DR JOHN'S brand of blues piano has seen him collaborate with everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Beta Band. Now, Glasgow bows down on the return of the Mac. Words: Rodger Evans
'l was definitely reared up to respect the music we play and to play the music we respect.’
BEFORE DR JOHN'S MEMOIR Under A Hum/(m Moon was published in 199-1. two chapters were removed because his sister feared somebody would put a contract out on him. Damnation was not deemed a good career move.
llaving started out playing strip joints in the 50s. he recorded (iris (iris. a fantastically phantasimigoric debut album in the late ()(lS shadow of the Manson family. Thirty years later. he's hanging out with Liza Minnelli at the (irammys and making an LP with the likes of the Beta Band and Primal Scream.
A newcomer to the block he ain't.
The kid born Mac Rebennack in 1940 New Orleans grew up to be a precocious session man; a musicians‘ musician who played with everyone that ever mattered (step forward Aretha. Jimi and Bob).
He has a million stories. not all of them libellous. yet shows a shaman‘s disregard for the limitations of time and space. ‘I don't live in a time zone where I remember what was spoken about in a previous time.’ says the Doc in a voice that would have Tom Waits reaching for the throat lozenges. ‘We‘re in the moment right here and five minutes later that's forgot.‘
Over the years Rebennack has seen a good number of his friends and contemporaries pass away through age or a chemical lifestyle. That he has become an icon for his joyful synthesis of soul. jazz and blues could not have been foreseen at the height of his own hedonism. So what is the secret to his longevity? ‘I think just the fact that I lived this long.. he croaks. deadpan as you like. ‘Some of us on this planet are more geared to survival than others.‘
His new album is a tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington. whose l()()th anniversary has just passed. Duke Elegant is a work that has been described as both respectful and playful. lts maker concurs. ‘l was definitely reared up to respect the music we play and to play the music we respect so I guess that would take in both of those.‘
Dr John‘s own work has been self-styled as ‘just plain down to earth
happy time music‘. Absurdly modest. I suggest. but he’s having none of it. ‘llold on. guy. if people ain‘t having a good time. I don’t know what we‘re out there playing for. New Orleans music is there to make you dance and have a good time. It dances through the spirit and crosses through this old meat world and comes out the other end and when it hits
someone . . . it‘s the intergalactic language.’
Space is the place. then. for Dr John; a
2 philosophy that drew him close to the late Sun Ra. i' experimental jazz artist and fellow astral planer. They shared conga players as well as a sense of mischief. ‘l‘ve got a great memory of watching a jazz and blues festival one year and this punk rock guy jumped off the stage. It was about seventeen feet high and he must have been used to the audience catching him. but they backed away and . . me and Sunny‘s watching this and rolling around.’
Even more out there than Sun Ra was Frank Zappa, a man the Doc found brilliant. if inscrutable. “His guitar player told me you can’t be high around this guy
. . . I said “you gotta be crazy"! I used to
live in a hotel when l was working with
Frank that was like nothing but pimps
and hos and dope dealers and. man. they
would get nervous when Zappa came by to pick me up. He was a real hip thinking cat.‘ Feline groovy with Dr
Dr John plays Glasgow Old Fruitmarket on Fri 25 Feb.