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Dr John (Official Thread)

Discussion in 'Blues & Jazz' started by Flower, Mar 20, 2010.

  1. Flower

    Flower retired

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    Biography

    Combining New Orleans funk, glitter, and voodoo charm, pianist Dr. John was an energetic frontman in the early '70s ("Right Place, Wrong Time") and a behind-the-scenes mover before and since.

    Rebennack got his first taste of show biz through his mother, a model who got young Malcolm's face on Ivory Soap boxes; his father ran a record store. By his early teens he was an accomplished pianist and guitarist. From hanging around his dad's store and at Cosimo Matassa’s studio, he got to know local musicians.

    By the mid-’50s he was doing session work with Professor Longhair, Frankie Ford, and Joe Tex. He also helped form the black artists’ cooperative AFO (All for One) Records, and he was the first white man on the roster. By the start of the ’60s he had graduated to producing and arranging sessions for others (Lee Allen, Red Tyler, Earl Palmer) and recording some on his own (notably 1959’s “Storm Warning” on Rex Records). Rebennack’s reputation was based on his guitar and keyboard playing, but a hand wound suffered in a 1961 barroom gunfight forced him to take up bass with a Dixieland band.

    In the mid-’60s Rebennack moved to L.A. and became a session regular, notably for producer Phil Spector. He played in various unsuccessful, wildly named bands like the Zu Zu Band (with Jessie Hill) and Morgus and the Three Ghouls. He also developed an interest in voodoo, to which he had been introduced by a mystical voodoo artist named Prince Lala in the ’50s at AFO. In 1968 Rebennack unveiled his new public persona of Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper (later shortened to Dr. John) after a New Orleans crony, Ronnie Barron, decided not to front the act. With New Orleans associates (Hill as Dr. Poo Pah Doo and Harold Battiste as Dr. Battiste of Scorpio of bass clef), he recorded Gris-Gris for Atlantic in 1968. As indicated by the song titles - “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” “Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya,” “Croker Courtbouillion” - it was a brew of traditional Creole chants, mystical imagery, and traces of psychedelia, an influence underscored by Rebennack’s onstage wardrobe (brightly colored robes, feathered headdresses, and a Mardi Gras–style retinue of dancers and singers).

    Dr. John slowly acquired a loyal cult following, including Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, who played on The Sun, Moon & Herbs. He moved to the more accessible regions of funk (backed by the Meters) on In the Right Place (#24, 1973). Produced by Allen Toussaint (who also played in Dr. John’s band on a 1973 tour and who produced Desitively Bonnaroo) “Right Place, Wrong Time” (#9) was his biggest hit, followed a few months later by “Such a Night” (#42). In 1973 Dr. John also worked in Triumvirate, a short-lived trio with Mike Bloomfield and John Hammond Jr. (John Paul Hammond). He appeared in the Band’s 1978 farewell concert film, The Last Waltz. In 1981 he released the first of several solo piano LPs, Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack.

    In the late ’80s, Dr. John began reaching back to his New Orleans roots - while also subtly mainstreaming his appeal. His 1989 In a Sentimental Mood collected old blues and saloon standards, and earned him his first Grammy, for his duet with Rickie Lee Jones on “Makin’ Whoopee!” Bluesianna Triangle detoured into jazz, with drummer Art Blakey and saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, while Goin’ Back to New Orleans - with a cast of New Orleans all-stars featuring Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Danny Barker, Alvin “Red” Tyler, and the Neville Brothers - won him another Grammy. By that time his gruff baritone voice had become familiar to millions through a succession of TV commercial jingles. In 1991 rap group P.M. Dawn sampled from one of Dr. John’s oldest tracks, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters”; two years later Beck sampled the same track for his folk-rap slacker anthem, “Loser.” In 1993 Dr. John published his autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon. Anutha Zone (1998) features a range of guests, notably members of the U.K. space-rock band Spiritualized.


    from The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001)


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  2. Flower

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    Re: Dr John

    Gris-Gris is the debut album by Dr. John (Mac Rebennack). Produced by Harold Battiste, it was released on Atco Records in 1968. The musical style of Gris-Gris is a hybrid of New Orleans rhythm and blues and psychedelic rock. Despite the New Orleans style, it was recorded in California with several native New Orleans musicians.

