Dr. John was born on November 21, 1940, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Having played as a guitarist and pianist for years in both his home city and Los Angeles, the splashy musician made his album debut with Gris-Gris in 1968. He had a hit single a few years later with "Right Place, Wrong Time," and over the decades, with many albums, has continued to share and shape the tradition of New Orleans R&B.
The musician who would become known as Dr. John was born Malcom John Rebennack Jr. in New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 21, 1940. Rebennack graced the boxes of Ivory Soap products as a child, thanks to his mother's connections as a model. His father had a music store, and by his teens, the young Rebennack was a skilled pianist and guitarist, playing with bands in his home city. His work was influenced greatly by pianist/songwriter Professor Longhair, who is regarded as a trailblazing shaper of New Orleans-style R&B.
Rebennack himself was one of the founders of the predominantly African-American cooperative All For One (AFO) Records, and in the late '50s, he released the single "Storm Warning" under the name Mac Rebennack.
Becoming Dr. John
After a 1961 barroom gun incident that severely damaged one of his fingers, Rebennack focused on piano work. (His finger later underwent successful reconstructive surgery and therapy.) By the middle of the decade, he moved to Los Angeles, doing sometimes unstimulating session playing. In the late '60s, Rebennack and a colleague Ronnie Barron were slated to work on a project together, but Barron pulled out, leaving Rebennack to come up with the front-man persona Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper.
With references to voodoo and an onstage guise that evoked a sequined, gilded shaman with attire by the Mardi Gras Indians, he released 1968's Gris-Gris, a pioneering debut album of rhythmic exploration and experimentation.
Rebennack eventually just used the moniker Dr. John; over the ensuing decades he released an almost continual stream of albums and songs that covered a range of genres and styles, from soul variations to original piano compositions to American songbook standards. He also crafted and sang jingles for TV commercials.
Hit Song: 'Right Place, Wrong Time'
His 1973 album, In the Right Place, contained the hit single "Right Place, Wrong Time," while the 1981 album Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack featured intricate key-playing by the musician. After a steady output in the '90s that included the release of his autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of Dr. John the Night Tripper (1994), the new millennium saw the release of Sippiana Hericane (2005)—part of the effort to help New Orleans and its musicians recover from Hurricane Katrina—and Mercernary (2006), an album of covers featuring the songs of Johnny Mercer.
Multiple Grammy Awards
Dr. John has won several Grammy Awards in a variety of categories, including best jazz vocal performance, duo or group for his version of "Makin' Whoopee" with Rickie Lee Jones, and best rock instrumental performance for his part in the multi-artist collaboration "SRV Shuffle." His 1992 album, Goin' Back to New Orleans, won for best traditional blues album, and 2012's Locked Down received the award for best blues album. The reflective Locked Down also received attention for its production work by Dan Auerbach of the rock duo the Black Keys.
Dr. John received another honor in 2011, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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