Remembering Dr. John

November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019

 

A tribute to the influential and popular New Orleans singer-pianist

Dr. John, a major performer for over 60 years, passed away on June 6, 2019 at the age of 77.

Born Malcom John Rebennack on November 20, 1941in New Orleans, Louisiana, Dr. John had a wide ranging career as a singer, pianist and songwriter, ranging through the years from blues and jazz to pop and funk.

Exposed to New Orleans jazz from an early age, he learned guitar and piano, and was inspired by Professor Longhair both musically and in his image.

A professional musician by the time he was 13, he was a producer for the Ace label at 16 while also performing regularly in clubs.

He had his first hit with 1959’s “Storm Warning,” became very busy in the studios both as a musician and a producer, had a colorful life, became a session musician in Los Angeles in 1965 (playing in the background for such acts as Sonny & Cher, Canned Heat and Frank Zappa), and developed a stage show filled with voodoo and medicine show references in which he starred as Dr. John, The Night Tripper.

His first album (1968’s Gris-Gris) sold well, he gradually shifted his music towards New Orleans r&b and funk, and he had hits with “Iko Iko,” “Such A Night” and “Right Place Wrong Time.”

Dr. John, who wrote songs with Doc Pomus for two decades, became a household name, ranging from his New Orleans funk band to traditional piano blues and some jazz projects including two solo piano albums, a Louis Armstrong tribute and Bluesiana (which teamed him with Art Blakey and David “Fathead” Newman).

He remained active up until his death from a heart attack.

Dr. John performs “Such A Night” solo in a performance from 1981.

-Scott Yanow

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