Dr. John: Night trippin’ at the Grammy Museum


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Nearly two months into the worst oil spill in history, a Facebook group has sprung up for people who support British Petroleum and think the company has gotten a bad rap. Don’t look for Dr. John’s name on that page’s friends list.

“Let BP foot the bill,” he interjected into “Black Gold,” a song about the consequences of the “Drill, baby, drill!” mentality from his 2008 post-Hurricane Katrina album, “City That Care Forgot,” which won the Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album


The irascible pianist-singer-songwriter-producer worked several jabs at BP into his performance and Q&A on Monday night at the Grammy Museum while skipping through his half-century career as one of the chief ambassadors of Louisiana music and culture. He was in full sartorial splendor in a vibrant purple suit, a satiny silvery-gray paisley shirt, a smart fedora, several necklaces of beads and animal teeth and a voodoo-ish walking stick.

He said the recent spill is just the latest, albeit the most egregious, of hundreds of such incidents in the region in recent years as oil exploration has expanded. “Nobody [outside of Louisiana] heard about those,” he said, “because they weren’t as completely ridiculous as this one.”

The occasion was a preview of “Tribal,” a new album coming Aug. 3 and whose title reflects Dr. John’s belief that “The whole world is one tribe,” he told an audience of about 200 in the museum’s performance space newly crowned The Clive Davis Theater. “We’re all one. All the rest is confusion. The rest is jive.”

In between about a dozen songs spanning his career, for which he was accompanied by the furiously funky Lower 911 trio, the artist also known as “The Night Tripper” spoke with Grammy Museum executive director Robert Santelli about what makes New Orleans culturally unique, and about its ability to bounce back from adversity.

“It’s never going to be the same as it was,” he said, “but New Orleans is still a special, spiritual place.”

Backstage after the performance, he told me he’s been gratified at the empathy shown for his beloved hometown in the HBO series “Treme,” rooted as it is in the daily lives of members of the musical community in the Tremé neighborhood just outside the French Quarter.


Given New Orleans’ stature as the widely acknowledged birthplace of jazz as well as one of the musical breeding grounds that gave rise to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, Dr. John, a.k.a. Mac Rebennack, said: “People need to know about this place. It’s important.”

-- Randy Lewis

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