Dr. John still has the prescription for the blues; voodoo psych rock
A legendary songwriter and eccentric showman, Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr. is best known to the rest of us as Dr. John. Now 73, he has been making music since the 1950s. His crazy concoctions of blues, jazz, zydeco and possessed voodoo psychedelia extend more than 30 records and countless collaborations. He’s performed with the Stones, Sonny and Cher, Zappa and Spiritualized. One of the Muppets was even created in his likeness (Dr. Teeth). In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, in 2013, received an honorary degree from Tulane and a Grammy for Best Blues Album for “Locked Down,” recorded and co-written with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. John …
METRO: Hello sir. How are you?
DR. JOHN: I’m breathin’. I was trying to get this record mixed. It’s all a complicated bunch of procedures when you’re making records.
So you’re already working on a new album?
Well, it’s a tribute to Louis Armstrong. Louis came to me in a dream and said, “Do my stuff your way.” And that’s what I did. We’ll finish it up pretty soon I think. And hopefully they’ll put it out when they do.
The last time we spoke, you had just released your record about Katrina. Now that more time has passed, do you see a new New Orleans?
Well, in some ways it’s like the whole lower Ninth Ward — they haven’t done anything. It’s been pretty much left to its own devices and that’s a shame. There were so many musicians — I’m looking at a picture of one now, Alvin Robertson. There were just so many musicians that were from there, you know. I wonder what they’d think to see that whole neighborhood is gone. That’s sad to me. But listen, we’re gonna make the people warmer when we get there.
When you recorded “Locked Down,” did you see it as a return to the psychedelic blues of your early work? How influential was Dan Auerbach?
Well, actually Dan was thinking of some of the stuff like that. I think he did an excellent job. We had met a couple of times before we did this thing and then we played this Bonnaroo festival. I had played with Allen Toussaint and the Meters, but I also did some things with Dan and some other guys. We had a good time. Actually, he is an old-school cat. I mean he’s a lot older than his age … and that’s a good thing.
You’ve received some amazing accolades recently. Did any of them take you by surprise?
They were all surprises to me, but I have tons of surprises in my life and that’s a good thing. Everything takes me by surprise. I was surprised back in the day when I won the Memphis Blues Award. I used to announce that with Rufus Thomas. I used to have a great time with some of the old guys. Man, I miss them. A lot of people that I came up with is gone. And that’s how it goes, you know. We here one day and we ain’t the next.