    Gris-Gris failed to chart in the United Kingdom and the United States. It was re-issued on compact disc decades later and received much greater praise from modern critics, including being listed at #143 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.



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  3. Flower

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    Re: Dr John

    LINER NOTES FOR DR. JOHN'S GRIS-GRIS
    By Richie Unterberger

    When Dr. John's Gris-Gris hit the rock underground in 1968, it wasn't certain whether its master of ceremonies had landed from outer space, or just been dredged out of hibernation from the Louisiana swamps. The blend of druggy deep blues, incantational background vocals, exotic mandolin and banjo trills, ritualistic percussion, interjections of free jazz, and Dr. John's own seductive-yet-menacing growl was like a psychedelic voodoo ceremony invading your living room. You could be forgiven for suspecting it of having been surreptitiously recorded in some afterhours den of black magic, the perpetuators of this misdeed risking life-threatening curses for having exposed these secret soundtracks to the public at large.

    In fact Gris-Gris was recorded surreptitiously, but not in some New Orleans house of sin. It was laid down in the famed Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, where Phil Spector had cut many of his classics. It might have never come to pass at all had Dr. John and his co-conspirators not managed to wrangle some free studio time that had been originally earmarked for Sonny & Cher sessions. The resulting album nonetheless sounded as authentically New Orleans as a midnight Mardi Gras stroll though the French Quarter. Given the circumstances, that achievement was just as magical as anything the most powerful voodoo ritual could have wrought.

    Gris-Gris was the first record credited to Dr. John, and to most listeners he seemed to have dropped out of nowhere with his mystical R&B psychedelia and Mardi Gras Indian costumes. The album, however, was actually the culmination of about 15 years of professional experience, during which Dr. John -- born Mac Rebennack in New Orleans -- had absorbed the wealth of musical influences for which the Crescent City is famed. Gris-Gris's roots reach back well beyond the dawn of the twentieth century, even as the album took in cutting-edge influences such as 1960s progressive jazz, and pushed into territory that no popular musician had ever explored in quite the same fashion.

    "Gris-Gris" itself is a New Orleans term for voodoo, and the name Dr. John taken from a New Orleans root doctor of the 1840s and 1850s. Also known as John Montaigne and Bayou John, he was busted in the 1840s for practicing voodoo with Pauline Rebennack, who may or may not have been a distant relative of our man Mac. One of Mac's grandfathers sang in a minstrel show, and the latter-day Dr. John adapted one of grandpa's favorite tunes, "Jump Sturdy," into the track on Gris-Gris of the same name. His onstage costumes and feathered headdresses, the source of shock and delight to audiences since the late 1960s, are similarly adapted from those worn by Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, famed for the infectious tribal percussive rhythms and chants they perform in local parades.

    By the mid-1950s Mac Rebennack, still in his mid-teens, was busy gigging around the New Orleans area, absorbing more contemporary influences from jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, and rock and roll. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the multi-instrumentalist participated in a myriad of New Orleans R&B and rock records as a session musician, songwriter, and producer. After battles with drug problems and the law, he moved to Los Angeles in 1965, joining an expatriate community of top New Orleans session dudes on the Hollywood studio circuit. Rebennack scrounged for survival by playing on L.A. pop and rock sessions, getting much of his work with the help of arranger (and fellow New Orleanian) Harold Battiste. Numerous recordings on which Rebennack played, sometimes as the featured artist, from the decade predating Gris-Gris have surfaced on compilations such as Medical School and Cut Me While I'm Hot . Though of historical interest, and sometimes of considerable musical worth, these enjoyable but journeyman R&B/rock sides gave little indication of the idiosyncratic genius unveiled on Gris-Gris.

