Friday, June 07, 2019

"The Night Tripper"

Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, left us yesterday at age 77.  History here following him is lengthy.  After buying his first album that was commercially unsuccessful, "Gris gris, by Dr. John The Night Tripper" when it came out in 1968, I had the chance that same year to see him at the legendary Georgetown nightclub "The Cellar Door".  That club was so small that you could have back and forth talks with the musicians between songs.  He talked briefly about the origins of his songs but was almost uncomfortable when not performing.  His performance was stunning to me at the time, piano playing unique and gravely voice sincere.

He played at every New Orleans Jazzfest and I usually arranged to be there on the weekend that he played in the years when there between 1982 and 2008, there about half of those years.  While he primarily stayed in New Orleans, he did play in New York from time to time.  One vivid memory was in 1987 when my parents were visiting.  My mother, a fan as well, stayed with the pregnant Kathy while  I made reservations for my father and me to see Dr. John at a club on East 20th St., in doing so saying that due to my father's age and eyesight it would be nice if we could be close to the stage.  We drove into the city in our only car at the time, Kathy's 1972 BMW 2002.  We arrived at this small club, white tablecloths on tables and were seated directly in front on the stage, basically the best seats in the house.  My occasionally deranged father said upon sitting down that it was because he knew Dr. John.  Anyway the experience was special, and after that it was "a fact" that my father was fast friends with the musician.

He performed at other clubs in Manhattan from time to time, memory imperfect on which ones were seen but some definitely were. The last time that I saw Dr. John was at a Levon Helm performance at the Beacon Theater on the upper west side of Manhattan, maybe in 2012.  That was after Helm had been through a serious health scare for a year or more, cancer, and well after "The Band" had disbanded.  That show went on and on with many musicians not advertised showing up on stage.  Patti Smith was one that I remember, but the biggest surprise was Dr. John.  A lengthy "What a Night" followed.

And it was.


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