RIP to a true New Orleans legend, Dr. John.
From the Times-Picayune:
Dr. John, whose given name was Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. and who was also called Mac, was born in New Orleans, a place that schooled him in the jazz, R&B, rock and roll, jump blues, funk and Mardi Gras Indian sounds that would come to shape his music. Mr. Rebennack was a man whose style and outlook were shaped, too, by voodoo, that mysterious and mystical spiritualism that developed from the city’s Afro-Caribbean roots. And in New Orleans, that meant he stood out so much he fit right in.
Mr. Rebennack was born big and a month late — just before Thanksgiving 1941 — which gave his mother license to call the young tot her “Thanksgiving turkey,” according to “Under a Hoodoo Moon,” Mr. Rebennack’s autobiography (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1994). His earliest years were spent with his family shuffling from home to home until they landed in the 3rd Ward, and it was his grandfather who first introduced the would-be pianist to music.
(Note: As writer John Wirt reported for NOLA.com, contrary to the many sources that cite his birthdate as Nov. 21, 1940, Rebennack’s real birthday is Nov. 20, 1941. The Times-Picayune’s Records of the Day column, published Nov. 27, 1941, lists the birth of M.J. Rebennack, a boy, at Baptist Hospital.)
In an early memory recounted in “Under a Hoodoo Moon,” Mr. Rebennack writes that he would listen to his grandfather, who performed in minstrel shows as a younger man, sing: “I been hoodooed/ I been hoodooed / Somebody done put a jinx on me.”
His aunt Andre, who was tuned into what was hot at the time, became his first piano teacher, playing “St. James Infirmary” and “Everybody Loves My Baby.”
The music stayed with him, and a version of that song later landed on “In the Right Place.”
As he grew up, Mr. Rebennack would favor nightclubs, drugs and trouble-making over schooling, picking up a musical education instead as his ear turned to New Orleans’ natural teachers on stages and in barrooms around the city, like the Pepper Pot and the Cadillac Club. In those hazy venues and in local recording studios, he met Professor Longhair, Papa Celestin, Dave Bartholomew, the Basin Street Six, Walter “Papoose” Nelson, Roy Montrell and others.
“Yeah, I studied everybody that I could study,” he told music writer John Wirt in an April 2017 feature. “Hey, they was great pardners of mine. Back then, that was life.”
Read more here.
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