Into The Longest Night Goes The Night Tripper
June 6, 2019 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Dr. John, The Night Tripper, has gone into the night. Mack Rebennack has been not only a godfather of New Orleans sound, but also a messenger from more mysterious parts of the bayou. At 77 on 6/6, RIP.
posted by moonbird (73 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Ye gods, I SWEAR I checked before I posted mine....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:11 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]

He lived a good one; may we all live such powerful lives that we someday inspire the creation of a muppet, as he did for Dr. Teeth.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:26 PM on June 6 [16 favorites]

Adding links/color from my inadvertent double (I was in the right place, but just slightly the wrong time):

Born Malcom John Rebennack, Dr. John got his start as a guitarist in New Orleans clubs as a teen, trying to balance high school with a music career until the fathers at his Jesuit school gave him an ultimatum - quit music or quit school. He chose the latter. He made the switch from guitar to piano after his left ring finger was shot off during a gig in Jackson, Mississippi; drawing piano inspiration from his idol Professor Longhair.

After a stint as a Los Angeles session musician, he dipped into his fascination with New Orleans' voodoo history to record Gris-Gris, his first solo album, which carried a heady mix of New Orleans r/n/b and psychedelic rock. His next work, Dr. John's Gumbo, is a more traditional celebration of New Orleans standards; the breakout single, a cover of the Mardi Gras song "Iko Iko", was the album's standout hit. Dr. john's best-selling album, In The Right Place, added a bit of funk to the mix; the title track was one of his biggest hits, and in 1976, he was invited to perform the other big hit from that album, "Such a Night," as part of The Band's "Last Waltz" farewell concert.

Dr. John also served as a session musician throughout his career, playing piano for The Roling Stones, Carly Simon, and Rickie Lee Jones, among others. He also composed for and performed in various film and television soundtracks - from composing the theme song to the 1990s show Blossom and the opening number for Disney's The Princess And The Frog to performing as one of "The Gator Boys" in the Blues Brothers sequel Blues Brothers 2000 to appearing as himself in an episode of the show Treme.

Notable recognition: Winner of six Grammy Awards, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University, and apparently was the inspiration for The Muppets' Dr. Teeth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:33 PM on June 6 [21 favorites]

Locked Down is one of the greatest late-career albums of all time. Glad I got to spend some time Locked Down on this planet while he was making music.
posted by not_on_display at 5:40 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]

tell alberta
posted by pyramid termite at 5:40 PM on June 6

Oh darn. What a force in music. Had the privilege of seeing him perform three times and he was wonderful every time. The last time was in 2000 when he was supporting his Duke Ellington tribute album at an outdoor show here in Pittsburgh. It rained buckets but he kept playing after saying "You-all must be crazy to be standing out in that rain just to see me". My wife and I were on our second or third date and neither of us were going to be the one to say that it was raining too hard to see a show so we stood there in the downpour through the encore. The show was worth it and we both survived the date.
posted by octothorpe at 5:42 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


60 years of music. A giant.
posted by adamvasco at 5:43 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]

I spent my 39th Birthday in New Orleans during carnival season (my birthday was the day AFTER Mardi Gras that year), and honestly his cover of Iko Iko was following me. I was hearing that everywhere during the whole week i was there, in coffee shops and in car stereos, and it time-warps me back to that visit so fast.

My 50th birthday IS on Mardi Gras, I am for certain going back and I will for certain be hearing that again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:43 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]

Gris- Gris

1968. A basement flat, Redcliffe Square, Kensington, London SW 10.

Night trippin'.

posted by Mister Bijou at 5:44 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]

Man, RIP. Gris-Gris is probably my favorite album ever.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:47 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]

posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 5:54 PM on June 6

Got my satchel of gris-gris in my hand.
posted by sonascope at 5:54 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


The cover of my parents' copy of Gris-Gris used to scare the hell out of me when I was a kid. Grew to love it over the years.
posted by remembrancer at 5:57 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]

posted by nightrecordings at 6:02 PM on June 6

Sun, Moon, and Herbs has been in rotation heavily for the past 6 months. I have disappointment that my childhood radio stations didn't play more of his music.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 6:05 PM on June 6

posted by Fizz at 6:07 PM on June 6

Je suis le grand zombie.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:07 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]

Yep - walking on gilded splinters somewhere, no doubt. Here's a favorite from the pre-Dr. John years:

Mac Rebennack - Storm Warning
posted by ryanshepard at 6:16 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]

posted by Dysk at 6:19 PM on June 6

posted by Silverstone at 6:23 PM on June 6

posted by panglos at 6:27 PM on June 6

posted by sallybrown at 6:29 PM on June 6

posted by valkane at 6:43 PM on June 6

Truly one of the greats; he probably performed more different types of music than any of the top New Orleans musicians. (Which is saying something.) I had one of my more interesting backstage experiences with him when he toured for his most popular album. While I interviewed him before a show at a community college in PA, and the sun went down outside, his make-up people were busy draping him with beads and feathers, applying glitter, and adding a skull or two. I was listening to what he was saying more than watching them, and suddenly, when I looked up, instead of the nice, regular-looking guy in a striped shirt I’d been talking to, I was staring right at ‘the Night Tripper.’ Gave me quite a jolt, but being able to hang out with him, however briefly, definitely was being in the right place.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:47 PM on June 6 [9 favorites]

> My 50th birthday IS on Mardi Gras, I am for certain going back and I will for certain be hearing that again.

