Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack was raised in New Orleans and worked as a session guitarist and writer for Ace Records in the late 50s and early 60s under his real name.
In 1968 he released his first Atlantic album, Gris Gris, under the name of Dr John The Night Tripper.
We have Sonny and Cher to thank for the album. While filming a TV special in the autumn of 1967, the pair bequeathed some of the studio time they had block-booked at Gold Star in L.A. to Rebennack, who was one of their session musicians.
It was dark and exciting music and many people claimed to hear voodoo magic in Dr John’s rhythms as he snaked his way around the Bayou with a bottle of gris-gris in his hand, dispensing medicine to cure all your ills while dressed in a mardi gras costume that was beyond psychedelic.
Later projects would see the good Doctor exploring solo stride piano, Southern roots music, heavy-duty funk with The Meters, and even performing Southern-fried readings of Duke Ellington and Ray Charles.
He was finally persuaded to don his Mardi Gras headdress once more by Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, on whose 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space Rebennack guested.
The same year he released Anutha Zone, supported by a cast of younger British musicians – Supergrass, Paul Weller, The Beta Band, Martin Duffy of Primal Scream – all clearly in thrall to the Dr John myth and the strangeness of his first three albums.
But in his later years, Rebennack seemed more comfortable cutting tributes to Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, collections of Johnny Mercer standards and two strong albums inspired by the devastation wrought on his home town by Hurricane Katrina.
Dr John passed away on 6 June 2019 after suffering a heart attack. He was 77.