If you're a music fan you've not doubt heard the sad news: that Dr. John--aka Mac Rebennack--passed away yesterday.
I was fortunate enough to have interviewed the New Orleans music legend back in February of 2004, when he was headed to Vancouver to play the Yale Hotel (man I miss that place).
At one point in our chat I asked him about his promotional bio at the time, which opened with the line: “Dr. John proudly stands alongside Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino as one of New Orleans’ all-time distinctive voices.” I asked him if he felt that was an accurate assessment.
“Well, I guess it is to whoever wrote the bio,” he drawled, over the phone from his home in upstate New York. “I hate bios. I think they oughtta be bio-degradable. But that’s just my head.”
Whether he liked hearing how distinctive he was or not, the import of Dr. John’s contribution to popular music could be judged by the calibre of the people he’s performed with over the years, as both a solo artist and a first-call L.A. session player. There's too many for me to bother listing here, although I will say that they include Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones. But even those famous names didn't arise when Rebennack was asked who he was most proud to have worked with.
“Maybe Joe Tex,” he noted, “Joe Turner. Maybe Ray Charles. Maybe Aretha Franklin. Maybe… I don’t know. Marvin Gaye. Charles Brown. You know, workin’ with Professor Longhair meant a lot to me.
"When I was young I got to play with a lotta people," he added, "and when you’re young it all hits ya harder.”
The good Dr. was flying in direct from the Virgin Islands for his Vancouver gig, and I wondered if his sojourn in the sun had left his famously raw vocals in good shape.
“I ain’t like no Enrico Caruso that’s gotta worry about it too much,” he replied with a chuckle.
Gotta love Dr. John.
R.I.P. Mac Rebennack.