    Ever since coming to L.A., Rebennack had hoped to make a concept album of sorts melding various strains of New Orleans music behind a frontman named Dr. John. Mac actually wanted New Orleans singer Ronnie Barron to be the Dr. John character, but when Barron was (fortunately) unavailable, Rebennack took on the Dr. John mantle himself. Harold Battiste, now a major Hollywood name as arranger for Sonny & Cher, got Dr. John some of the duo's studio time for free, and also helped get Mac a deal with Atlantic for an LP. Had Atlantic known what was up it probably would have pulled the plug on the project. However, the album was completed, with help from Battiste (who produced and played clarinet) and numerous side musicians. These included transplanted New Orleans veterans like Jessie Hill (renowned for "Ooh Poo Pah Doo"), Shirley Goodman (half of Shirley & Lee of "Let the Good Times Roll" fame), saxophonist Plas Johnson, and Richard "Didimus" Washington, a percussionist who was particularly skilled at devising Afro-Caribbean rhythms and textures. Two basses were used on some songs, which together with the army of percussionists (eight are credited) created an especially deep and thick rhythm section.

    The opening track's title, "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya," was itself an indication of the record's homage to New Orleans eclecticism: the gris-gris voodoo, the gumbo (the regional stew made from numerous ingredients), and "Ya Ya," the title of one of the biggest hits to ever come out of the city (by Lee Dorsey). Rebennack wasted no time in assuming his new identity, immediately declaring "they call me Dr. John, known as the Night Tripper," his half-sung growl a white swamp counterpart to Howlin' Wolf. The snaky rhythms, soulful backup choruses, and ghostly echoing percussion set an eerie mood that if anything got spookier on "Danse Kalinda Ba Doom," its speaking-in-tongues ensemble vocals and middle eastern-by-way-of-New Orleans melodies establishing a quasi-religious ambience that permeated the record. "Mama Roux," by contrast, was deep-fried soul-funk, Gris-Gris 's hit single-that-never-was. It was back to the Bayou jungle, though, for "Danse Fambeaux," with its potion of Mardi Gras Indianesque chants, minstrel strings, impenetrable spell-casting lyrics, and mysterious melody.

    The album's mischievous musical chairs were never as entrancing as they were on "Croker Courtbullion," with snake-charming flute and chants, Addams Family-styled keyboards (by Dr. John, who played all the keys on Gris-Gris), and free jazzy interplay revealing Rebennack's little-known admiration of musicians such as John Coltrane and Elvin Jones. As if these weren't enough, there were also birdcalls and animal noises that sound like nothing so much as a futuristic mating of Professor Longhair and Martin Denny. "Jump Sturdy" was a relatively brief, and quite infectious, marriage of vaudeville and funk. The closing eight-minute tour de force, "I Walk on Gilded Splinters," would prove the album's most durable song, a creepy voodoo soup that both smoldered with ominous foreboding and simmered with temptations of sensual delights.

    Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun was initially reluctant to release Gris-Gris, exclaiming, according to Dr. John's autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon, "How can we market this boogaloo crap?" Luckily, he relented, inaugurating an erratic career that saw Dr. John grow into an institution as a walking encyclopedia of New Orleans music. For the most part, his subsequent recordings were far more grounded in blues and R&B, never matching the versatile adventurousness of his debut full-length. Hard to find in its original form as an Atco LP, and only sporadically reissued since, Collectors' Choice Music is proud to make this classic available on CD for the first time in the United States. -- Richie Unterberger

     
  4. METALPRIEST

    METALPRIEST Senior Member

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    Re: Dr John

    Nice thread...I gotta add his performace of Iko Iko with Ringo and the All Starrs!!

     
  5. LG

    LG Fade To Black

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    Re: Dr John

    I am only familiar with one of his songs Flower..."Right Place,,,Wrong Time", but one of those unmistakable voices, as soon as you hear him you know it's Dr. John.

    Number of his albums in the library...none. I should get a couple of his songs at least.:think:
     
  6. Flower

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  7. LG

    LG Fade To Black

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    Re: Dr John

    You are right Flower, normally I don't but there are some good ones that provide all the songs you want by an artist you like but are not crazy about.

    Thanks for the info.:D
     
  8. Flower

    Flower retired

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    Re: Dr John

    Some interesting Dr. John duets ~







     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2010
  9. Flower

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    Re: Dr John

    Dr John covering some tunes ~




     
  10. Flower

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    Re: Dr John

     

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