New Orleans music icon Dr. John has died at the age of 77.
According to a statement from his family, Dr. John passed away of a heart attack on Thursday (June 6th). “The family thanks all whom shared his unique musical journey & requests privacy at this time. Memorial arrangements will be announced in due course,” the statement reads.
Born on November 20th, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Malcolm John Rebennack grew up in the city’s Third Ward, where he discovered jazz artists in his father’s record shop and learned minstrel tunes from his extended family members. Although he had no proper musical education, per se, Rebennack had plenty of access to recording studios through his father’s connections in the local music scene.
By his teens, Rebennack became an active session musician as a guitarist and began working with a number of local Big Easy acts. In 1960, he suffered a gunshot wound during a gig that prompted him to focus on the piano, much like his idol and mentor Professor Longhair. Following a two-year sentence for selling narcotics and running a brothel, he moved to Los Angeles where he solidified his legend.
And what a legend it was! Among the many highlights in Rebennack’s storied career include being a part of the infamous Wrecking Crew; recording with The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Sonny & Cher, and Frank Zappa; performing with The Band in Martin Scorsese’s iconic documentary The Last Waltz; giving Bonnaroo its name with 1974’s Destively Bonnaroo; and inspiring Dr. Teeth of The Muppets.
He led an overwhelmingly influential life, so much so that his legend tends to precede any of his actual work, of which there are countless gems within his 20+ releases. A couple essentials include his 1968 album, Gris-Gris, which he recorded as “Dr. John, the Night Tripper”, and his 1973 hit single “Right Place Wrong Time”, which has more or less become synonymous with the entire decade itself.
A six-time Grammy Award winner and inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rebennack was also the recipient of an honorary doctorate of fine arts from New Orleans’ own Tulane University. His influence over the city and its surrounding areas will in no way be lost to history. His soul, his music, and his legacy is as much a part of the area as is the Spanish moss that hangs from its many trees.
Revisit a selection of Dr. John’s many other best known compositions: