Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Malcolm Rebennack, 21 November 1941, New Orleans; d 6 June 2019) Guitarist, pianist, singer, composer, producer, aka Dr John. Brought up on country music in his father's record shop, he took up guitar and became a session player on local Ace, Rex, Ebb labels; played on records with Joe Tex, Huey Smith, Professor Longhair, Frankie Ford, others; wrote 'Lights Out' for Jerry Byrne, a legendary local hit with Art Neville on piano; 'What's Goin' On' for Neville, 'Lady Luck' for Lloyd Price (no. 14 pop hit '60), 'Losing Battle' for Johnny Adams (top 30 R&B hit '62 on Ric). He cut an instrumental 'Storm Warning' for Rex '59, subsequently recording as Morgus and the Three Ghouls, with Ronnie Barron as Drits and Dravy as well as under his own name, but that career suffered from Crow Jim (he was the only white on the circuit).

He went to Los Angels and linked with his former employer Harold Battiste, now MD for Sonny and Cher; he produced Jesse Hill, Shirley Goodman (of Shirley and Lee) and worked with Hill as the Zu Zu Blues Band on A&M. Signed to Atlantic/Atco as Dr John Creaux the Night Tripper (after Professor Longhair and Beatles' 'Day Tripper'), recording a mix of voodoo, tongue-in-cheek mumbo jumbo: Gris Gris '68 was made on Sonny and Cher studio time, Rebennack figuring that if Sonny Bono could sing anybody could. It included 'Walk On Gilded Splinters', covered by Marsha Hunt, Johnny Jenkins, Humble Pie. Babylon '69, Remedies '70, Sun, Moon And Herbs '71 ploughed a similar furrow, the music owing more to Longhair than to voodoo; Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton guested on the last, which made the top 200 LPs. Having got himself into the mainstream as Dr John he subsequently soft-pedalled the funny costumes, but whether sporting flowing robes and makeup or tweed jacket and beret, he had become a New Orleans legend. Dr John's Gumbo '72 (reissued '86 on Alligator's new Rockback series) returned to a straight R&B oldies approach, including minor hit 'Iko Iko' (covered by Belle Stars, etc), covers of Longhair, Huey Smith, with all-star New Orleans cast included Lee Allen and Battiste on reeds, Goodman in the chorus, many others. He then linked with Allen Toussaint and backing group the Meters to produce In The Right Place '73 (top 25 LP with no. 9 hit 'Right Place Wrong Time') and Desitively Bonaroo '74, anthologized as I Been Hoodoo'd '84 on Edsel UK. He also made an eponymous album with short-lived Triumvirate '73 on CBS, a trio with Mike Bloomfield an John Hammond Jr.

He left Atlantic, continued to tour and record sporadically; contributed to Van Morrison's Period Of Transition '77, guested on the The Band's film/concert/album The Last Waltz '78. Albums on Clean Cuts Dr John Plays Mac Rebennack '81 (solo piano) and The Brightest Smile In Town (with more vocals) (both on Demon/Fiend UK). Among a great many appearances as guest or sideman he played and sang on Donald Harrison's Indian Blues '91. His own albums included In A Sentimental Mood '89 on WEA (standards arranged by Ralph Burns and Marty Paich, with guests David Newman and Hugh McCracken, duet with Rickie Lee Jones on 'Makin' Whoopie'), Goin' Back To New Orleans '92, Television '94 on MCA/GRP with guests including David 'Fathead' Newman, Afterglow '95 on Blue Thumb; Trippin' Live '97 as Dr John on Eagle was his first live album. Two-CD Mos'Scocious on Rhino surveyed his career including Morgus, Ronnie and the Delinquents, Roland Stone. He lived in NYC since the early '70s; published memoir Under A Hoodoo Moon '94.