There's a cockatoo named Iko who lives on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter. His owner used to work for Dr. John, and he loves to come to his screen door and sing this song with passerby.
posted by smelendez at 6:51 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


Been listening to him forever. Saw him in a Denver club in about 1981 and thought he was on his last legs, hobbling up on stage with a cane, but I was wrong. Thanks, Mac, for all that music.
posted by kozad at 6:54 PM on June 6

Hand to God, I just gave myself a little solo dance party in my living room with his stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


So absolutely gutted to hear this.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:57 PM on June 6

WWOZ is playing his music into the evening.

posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:09 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]

Now I know what I’ll be listening to when I go to bed tonight.
Gris Gris Gumbo Yah Yah...

posted by njohnson23 at 8:21 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]

posted by the sobsister at 8:27 PM on June 6

posted by pt68 at 8:30 PM on June 6


So. This man changed the direction of my imaginal life. When I was a mere 17, driving late night with my punk rock friends, slipping in another cassette between the Dead Kennedys and Ramones while driving Rte 13 in Delaware just to drive. I heard him late night on the college station, the DJ laughing about this "crazy shit." Something else happened. My bones creaked as an old ship. I had to know about the Night Tripper. I bought the tape the next day. That night, I sprang it on Toast and Spike in my '77 Chevette.

Played from top to bottom, the car was mostly silent. We fell under a spell. I was enchanted. I felt that there was suddenly so much more to the world for me to know. I began to scrounge the folk/blues/world section of Wonderland Records... picked up a lot more of Dr. John, Muddy Waters, then Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Huun Huur Tu, then it was all over. The train of linear music was off the track, and it was harder to be a boilerplate punk rocker of the early 90s.

His music has been a soundtrack that comes out when I need a little power ever since. And, a little mischievous joy. I saw him in Asheville in the early aughts and what a show it was. What an honor it was, for all the times for being out of step and out of luck, to be at the right place and the right time.

"Some people think they jive me, I know they must be crazy."
posted by moonbird at 8:32 PM on June 6 [16 favorites]

posted by me3dia at 9:03 PM on June 6

A storm blew through New Orleans today. Tornado watch, too.

When it was over, Dr. John was gone.

RIP, Mac Rebennack. Your music was one of the things that kept me sane during the worst stretches of being homesick for New Orleans over the past few years in a cold, grey place I never should have moved to. A little taste of home, a little bit of the sound of my youth. When they put up a statue to you, you better believe I'll leave offerings now and then.
posted by egypturnash at 9:08 PM on June 6 [11 favorites]

I can’t remember a time when Dr. John’s music wasn’t in my life. It permeated my childhood and even though I never sought it out or actively listened, it’s always been part of the background radiation of my life. It’s given me a sparkle of joy when I hear him on a Disney soundtrack, and I’m definitely going to be giving his albums thorough listens in the coming weeks.

posted by sleeping bear at 9:11 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]

posted by anadem at 9:14 PM on June 6

posted by mwhybark at 9:14 PM on June 6

It's admittedly a minor blip in Mac's catalog, and the wrong time of year for it besides (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere), but for some reason I feel especially compelled to listen to him duet with Leon Redbone on "Frosty the Snowman" again.

Feel free to knock this shit off any time, 2019.

posted by non canadian guy at 9:45 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]

posted by blob at 9:53 PM on June 6

A legend has passed

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:06 PM on June 6

posted by Pouteria at 11:10 PM on June 6

I was first introduced to Dr. John as a kid watching his fantastic solo performance of “Such a Night” on SCTV.
posted by New Frontier at 11:29 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]

Lucky enough to see him a couple times. First time I saw him I wasn't sure what to expect,
knew some recordings but not everyone of his generation was still performing well, and he walked--really hobbled--on a cane so slowly out to the piano. Then he touched the keyboard and there was no question who I was listening too.

posted by mark k at 11:30 PM on June 6


posted by quazichimp at 12:58 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]

posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 2:29 AM on June 7

My dad, inveterate jazz fan and the primal source of my own weird music leanings, started losing his hearing a few years ago. I took the chance on taking him to a series of gigs in Melbourne that were side shows from a bigger festival, knowing that this might be the last time he could appreciate them fully. We saw John Mayall on the first night, and Dr. John on the second. Mack was creaky and frail, leaning heavily on a staff covered with talismans, but when he got behind that piano... A true icon of New Orleans music, and for all the rough edges he had, he seemed filled with a genuine love for the rich history of the city and its sounds. He gave me a great night with my dad, and that's really special for me.
posted by prismatic7 at 3:01 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]

posted by filtergik at 3:52 AM on June 7

posted by eustatic at 3:56 AM on June 7

posted by camyram at 4:12 AM on June 7

Oog, that opening piano riff to Mos' Scocious.

