Dr. John - good for what ails you
For those of us with more than a half century under our belts, Mac Rebennack was the consummate sideman on countless blues and folk/rock albums some 30 years back. Later, as a headliner who turned out many albums of his own, he was known as Dr. John (the Night Tripper). However we remember him, the point is that we remember him: as a virtuoso interpreter of the blues, boogie-woogie, and even rock 'n' roll; as an ambassador for New Orleans, his home town; and as a crack piano player with a rich dusky voice who can transmogrify (look it up) a simple tune into a folksy, funky anthem.
Sunday night at Nectar's, those who still love the blues after all these years, and hopefully many others who are just learning to do so, will get a chance to hear a master of the genre accompanied by his full band, The Lower 9-11.
After a few experimental years in the late sixties when he established his counter-cultural credentials by blending psychedelic rock with voodoo chants, Dr. John came back from he edge. He settled in as a nuanced, encyclopedic master of the blues, specifically, and New Orleans music in general. His classic 1972 album "Gumbo" made Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the top 500 albums of all time. As Dr. John described it, "Gumbo [was] an album that was both a tribute to and my interpretation of the music I had grown up with in New Orleans in the 1940s and 1950s. I tried to keep a lot of the little changes that were characteristic of New Orleans, while working my own funknology on piano and guitar." You won't find funknology in the dictionary, but even if you're only part blueish, you know what it means.
A musician's musician, he attracted something of a cult following among his colleagues early on, including Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. Over the years he has played on or produced albums by Aretha Franklin, Clapton, the Rolling Stones, James Taylor and Carly Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Ricky Lee Jones, and many, many others.
Dr. John has won five Grammy awards, from The Best Jazz Vocal Performance in 1989 to the Best Contemporary Blues Album (2008).
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the federal government's inept cleanup efforts, Dr. John pitched in both with fundraising concerts and recordings and angry public words of protest. A favorite son of New Orleans, he continues to insist that people remember and respond to the plight of the city and the region. Last year, he released "The City That Care Forgot," considered by many to be his best album in the last 20 years. It won him his fifth Grammy.
Live, he's equal parts showman and maestro, but it's all based on his love for the music he's come to personify. He puts on a great show.
Dr. John, Nectar's, Sunday, July 26, 10 pm. $35 in advance, $40 day of show. Tickets at ticketweb.com, 866-468-7619, box office at 17 Airport Road, or the Paper Store and Aboveground Records in Edg., O. B. General Store, Bowl and Board in V.H., Garcia's Deli, W.T.