Dr. John brings his funky Louisiana soul to Cranston

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Dr. John brings his funky Louisiana soul to Cranston

Posted on: February 13th, 2014 by tommyj

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Dr. John brings a Valentine’s Day blast of Louisiana swamp funk, blues, rock, boogie-woogie and soul to the Park Theatre in Cranston Friday. (And if you miss him there, he’s scheduled to play The Newport Jazz festival Aug. 3).

Dr. John’s last album, 2012’s “Locked Down,” was warmly received by critics and won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Some felt it wasn’t entirely a blues record, which didn’t seem to bother Dr. John very much during a phone interview last week.

“Whatever they want to call it is fine with me,” he said in his slow, raspy drawl. “There’s a bunch of categories … it’s all over the place. We’ve always done a lot of different stuff in New Orleans.”

The album was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

“I really like the guy,” Dr. John said. “He calls me up, said he thought we could write some songs together. My original idea was to have some of my songs end up on their record, but they ended up being on mine … it’s a mix of new school and old school.”

Born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack in 1941, Dr. John’s career goes back to the ’50s, when he worked regularly in New Orleans clubs and studios and met legends such as piano master Professor Longhair.

Skirting problems with the law, Dr. John moved to Los Angeles in the ’60s, picking up session work with the help of fellow New Orleans expatriate Harold Battiste.

It was in Los Angeles — not New Orleans — that he developed the psychedelic voodoo persona of Dr. John the Night Tripper, complete with elaborate feathered Mardi Gras regalia. He released his breakthrough album “Gris-Gris” in 1968.

In 1973 he had his biggest hits, with “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Such a Night.”

Since then Dr. John has won six Grammys, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University, leading its president to joke he was now “Dr. Dr. John.”

His records have included classic New Orleans R&B, blues, boogie-woogie, and standards. He’s done a commercial for Popeye’s and sang in an animated Disney movie, “The Princess and the Frog.”

He played himself and contributed to the soundtrack of “Treme,” the HBO series set in New Orleans. (Dr. John said he doesn’t own a TV set, and the only episode of “Treme” he’s seen so far didn’t include his part.)

Dr. John has worked hard to help his native city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, releasing, “Sippiana Hurricane” to benefit the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Salvation Army and the Jazz Foundation of America.

“The city has come along some ways since Katrina,” Dr. John said. “But the Lower Ninth Ward is no longer there, that’s where a lot of musicians lived. I still try to work with the [Musicians] Clinic, try to do things for people I know.”

Next for Dr. John is a Louis Armstrong album. He said Armstrong came to him in a dream. “He told me ‘Do my stuff, your way,’ ” Dr. John said.

He had met Armstrong before, Dr. John said, and the two of them both grew up in New Orleans’ Third Ward. But Armstrong had never visited Dr. John’s dreams, and a man would be a fool to ignore such a powerful message.

Dr. John has already played some Armstrong tribute concerts, with trumpet players such as Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard, Antonio Sandoval and James Andrews. He hopes to have the Armstrong record out sometime this year.


Dr. John performs Friday at the Park Theatre in Cranston, 848 Park Ave., at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$55, available at the box office, by phone at (401) 467-7275 or online at parktheatreri.com. There’s a free New Orleans-themed party after the show.

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