Just for the record: More voodoo than Mardi Gras
A fortnightly review of music on vinyl
The term “legend” is an overtraded one, too readily employed by a lazy media in reference to popular entertainers. For that reason, I use it reluctantly in commenting on the death last month, aged 77, of Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, aka Dr John Creaux, the Night Tripper, arguably one of the most unique, influential and colourful of the many unique, influential and colourful artists to have emerged from the cultural crucible that is New Orleans.
But legend he was: a pianist, singer and songwriter whose immersion in voodoo culture went way, way deeper than mere Mardi Gras and carnival posturing and was matched only by his mastery of the Crescent City’s many musical forms, including blues, jazz, funk, boogie-woogie, R&B, swamp pop, rock ’n’ roll and Creole roots music.
Certainly, back in 1968, rock audiences had never experienced the sort of the shows he staged to promote his debut album, the classic Gris-Gris (Atco). “Peope liked it,” he recalled in a 2015 interview (https://www.uncut.co.uk/features/dr-john-people-had-never-seen-things-onstage-like-chicken-man-biting-the-heads-off-chickens-71854/3#lRzbcc53C8XjMRmh.99), “they never saw shows like that, with [a woman] dancing nude, with body paint on. They never saw things like Chicken Man biting the heads off chickens and drinking their blood. He’d flip (the chicken) to a snake that they couldn’t see, and the snake would eat it. It was a large black snake, so the crowd couldn’t see it, and —whoosh — the chicken disappeared. We also had magicians — I would come out of a puff of smoke. We threw glitter — and all kinds of roots and herbs to people and that meant something to them. Nobody else was doing that kind of stuff.”..