gumbo. This album began his transition away from the voodoo persona into more traditional New Orleans R&B. All but one song from the album were covers of R&B standards. It included his first single to chart on the Hot 100, Iko Iko, which reached #71.
  • After releasing a collaboration album in 1973 with Mike Bloomfield and John Hammond Jr., Dr. John released his most successful album, In the Right Place. The album peaked at #24 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and it included his classic funk song, Right Place, Wrong Time. The song reached #9 on the Hot 100, and it was used in numerous film, television shows and video games. The album established Dr. John as the face of New Orleans funk. His follow-up album, 1974’s Desitively Bonnaroo, had a similar funk sound, but it failed to catch on to the mainstream. One single, (Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away, barely charted on the Hot 100, and it was his last single to chart.
  • From 1975 to 2014, Dr. John released 24 more studio albums as well as nine live albums. He also contributed to over 50 recordings by dozens of other artists during this time. During his later years, he won six Grammy awards, including three “best albums” in the blues category – Goin’ Back to New Orleans in 1992, City that Care Forgot in 2008 and Locked Down in 2013. His final album in 2014 was a tribute album to Louis Armstrong titled Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch. In 2011, Dr. John was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Right Place, Wrong Time was a personal fave of mine as a teenager. Watch Clapton and Dr. John perform the classic on VH1 Duets in 1996. This is cool! Clapton’s blues guitar is awesome (of course).

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