Turning 56 today is Dr. John, the boogie-and-blues pianist and frontman who has been performing his "voodoo" music since the late '50s.
Dr. John was born Malcolm Rebennack in 1942 in New Orleans. Near the end of the
'50s, he became known on the New Orleans R&B scene, primarily for his work as a
guitarist and keyboardist on records by Professor Longhair, Joe Tex and Frankie Ford.
Rebennack, then known as "Mac," recorded several singles and was the first white man
on the black artists' label AFO (All For One) Records. In the '60s, Rebennack began
producing and arranging such artists as Red Tyler and Earl Palmer. When he sustained
a gunshot wound to his hand in 1961, Rebennack was forced for a time to take up bass
with a Dixieland band.
Later in the decade, Rebennack moved to Los Angeles, where his interest in voodoo
grew. He also played in such strangely named bands as Morgus and the Three Ghouls,
and the Zu Zu Band.
In 1968, Rebennack began calling himself Dr. John the Night Tripper for his first album,
Gris-Gris (Atco). The LP was a mix of Creole chants, psychedelia, and mystical
imagery, and included titles such as "Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya" and "Croker
Dr. John's creative musical blends and his ceremonial stageshows, in which he
performed in full Mardi Gras costume, earned him a devoted underground fanbase.
Though his succeeding albums were increasingly eclectic and of mixed quality, Dr. John
also captured the attention of such musical heavyweights as Mick Jagger and Eric
Clapton, who contributed to 1971's The Sun, Moon & Herbs.
The Allen Toussaint-produced In The Right Place (1973) resulted in the top-10
U.S. smash "Right Place, Wrong Time." Also that year, Dr. John issued Triumvirate
with Mike Bloomfield and John Hammond Jr.
In 1978, Dr. John appeared in the Band's farewell concert film, "The Last Waltz." Three
years later, he issued his first solo piano LP, Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack. Dr.
John won a Grammy Award for "Makin' Whoopee," a duet with Rickie Lee Jones from his
1989 album of blues and saloon songs, In a Sentimental Mood. The next year, he
released the jazz Bluesiana Triangle.
Goin' Back to New Orleans (1992) resulted in another Grammy for Dr. John, who
was by then becoming widely known for his gruff singing on TV jingles. In 1991,
rap-group PM Dawn sampled Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters," which Beck also
sampled later for "Loser" (RealAudio excerpt).
In 1993, Dr. John published his autobiography, "Under a Hoodoo Moon." The following
year, he contributed to the Windham Hill album Crescent City Gold, along with
Toussaint, Palmer and other New Orleans notables.
This year, Dr. John released Anutha Zone, which included teamings with Paul
Weller (on the cuts "I Don't Want to Know About Evil" and "Party Hell Fire"), Spiritualized,
Supergrass and Ocean Colour Scene. He reportedly now is contributing to a Beth Orton
disc slated for 1999.
Other birthdays: Tony Butala (Lettermen), 58; Norman Greenbaum, 56; Joe Walsh, 51;
James Brown (UB40), 41; Sen Dog (Cypress Hill), 33; Mike D (Beastie Boys), 32; Q-Tip
(A Tribe Called Quest), 28; and Duane Allman (Allman Brothers), 1946-1971.