Dr. John is how I discovered the Meters, without whom I would have been a much sadder person.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:04 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]

posted by Reverend John at 6:21 AM on June 7


Times-Picayune obit

Feature obit

I think the thing about NOLA is that it's perfectly normal to see someone be the headline act closing out Jazzfest in front of 50k+ people and then see him headed for the port-a-potties that circle the racetrack afterward (stages are in the middle).
posted by "mad dan" eccles at 7:34 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]

posted by halliburtron at 8:31 AM on June 7

posted by Gelatin at 10:05 AM on June 7

RIP for sure.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:18 AM on June 7

posted by oneironaut at 11:37 AM on June 7

posted by evilDoug at 11:39 AM on June 7

Oh no, not another one. RIP, Mac.
posted by Lynsey at 11:51 AM on June 7

Obit from the New Orleans Advocate, written by longtime NOLA music journalist Keith Spera.

"Remembering Dr. John" from Keyboard magazine.

posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:39 PM on June 7

posted by doctornemo at 5:47 PM on June 7

There's a cockatoo named Iko who lives on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter. ...(H)e loves to come to his screen door and sing this song with passerby.

Dammit. I want to drive to New Orleans right now and sing with that bird.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 5:55 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


it is good to see you on the blue again my dear friend, I could only wish the circumstances that brought you back were happier ones.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:36 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]

posted by riverlife at 10:51 PM on June 7

posted by eclectist at 6:58 AM on June 8

posted by dogstoevski at 8:47 AM on June 8

I knew of him, but didn't know what he looked like until I saw him on Treme. Of all the musicians to play themselves on that show, his acting was the most passable.

posted by riruro at 9:51 AM on June 8

Of all the musicians to play themselves on that show, his acting was the most passable.

David Simon explains why: "1) Others longer to New Orleans will have more essential memories, but I can desitively muster one worthy tale of the legendary Dr. John from having had the opportunity to write some dialogue for him on an HBO drama some years back. And to be clear....2) ....trying to write dialogue for Mac is an errand for a fool’s fool. No one talked like him. Even by standards the mangled patois of run-amok Crescent City verbiage, he has his own language. Mac invented Macspeak and somehow, even though the words were being conjured...3) your ears for the first and possibly onliest time in your life, he’d have you nodding as if you were somehow fluent and as if only those words would suffice. He was funny as hell. So, pretending I had a good enough war for the task, I tried to stand next to him for...4) ...a while to pick up a phrase or two that I could regurgitate on the page, the better to approximate his voice. He figured out what I was trying to do: “Aw, man, you tryin’a write your way like the doctor talk. You gon’ trifle your way right into some righteous confusement.” Thanks, Mac. I ran right back to my laptop and moved a page in which the good doctor, playing himself, accused another session musician of causing some “righteous confusement.” Then I handed the fresh lines to Mac. He scanned them and looked at me and gave a tiny head shake...6) And then, when the camera was on him, he said the line and metastasized the noun even further. “Man, I don’t know what you tryin’ to say to me but that’s just some confusementalism right chear” Then he looked at me over by he video monitor and smiled. And even before...7) ...the director called cut he said: “No one gonna write like the doctor talk. You can just give up that tragical mess right now.” I quit moving pages then and there. “Say whatever you want, Mac.” And for the rest of the show, he did."
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:12 PM on June 8 [11 favorites]

posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 6:34 PM on June 9

Mac was also an activist for the land, and wanted justice from oil companies for Louisiana, and led the rally against BP in 2012.

Love and posterity for all of y'all
posted by eustatic at 2:55 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

I like the Piano Jazz episode wherein - among many other great stuff - Dr John explained to Marian McPartland, with his delightful drawls, what kind of bass lines he used to find square, and which ones were definitely hip, when he was much younger. I've heard that his own autobiography is a fine book, and I've also read - in Robin Kelley's T.S. Monk biography - that Thelonious Monk had heard Dr John's playing, and found it very interesting.
posted by nicolin at 4:22 AM on June 10

On repeat: Dr. John, "Closer Walk With Thee/Didn't He Ramble." So, so good.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:15 PM on June 11

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