#356: Gris-Gris, Dr. John
Dr. John, the Night Tripper. Sounds spooky, right? Well, his real name was Mac Rebbenack and he went to Jesuit high school.
Don’t let that make you think he isn’t legit, though. Eric Clapton was a fan of his — in fact, Dr. John plays on Clapton’s section of the “supersession” Music From Free Creek. He was also already an accomplished session musician.
The Dr. John moniker was originally conceived as a project centered around New Orleans musical heritage, and Rebbenack wasn’t even supposed to be the frontman, just the musical brains. But after New Orleans singer Ronnie Barron dropped out, he took on the mantle himself. The project was named for a Haitian man named Dr. John Montaine, who is sometimes known as “the Father” of New Orleans voodoo. And label Atlanta was extremely not excited about it. They basically had to steal studio time from Sonny & Cher.
This was recorded in California but most of the musicians Rebbenack uses were lifted straight from New Orleans, making the swamp-bayou-funk as authentic as it is beautiful. (And they’re all billed as “Doctor” this, “Senator” that.) He holds up some genuine New Orleans artifacts on “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya,” then sings some chanting tunes like “Danse Fambeaux” and “Croker Courtbullion.” (Extra points to “Danse Kalinda Ba Doom” for the mandolin solo.)
He’s got a few tunes devoted to witchy swamp women (“Mama Roux” and “Jump Sturdy”) but mostly he stays on the theme of dark mysticism. See the gem “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” or as I like to call it, “Seven-Minutes-in-Creepy-Heaven.” The call and response section of ’Til I burn up is burned on the inside of my skull.
Atlanta may have balked at the idea of releasing his debut, calling it “boogaloo crap,” but this record launched an insanely prolific career. Rebbenack put out more music than the Beatles. Just goes to show, record labels need to find another career.
Fun Fact: Bonnaroo Music Festival was named after one of his albums, Desitively Bonnaroo.