Dr. John 1941 – 2019
Famed New Orleans musician Dr. John died on Thursday after suffering a heart attack. “The Night Tripper” was 77-years-old. News of Dr. John’s passing was confirmed on his social media feeds.
Malcolm John Rebennack was born in New Orleans on November 20, 1941. Rebennack started performing in Crescent City clubs as a youngster and was particularly inspired by fellow New Orleanian Professor Longhair, whom he met at age 13. Mac dropped out of high school to focus on performing at night clubs with a number of local acts including his own outfit Mac Rebennack & The Skyliners. While at first Mac was known for his guitar playing, an injury to his left ring finger led him to move to bass guitar and eventually piano as his primary instrument.
Rebennack served two years in jail on drug charges in the early ’60s and headed to Los Angeles after his release. There, he became part of the “Wrecking Crew,” a collective of studio musicians who contributed to a bevy of hit recordings. Among his studio work during his time in Los Angeles were appearances on Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention’s debut album Freak Out! and Canned Heat’s 1968 LP Living The Blues.
In 1968, Mac put out his own debut album, Gris-Gris, in which he embraced the Dr. John persona that was heavily influenced by New Orleans’ music and culture. He went on to release over 20 more albums and gained a following thanks to his dynamic and artistic live performances. The ’70s were the peak of his career as he put out such iconic LPs as 1972’s Dr. John’s Gumbo, 1973’s In The Right Place and 1974’s Destively Bonnaroo. The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, which was first held in 2002 and continues through the present, took its name from the latter. He achieved his biggest hit with “Right Place, Wrong Time,” a 1973 single that peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Other notable compositions include “Such A Night,” “What Comes Around (Goes Around)” and “I Walk On Guilded Splinters.”
Dr. John has collaborated with a number of luminaries from multiple genres. Perhaps his most acclaimed guest appearance took place at The Last Waltz, The Band’s farewell concert on November 25, 1976. Mac led The Band through “Such A Night” and also performed on “Down South In New Orleans.” Additionally, Rebennack made cameos on albums from Gregg Allman, B.B. King, Ringo Starr and Leon Redbone in the past few decades, a time in which he took part in many charity concerts including the Shelter From The Storm: A Concert For The Gulf Coast telethon that raised money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In 2011, Dr. John was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He also won six Grammy Awards and earned a doctorate from Tulane University. Rebennack continued to perform live into 2017. JamBase sends its thoughts to Mac’s friends and family. Details of a memorial have yet to be announced. Here’s the statement from Dr. John’s Instagram page: