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Dr. John, born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack on November 21st 1940, is an American singer-songwriter, pianist and guitarist. His music is an eclectic crossover of blues, pop and jazz with hints of boogie woogie.
Dr. John found inspiration in the minstrel songs sung by his grandfather and other family members who also played piano. He didn’t have a lesson before his adolescence and was in a choir for a short period before getting kicked out. It was his father who exposed him to jazz musicians such as King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.
At age 16 he was recruited by Johnny Vincent as a producer at Ace Records. It was there that he worked with artists such as James Booker and Earl King. In the late 1950s, he concentrated on the guitar and gigged with local bands including Mac Rebennack and the Skyliners. Frankie Ford and the Thunderbirds and Jerry Byrne and the Loafers. Unfortunately, his career as a guitarist came to an end when his left ring finger was injured by a gunshot whilst defending his band mate and long time friend, Ronnie Barron. After the injury, he concentrated on bass guitar before making piano his first instrument.
In was in the late 1960s that he started to gain recognition as a solo artist after adopting the persona of “Dr. John, The Night Tripper”. He blended rhythm and blues with psychedelic rock and huge stage shows that were border lining on religious ceremonies. “Gris-Gris”, his debut album combining voodoo rhythms and chants with New Orleans music tradition was ranked 143rd on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. It was on his album “The Sun, Moon, and Herbs”, when he had earned himself a cult following that he had Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger both in for sessions for the album.
In the mid 1970s, Rebennack began focusing on a blend of Tin Pan Alley standards and New Orleans R&B, out of this came the album “Hollywood Be Thy Name” released on October 6th 1975.
He gained some film credits such as his version of the Donovan song “Season of the Witch” which was featured in Blues Brothers 2000 and “Cruella de Vil” during the end credits of 101 Dalmations.
Dr. John has many accolades to his name, and has continued to be hard working throughout his career. In 2014, he released his Louis Armstrong tribute album “Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch” on Concord Records on August 19th.