Few artists, let alone musicians, came to represent their home region as much as Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John. His medley of blues, boogie-woogie and old-time medicine show ephemera has become, for many, the platonic ideal of New Orleans culture.
It very nearly didn’t happen that way, however. Dr. John was originally a guitarist, working with the likes of Professor Longhair. He only switched to the piano after being shot in the hand while breaking up a post-gig fight. He then relocated to Los Angeles for a while, joining the Wreckin’ Crew of session musicians and even providing backing vocals for Sonny and Cher.
It was in 1968, with the release of Gris Gris, that he began using the Dr. John stage name and persona. Even then he’d originally planned for another musician to be the “face” of the project, only putting the voodoo robes on himself when they backed out. The album, along with Dr. John’s early 1970s work, is critically lauded and still gets turntable time among student stoners in 2019. His work was a credited influence on everyone from Keith Richards to John Legend, and he also found time to record the theme to the Curious George cartoon.