In the blues mainstream, guitars run the game, but New Orleans is a piano town, with a heaped helping of horns on the side. The Mississippi Delta was the birthplace of the blues, but New Orleans was the cradle of both jazz and funk, and – in terms of its music, cuisine, language and all manner of cultural traditions – it’s pretty much a law unto itself.
Mac Rebennack was a musician/hustler – the top joint of his left-hand third finger was once shot off; thankfully it was surgically reattached, albeit wonkily – who became a fixture on the local studio scene, playing piano or guitar.
In 1968, producer Harold Battiste created his second great scam (the first being to somehow convince the world that the shorter, uglier half of Sonny & Cher was a genius) when he helped transform Rebennack into a reincarnation of 19th-century voodoo priest Dr John Creaux on a ‘voodoo-rock’ album called Gris-Gris.
Since then, both ‘Mac’ and ‘Doc’ have created stacks of superb albums (including not a few ‘collaborations’ in which the two sensibilities fused, notably Goin’ Back To New Orleans), alternating with session stints for, among others, BB King, Marianne Faithfull, Ringo Starr, Johnny Winter and Stephen Dale Petit. Desitively bonnaroo or what?
The perfect introduction
In the absence of a complete collection, newcomers should start with a taste of Gumbo.
The releases that built his reputation
Dr John Plays Mac Rebennack (Demon)
Solid gold on the ivories.
The Best Of The Parlophone Years (Parlophone)
An always-funky compilation.
- Dr John tribute to star Allman and Staples
- Buyer’s Guide: Jazz Rock
- Allen Toussaint 1938 - 2015
- The 11 best Tom Waits songs, by Brian Fallon
Worth a look
Sippiana Hericane (Parlophone)
Mini-album shows huge talent.
Creole Moon (Parlophone)
The pick of the Parlophone years.
Like the plague
Hollywood Be Thy Name (One Way Records)
A live album you can happily live without.