At the age of 72, Mac Rebennack, more popularly known as Dr. John, is making music which falls somewhere in-between voodoo blues and swanky rock and roll. While the Dr. has been making records for years, his most recent release, Locked Down, has a very different sound than we are accustomed to hearing from him. His roots still fall deep into the sounds of the bayou, however, there is a bit more rock and roll grit on this album. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the collaboration between the two blues artists happened to be a perfect match and left us with an album honoring the funk of New Orleans with a fresh modern twist on its history. The album starts off with the title track Locked Down, which feels a bit primal, but is the perfect kick-off to what will become a very creative listening experience. Longtime fans will appreciate the legendary raspy songbird vocals he is so well known for. The entire album will captivate you with honest lyrics, perfectly supported by angelic female harmonies. Heavy guitar and horns bring the musical story full circle.
Locked Down may have taken the Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2013, but this is by far not his first accomplishment. Using his voodoo charms, Dr John has been bringing mind-blowing sounds to happy ears for over 50 years. Starting at an early age, he was playing guitar and piano quite well by his teens. It didn’t take long until he found himself collaborating with musicians he met at his father’s record store. By the 1960s he had packed his bags, left New Orleans, and relocated to Los Angeles where his music career continued to evolve. In 1968, well into his career as a songwriter and studio musician, he revealed his new persona as “Dr. John”. The rest has become history.
Throughout his musical career, he has recorded over 20 albums. His face has appeared on multiple magazine covers, including Rolling Stone. In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Dr. has won 6 Grammy’s, including this year’s Best Blues Album. He recently held a 3 week residency titled Insides Out at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. He has collaborated and performed with countless musicians, including the 2013 Grammy performance with the Black Keys and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He has shared records with Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin and Mick Jagger. He helped form AFO (All for One) Records. He has made the Billboard Top 100 list several times. He has written jingles and sitcom theme songs (i.e. Blossom) and has had his hands in every aspect of the business. His very personal artistic expressions of New Orleans has grown a strong cult following. Jim Henson’s Dr.Teeth was even based off the legend. He has collaborated, influenced and awed us with his offbeat talents.
Dr. John has accomplished more than most could ever dream of. His song, Big Shot sums it up best with, “Ain’t nobody gonna’ be like me. I’m the big shot.” It seems that even after all of his success he is still very much in tune with himself. While stardom may swallow up most, Dr. John is a humble man who just wants to go fishing when he’s not playing music.
We caught up with the very busy man and asked him a few questions. Here is what he had to say:
TUBE: What is your first memory of being exposed to music?
Dr. John: I remember my Daddy when he had his record shop… he played me this record by Big Joe Turner. It was called Piney Brown and I remember the way that Pete Johnson played the piano then and I just wanted to be Pete Johnson.
TUBE: The journey that brought you so much success today was full of its ups and downs. If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, would you do it the same?
Dr. John: Maybe I would’ve learned how to make some money playin’ music. I believe this music business is a total racket. It might have been a good idea to learn sooner how to protect myself. And maybe I could even help my fellow musicians to make wiser decisions.
TUBE: How did you feel the first time you got on stage? Were you full of nerves or confidence? And do you still feel the same excitement today?
Dr. John: I really don’t remember the first time I got on stage… But, I probably played some things with my guitar teacher A.J. Guma when I was studying with him. I have no memory of how I felt. I guess I felt fine…I don’t know. It’s too long ago. I don’t ever feel exited to get on stage. I just let the music take my spirit. I just try to work the house and do the things that my predecessors did. I look at people like Cousin Joe and Google Eyes as inspirational.
TUBE: Who or what is your greatest love?
Dr. John: Obviously, I must love music. When I’m not playin’ music, I love to fish and maybe I will trap some game.
TUBE: We have to ask, how were the Grammys?
Dr. John: It was nice winning the Grammy and it was nice havin’ Dan come up and jawjerk with me and for me. It was kinda’ nice jamming with Dan Auerbach with some old partners from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.