A legendary songwriter and eccentric showman, Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack Jr. is best known to the rest of us simply as Dr. John. Now 73, Rebennack has been making music since the 1950’s. His crazy concoctions of blues, jazz, zydeco and possessed voodoo psychedelia extend over 30 records and countless collaborations. He’s performed with the Stones, Sonny and Cher, Zappa and Spiritualized. One of the Muppets was even created in his likeness (Dr. Teeth). In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2013 received an honorary degree from Tulane and a Grammy for “Best Blues Album” for Locked Down, recorded and co-written with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. I was lucky enough to catch up with Dr. John to preview his recent show in Boston. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. John…
Hello sir, how are you?
I’m breathin’. I was trying to get this record mixed and trying to do some stuff. It’s all a complicated bunch of procedures when you’re making records.
So you have a new album your recording now? Do you wanna talk a little bit about it?
Well it’s a tribute to Louis Armstrong. Louis came to me in a dream and said, “Do my stuff your way.” And that’s what I did. We’ll finish it up pretty soon I think. And hopefully they’ll put it out when they do.
The last time we spoke, you had just released your record about Katrina. I was curious, now that more time has passed… Do you see a new New Orleans? Do you like what you see? What differences do you see?
Well, in some ways it’s like the whole lower Ninth Ward… they haven’t done anything. It’s been pretty much left to its own devices and that’s a shame. There were so many musicians, I’m looking at one now, Alvin Robertson, there were just so many musicians that were from there, you know. His whole neighborhood is gone, and that’s sad to me. But listen, we’re gonna make the people warmer when we get there.
Do you prefer being on the road as opposed to making records, or are they two separate things for you?
They both go together. If we don’t make the records, what do we have to promote? And then you’re trapped. But the other side of that coin is the racket that we’re in, it’s not a necessity that it’s going to be a good thing, you know? But that’s how life goes. You have to accept the bitter with the sweet.
When you were recording Locked Down, did you see it as a return to the psychedelic blues of your early work?
Well, actually Dan [Auerbach] was thinking of some of the stuff like that. And I think he did an excellent job with that.
So did he steer you that way or did you have these songs ready to go?
We had met a couple of times before we did this thing and then we played this Bonnaroo festival and I had played with Allen Toussaint and the Meters with that band, but I also did some things with Dan and some other guys. We had a good time.
Did that set the atmosphere for making that record?
Yeah, I think that had a lot to do with it.
Is it strange working and recording with someone from such a younger generation?
Actually he is an old school cat. I mean he’s a lot older than his age. That’s a good thing.
So you’ve had a bunch of pretty amazing accolades recently with the Grammy and the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Did any of those take you by surprise?
They were all surprises to me, but I have tons of surprises in my life and that’s a good thing. You know, back in the game I was surprised I won the Memphis Blues Award and stuff like that. Everything takes me by surprise. I used to announce that with Rufus Thomas. I used to have a great time with some of the old guys. I miss them. A lot of people that I came up with is gone. And that’s how it goes you know. We here one day and we aint the next.
Are there still people you haven’t performed with that you would consider playing with?
Well there’s a lot of people that I think about playing with– people who mean something to me. Every now and then… I just learned that Stevie Wonder was at the Grammy’s and stuff like that… that’s good. I like all them guys and they’re all up in my respect areas.
Besides the Louis Armstrong project are you thinking about a new solo project or are you going to give it some time?
I don’t know about that. I think I like to just to do stuff with the band mostly because it gets my mo better and it gets me in a good feeling. I’ll come out and play something for people for a little bit, but I don’t like just doing that.
Well I look forward to your shows and I thank you for your time.
Thank you and you have a blessed day. Alright.