Mac (Dr. John) and Spencer Bohren tributes highlight show

New Orleans lost two well-regarded musical artists in early June. One you know about and one you should know about. Get the show started to hear what they have to offer

Mac Rebennak’s death on June 6 at age 77 garnered international headlines. The Jesuit High School dropout was a regular presence at the J&M Studios during its heyday and later joined the secret “Wrecking Crew” of studio fame. While he rocketed to fame with his Dr. John the day tripper persona in the late 60’s and early 70’s, it was his commitment to the New Orleans funk, R&B and groove that endeared him to his hometown.

Today’s show features his singing as well as his ability on guitar and piano. The show kicks off with him singing a Davell Crawford number, with the younger songwriter playing piano. Then we go to one of the first songs he wrote, performed by Jerry Byrne, “Light’s Out.” From there, you will hear “Storm Warning” an instrumental that shows off his guitar licks (before he lost a part of finger (fret hand) to a gunshot.

Other sets includes Dr. John singing and/or playing piano with Irma Thomas, Sonny Landreth, and Tab Benoit. In all, its close to a full hour of his music.

Spencer Bohren from crowd-funding website designed to help pay for his cancer treatment.

Then we turn to Spencer Bohren, a singer-songwriter who was born in Wyoming with ties to the Northwest but moved to New Orleans as a young man with his wife in the 70’s. He gained fame throughout the city and in Europe but is not nearly as well known as Mac Rebennak. Bohren died two days after Dr. John and left a strong library of solo performances as well as collaborative efforts. You’ll hear three of his solo songs, two songs he wrote for “The Write Brothers” and a rousing performance in the rockabilly group he was part of “Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers.”

The show offers some previews of performances coming to the northwest with songs by the Soul Rebels, Chubby Carrier and Trombone Shorty. I finish the show with Dr. John’s performance with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band “It’s All Over Now.”

I hope you enjoy and please subscribe.

Dr. John turns 75

Dr. John turns 75 this Saturday (November 21, 2015).  Still active as a performer (nine shows last month) and recording artist (releasing Ske-Dat-De-Dat last year), Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack’s career goes back to the late 1950’s when as a guitarist he worked with Earl King, James Booker, Professor Longhair and other denizens of the J& M studio.

Like Earl Palmer who laid down the beats to the New Orleans R&B sound before migrating to Los Angeles to become part of the fabled “Wrecking Crew,”  Rebennak was a well regarded studio musician both in New Orleans (before having to leave the state) and California.

However, unlike Palmer, Rebennak stepped out in front of a band when he created the spiritually-infused persona, Dr.  John Creaux the Night Tripper, based on a New Orleans hoodoo practitioner.  This new character debuted on the “Gris Gris” album released in 1968.nite tripper

To hear Harold Battiste tell the story, the whole thing was just a lark. Another New Orleans musician who migrated to California, Battiste was a record producer and Sonny and Cher’s musical director in the 60’s. He approached Rebennak who had played on tour with Sonny and Cher to see if he had any concepts for a new album.

“Mac told me that he had been reading up on this character called Dr. John from the New Orleans voodoo tradition and wanted to work something around that.”  Actually, the character was a “hoodoo” practitioner which I understand is different than voodoo — kind of like a competitive alternative to voodoo.

“This was not to be a proper production with music arrangements and everything by the numbers. We would have to create a vibe in the studio where the spirit led the way,” wrote Battiste in his autobiography “Unfinished Blues: Memoirs of a New Orleans Music Man.”

Rebennak had created the concept for singer Ronnie Barron but according to Battiste, Barron’s agent nixed it. So Mac took the role. Battiste wrote that he envisioned the “the whole concept as a tongue-in-cheek thing.”

The album included a cast of New Orleans musicians working in southern California such as John Boudreaux, Ronnie Barron on keyboards, Jessie Hill and Shirley Goodman.

dr.john“The studio was like a Mardi Gras reunion, everybody laughing and talking, telling stories all at the same time. But once we got settled, the vibe was there and the music just flowed.”

For the album cover, Mac needed an outfit and Battiste arranged for Cher’s seamstress to arrange “odd pieces of animal skins tacked onto colorful clothes. She made him a snakeskin crown, and he found various trinkets and accessories to validate his voodoo status.”

The album’s release was delayed by about a year while record company executives tried to figure out what to do with it. But it received strong reviews upon release, creating a new problem. Now Mac really had to become Dr. John and perform as him.

His first live performance as Dr. John was at the Filmore West with Thelonious Monk.  That’s right! Mac and Monk.  Almost three dozen albums later, “Dr. John” (Mac Rebennak) is still going strong.

You can catch Dr. John’s music and much more in my next show (recorded here).