Dr. John (born Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr., November 21, 1940) is an American New Orleans-based singer-songwriter, pianist and guitarist, whose music combines blues, pop, jazz as well as zydeco, boogie woogie and rock and roll. Active as a session musician since the late 1950s, he came to wider prominence in the early 1970s with a wildly theatrical stage show inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes and voodoo ceremonies. He originally concentrated on guitar and but his career as a guitarist came to an end when his left ring finger was injured by a gunshot while he was defending his bandmate and longtime friend singer/keyboardist Ronnie Barron. After the injury, Rebennack concentrated on bass guitar before making piano his main instrument.
Beginning in the late 1960s, his fame rose as a solo artist after adopting the persona “Dr. John, The Night Tripper.” Dr. John's act combined New Orleans-style rhythm and blues with psychedelic rock and elaborate stage shows that bordered on voodoo religious ceremonies, including elaborate costumes and headdress. The name “Dr. John” came from a legendary Louisiana voodoo practitioner of the early 19th century. On the earliest Dr. John records, the artist billing was “Dr. John, The Night Tripper,” while the songwriting credits billed him as “Dr. John Creaux.” Within a few years the “Night Tripper” subtitle was dropped, and Rebennack resumed using his real name for writing and producing/arranging credits.
“Gris-Gris,” his 1968 debut album, combined voodoo rhythms and chants with the New Orleans music tradition. Three more albums, 1969's “Babylon,” 1970's “Remedies” and 1971's “The Sun, Moon, And Herbs” were released in the same vein of “Gris-Gris,” but none of them enjoyed the popularity of his first album.
By the time “The Sun, Moon, and Herbs” was released, he had gained a notable cult following, including artists such as Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, who both took part in the sessions for that album. This album would serve as a transition from his Night Tripper voodoo, psychedelic persona to one more closely associated with traditional New Orleans R&B and funk.
1972's “Dr. John's Gumbo,” an album covering several New Orleans R&B standards with only one original, is considered a cornerstone in New Orleans music. The lead single from the album, “Iko Iko,” broke into the Billboard Top 40 singles chart.
With Gumbo, Dr. John expanded his career beyond the psychedelic voodoo music and theatrics that had driven his career since he took on the Dr. John persona, although it has always remained an integral part of his music and identity. In 1973, with Allen Toussaint producing and The Meters backing, Dr. John released the seminal New Orleans funk album, “In the Right Place.” In the same way that “Gris-Gris” introduced the world to the voodoo-influenced side of his music, and in the manner that “Dr. John's Gumbo” began his career-long reputation as an esteemed interpreter of New Orleans standards, “In the Right Place” established Dr. John as one of the main ambassadors of New Orleans funk. It rose to #24 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, while the single “Right Place Wrong Time” landed at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. Still in heavy rotation on most classic rock stations, “Right Place Wrong Time” remains his single most recognized song. Artists such as Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, and Doug Sahm contributed single lines to the lyrics, which lists several instances of ironic bad luck and failure.
Dr. John attempted to capitalize on “In the Right Place” and its successful formula, again collaborating with Allen Toussaint and The Meters for his next album, Desitively Bonnaroo, released in 1974. Although similar in feel to “In the Right Place,” it failed to catch hold in the mainstream like its predecessor. It would be his last pure funk album for years, although like his voodoo and traditional New Orleans R&B influences, funk has continued to heavily influence most of his work to the present day, especially in his concerts.
By the mid-1970s, Dr. John began focusing on a blend of music that touched on blues, New Orleans R&B, Tin Pan Alley standards and more. In 1975 Dr. John's manager, Richard Flanzer, hired legendary producer Bob Ezrin. “Hollywood Be Thy Name” was recorded live at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, California. The studio was transformed into a New Orleans nightclub for the sessions. In 1981 and 1983 Dr. John recorded two solo piano albums for the Baltimore-based Clean Cuts label. On these two recordings, “Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack Vol. 1” and “Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack Vol. 2 (The Brightest Smile in Town),” he played many of his own compositions in boogie-woogie.
In addition to issuing his own album, he continued working as a session musician throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s appearing on records for such acts as The Rolling Stones, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison and others. His 1994 album, “Television” saw him return to his pure funk roots. In 1999 he released “Duke Elegant” an album comprised of cover songs previously performed by Duke Ellington. It featured sizable musical support from “The Lower 9-11” (David Barard, Bobby Broom, and Herman Ernest III), Ronnie Cuber, and Cyro Baptista.
In November 2005, he released a four-song EP, “Sippiana Hericane,” to benefit the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, Salvation Army, and the Jazz Foundation of America. In January 2008, Dr. John, was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
In 2011 Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and The Meters performed “Desitively Bonnaroo” at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee as part of the festival's tenth year celebration. The name of the festival was inspired by the album. Later that year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2012, he released “Locked Down,” in collaboration with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who produced and played guitar. The album received very positive reviews for its raw, Afrobeat-influenced sound.