Thursday, December 16, 2010

Right Hall, Long Time

Dr. John, middle right, at the 2003 Big Easy Awards
For those of us lucky to be residents of New Orleans or for those who long to be, there are many reasons to be smiling today. One is that the weather here has steadily risen into the 50s with highs expected in the low 60s over the course of the next days. But more important than the temperate skies and pleasing temperatures is the fact that Mac Rebennack, also known as "Dr. John, the Night Tripper" has been announced as one of the latest inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even though the actual hall is located in Cleveland, most years that new inductees are announced, the ceremonies take place in New York, the site of where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation is located. Dr. John will be the third artist from New Orleans to be inducted who is strictly a performer. He follows Antoine "Fats" Domino and Lloyd Price in that category. Others like producer-arranger-composer Allen Toussaint and Dave Bartholomew were admitted for their work in other capacities. This is a very big deal and, indeed, the good "doctor" will be singing his own version of "Such a Night" when the ceremonies are held on March 14, 2011 at the Waldorf Astoria. The fortunes of Dr. John have definitely improved since his early years as a youth, when he learned to play piano and guitar from the likes of the fabled A. J. Guma at Werlein's for Music on busy Canal Street in the early 1950s. Rebennack's early work with guitar was cut short when his left ring finger was injured by a gunshot while he defended a friend and fellow musician. After a short stint with bass guitar, Rebennack opted to make piano his main performing instrument. His work in Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 1970s as a studio musician made him a mainstay for session work with big name stars like Sonny and Cher, Canned Heat and other acts. Around the same time Rebennack began a long spiral into drugs that ended up getting him hooked on heroin for decades. Yet, during this time he produced some of his most impressive work, work that clearly established him as one of the brightest of New Orleans stars. His early start with "Gris Gris" on Atco Records developed the Dr. John Creaux persona with such classic psychedlic-tinged anthems as "Walk on Guilded Splinters." His "Gumbo" album was a retrospective of rhythm and blues songs from the Crescent City that still remains one of the most important collections ever released. Through the years his work produced other classics. His "Right Place, Wrong Time" and "Such a Night" with the Meters as background musicians and Allen Toussaint as producer garnered him two of his top 40 hits during a time when radio play was essential to make a star successful. In 1986 he released "Goin' Back to New Orleans," a homage to New Orleans musical culture that included the Mardi Gras Indians. Through the years he has worked with the biggest of stars - the Rolling Stones, the Band, James Taylor, Van Morrison, Rickie Lee Jones - and his definitive piano style has ensured his legacy as one of the country's most respected of musicians. In recent years he has worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of New Orleans following the devastation that occurred after Hurricane Katrina as well as to point to the continuing crisis this past summer from the BP oil spill. His cover of Randy Newman's "Down in New Orleans" for Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" garnered him an Academy Award nomination in 2009. Free from the cruel addiction with heroin for over two decades now, Dr. John has improved his quality of life and his musical output continues to captivate his many fans both in and out of the city of his birth.

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