I post a weekly diary of historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I often feature in "Cheers & Jeers".
OK, you've been warned - here is this week's
tomfoolery material that I posted
CHEERS to Bill and Michael in PWM, commonmass (along with Geoffrey the Cat) plus our Wyoming-based friend Irish Patti and ...... well, each of you at Cheers and Jeers. Have a fabulous weekend.
ART NOTES - works by J.M.W. Turner entitled Turner & the Sea are at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts to September 1st.
FOR A VARIETY of reasons, men in South Korea are marrying women from elsewhere in Asia.
A PSYCHOTHERAPIST in Germany has founded an institute of humor, believing that it is not only vital in medicine, but to her corporate clients as well.
THURSDAY's CHILD is Amelia the Cat - a Philadelphia kitteh who was voted #1 in a Top Bookstore Cat contest.
BRAIN TEASER - try this Quiz of the Week's News from the BBC.
LITERARY NOTES - writings the late author Douglas Adams cut from his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels are to be published for the first time (after being found in his archive).
FRIDAY's CHILD is Freya the Cat - the kitteh of Britain's finance minister (Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne, who had wandered away from Downing Street before being located (1-1/2 miles away) by a group of women heading home after going for dinner.
THE OTHER NIGHT yours truly hosted the Top Comments diary with a look at the veteran comic/actor Robert Klein - my favorite stand-up comedian, and whose recent memoirs rekindled my interest in his TV, film and theater career, as well.
DIRECT DESCENDANTS? - Erwin Schrödinger (the Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist, noted for his thought experiment 'Schrödinger's Cat') and film star James Woods.
...... and finally, for a song of the week ....................... while he has settled into the role of an elder statesman of New Orleans music of all kinds: at one time Dr. John was considered an avant-garde psychedelic performer where everyday was Mardi Gras. His career has taken some twists and turns, but in the aftermath of Katrina the media sought out a few familiar faces: The Neville Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint ... and Dr. John, whom CBS's "Sunday Morning" profiled in the wake of that disaster. The identification is that strong.
Born as Malcolm (Mac) Rebennack in 1940, he began as a session guitarist and keyboardist in his native city, appearing on recordings by Frankie Ford (of "Sea Cruise" fame) and his mentor, Professor Longhair. He had a regional hit ("Storm Warning") in 1959 while still a teenager. Shortly thereafter he became an A&R man for local record labels, before concentrating on keyboards when his left ring finger was injured (by a gunshot) while defending an old friend.
With events such as this and some early drug use, he left New Orleans for Los Angeles in 1963 - where he became a featured session musician (as seen in the first photo, below). He performed on recordings from Sonny & Cher to Canned Heat.
In 1968 he was signed to Atco (an Atlantic Records subsidiary) and by that time had honed his own persona: he became Dr. John Creaux (based on a voodoo practitioner of the 19th Century) as well as the Night Tripper (based on ... well, ....) and his stage show combined voodoo, New Orleans R&B, traditional blues and the emerging psychedelic rock sound. This culminated in his first album Gris-Gris - recorded during left-over studio time booked by Sonny & Cher. It featured tunes such as "Mama Roux" and "Danse Fambeaux" and added ... even a touch of vaudeville to the mix.
Upon hearing it, the late Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun (who didn't sign Rebennack personally) is supposed to have exclaimed, "How are we supposed to sell this boogaloo crap?!?" The album didn't chart, but was named by Rolling Stone as #143 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time list, and after being out-of-print for a long time: Gris-Gris became available on the Collector's Choice label. More importantly for our purposes: years later it gave our own Floja Roja an idea for a name for her (then) new kitteh.
Rebennack gained a following not only with the public, but also with many rock stars (Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton) eager to embrace a sound not played by anyone else. And from 1969-1971: Dr. John's sound (on albums such as Remedies and The Sun, Moon and Herbs continued to evolve, with several guest rock stars appearing on them. I recall seeing him perform during this period but - alas - he was the opening act for rock acts Foghat and the James Gang (post-Joe Walsh era) and the fans at the show were ... ummm ....... well, less than enthusiastic about his brand of music.
It was his next recording Dr. John's Gumbo from 1972 where he began to shift-out of his psychedelia mode (although vestiges have remained to this day). His first chart success came with a cover version of the Mardi Gras-themed song Iko Iko (which, incidentally, needed a 2002 court case to resolve its authorship). The album had other New Orleans R&B tunes such as "Tipitina" and "Junko Partner" and was named by Rolling Stone as #404 on its 500 Greatest Albums listing.
Rebennack dropped the Night Tripper name and had his biggest hit with next year's Right Place, Wrong Time plus Such a Night that saw him appear on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and other shows of its time. Later in 1973, he appeared along with guitarists Mike Bloomfield and John Hammond on the album Triumvirate and his career seemed wide open. He co-wrote songs with Doc Pomus (and years later sang at his 1991 funeral) plus he performed on The Band's 1976 The Last Waltz album.
But he had difficulties the rest of the decade (substance abuse among them) and the All-Music Guide's Richie Unterberger also cites his unpredictability as hampering his commercial success, as well as his being all-too-willing to coast on performing traditional R&B rather than challenge himself with original material. He did branch-out in the mid-1980's: with solo piano recordings, a 1989 Great American Songbook effort, a tour with Englishman Chris Barber, and even an album with old-fashioned Dixieland performers Al Hirt and Pete Fountain.
Since 1990, he has continued on that unpredictable path: with albums of mostly original songs (1994's "Television", 1998's Anutha Zone with Paul Weller of The Jam and 2001's "Creole Moon" along with ballads/tribute albums: such as 1995's "Afterglow", 2000's Duke Elegant and 2006's Mercernary - the songs of Johnny Mercer.
But in the wake of Katrina, he has worked tirelessly at benefit shows and telethons: with 2005's EP Sippiana Hericane as well as two of Dr. John's best-reviewed albums in years: his 2008 recording The City that Care Forgot - with some not-so-thinly disguised criticism of politicians we used to know - and 2009's Tribal.
His most recent album was 2012's Locked Down produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, which won Rebennack his 6th Grammy Award. For a "Best Of" album, try 2006's Definitive Pop Collection on Rhino.
In 1995 he released his autobiography and while his chart-topping days may have passed - if you listen closely, you can hear his music everywhere: from the Stones' "Let it Loose" (from 1972's "Exile on Main Street") to the Blues Brothers 2000 film ("How Blue Can You Get", a gumbo-flavored version of "Season of the Witch") and more recently Disney's 2009 "Princess and the Frog" ("Down in New Orleans").
Mac Rebennack will turn age 74 this coming November, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008, is the winner of six Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
He just completed the European portion of his current tour - which brings him next to the Chicago Blues Festival on June 15th. And if we're lucky ..... Dr. John will be making house calls for some time to come.
For all of his work: I still treasure the closing tune on his first album, I Walk on Gilded Splinters which captured the spirit of his early Night Tripper days in one tune. The song has been covered by Marsha Hunt, Paul Weller of The Jam and - most famously - an epic-length version from Humble Pie's Performance: Rocking the Fillmore 1971 live album.
And below you can hear Dr. John perform it.
Some people think they jive me
But I know they must be crazy
They don't see their misfortune
If they're just too lazy
Walk through the fire
Fly through the smoke
See my enemy
at the end of their rope
Walk on pins and needles
See what they can do
Walk on gilded splinters
With the King of the Zulus