Okay, Mac Rebennack’s dead, which means so is Dr. John, which means no more gumbo music, no more funkificated word coinages, no more “mos’ scociouses,” no more “desitively bonnaroos.”
Unique is too weak a word. Dig this from his Nite Tripper days:
Although Dr. John put on great shows right up until recently (I’ve seen him three times over the last twenty years), I think his best album is 1974’s Desitively Bonnaroo. Music critic Nick Deriso: “Even today, there’s really no roadmap for the crazy-eyed co-mingling of R&B, jazz, island beats, blues, boogie funk and hoodoo whackadoo splashed across this LP, recorded alongside fellow New Orleans legends Allen Toussaint and the Meters more than 35 years ago.”
I still got the copy I copped from a sidewalk record sale in ’76. Take a peek at the musicians, if you’re interested, while you listen to a snippet of the title song.
The first time I saw Dr. John live was at an outdoor street festival, again in Columbia, and I’ll never forget his entrance, sporting canary yellow socks, bopping his cane on the sidewalk, strut-dancing his way up the piano to play and croak and banter.
After Katrina, my friends Jake, Keith, and my late wife Judy Birdsong saw him at the Newberry Opera house. You could see Katrina had taken a toll, and he kept saying throughout the show, “They put me on psych meds.” That was back in his way-over-weight days, and he occasionally got up from the piano and do these gyrations that didn’t quite qualify as a dance.
In 2013, I saw him for the last time at the Leaf Festival where he played the guitar. He had started out as a guitarist until he got a finger shot in a scuffle and turned to the piano.
Given his hanging out in smokey bars and strip clubs since his teens, his three-decade heroin addiction, his doing some time in prison, I doubt that Mac would ever dream he’d make it to 77, a lucky number. At any rate, he follows Professor Longhair, Earl King, and James Booker, whom Dr. John once described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”
So long, old friend. Gonna miss your music, gonna miss your rap.