Glossary entry for
Dr. John

Dr. John (b. Malcolm John Rebennack, Nov. 21, 1940, New Orleans, Louisiana) is a musician who incorporates funk, rock 'n' roll, jazz and R & B into his sound. His distinctive vocal growl and virtuoso piano playing have brought him acclaim among critics and fellow artists, though commercial success has not equalled that recognition. In 1957 he began working as a session musician on guitar, piano and other instruments. In the mid 1960's he went to Los Angeles and assumed the persona of Dr. John Creux, the Night Tripper. His 1968 album "Gris Gris" had the classic song "Walk on Gilded Splinters", resulting in Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger guesting on a later album. His biggest US hit came in 1973 with "Right Place, Wrong Time" which reached no. 9. It came from the album In the Right Place which charted at no. 24. He has released over twenty albums and remains a respected figure in the music world. His autobiography, written with Jack Rummel, is called Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of Dr. John the Night Tripper (1994).

As described in Under a Hoodoo Moon (pg 224-226), Van Morrison and Dr. John got friendly during the filming of The Last Waltz. They bounced around the idea of recording an album of R&B material, and got together later in Oxford at Van's initiative to try and put something together with a rhythm session. Dr. John describes the sessions as "one long continual confusion", and nothing was never released. Van Morrison & Dr. John: Amsterdam's Tapes is a (low quality) bootleg recording of a rare Dr. John and Van appearance together in Amsterdam. These sessions were also treed in 2001 under the name The Wonderland Tapes.

Dr. John did appear on Van's A Period of Transition album (1977), and more recently again as a guest on The Skiffle Sessions - Live in Belfast (2000)

Based on contributions by Alan Pert, Sydney, Australia and John Setear

From Chapter 13 of Dr. John's autobiography, Under A Hoodoo Moon, pages 224-226:

During the filming of The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese's tribute to The Band, I became friendly with Van Morrison. While we was hanging out, Van mentioned to me that he wanted to do a record of the old R&B stuff that had inspired him. We threw it around for a while, and later he called to hire me as producer and asked if I could get a rhythm section hooked up to come to England. I managed to hijack part of Stevie Wonder's rhythm section--Ollie Brown on drums and Reggie McBride on bass, plus Ray Parker, Jr., on rhythm guitar, along with myself on piano. These guys were absolutely happening at the time; they'd just finished recording Stevie's Songs in the Key of Life, and were considered one of the hipper rhythm sections.

We flew over, went up to meet Van in Oxford, and we were sitting at the table eating when Ray Parker started getting nervous 'cause his guitar hadn't come through customs. A high-strung person, Ray began to laugh, which is how he acts when he gets in a new situation that sets him at angles. At one point, Van got the idea that Ray was laughing at him--he'd missed the origin of Ray's hilarity. We wound up the next day with Van firing Ray Parker. Now, this was a time when Ray was playing on sessions with Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and heaps of other stars. He'd canceled stuff like that to come do the gig with Van, and Van shot him down before he even got started. Suddenly we ain't got a guitarist, and Ray's pissed with me because I'm the one who contracted him.

I told Reggie and Ollie, "Look, guys, we're going to make this record no matter what," and even though they were a little weirded out, they stuck it out because they wanted to go through with it. We all hung in there because Van just draws in musicians on account of his powerful singing; he may not have the best personality to deal with people, but the mystical quality of his voice could make you go through hell in dealing with him.

During the session I have strange memories of him auditioning a lot of guitar players--a group that included many of the premier players of England, who had driven up from London to Oxford to make the gig. There were players all over the studio; I'd give one guy a downbeat, he'd hit one note, and Van would cut him off--"Next!" It went on and on like that: The whole Chris Barber Band came there to play on a tune, and they all got axed real fast, too. It was one long continual confusement, and it all came out of the Ray Parker fiasco. We never did find a steady player, so Van and I ended up splitting the guitar duties ourselves. We finally used Marlo Henderson, who along with Reggie and Ollie was a member of Stevie Wonder's recording band. Marlo recorded his lead guitar parts during overdubbing sessions later in LA.

The same troubles hampered our work throughout these sessions. I had written some horn charts for the album and came to the studio ready to do the horns, but Van had fired most of the horn section! We had to wing it with just Jerry Jumonville and Joel Peskin on saxes, a sudden change of direction that made the horn charts useless, because I had written them for six horns.

I shouldn't have been surprised at all this. I'd heard stories about how difficult Van could be from Stuart Levine and Joe Sample and the Jazz Crusaders, who had collaborated with Van on an album not long before. At the time, the Jazz Crusaders were the premier band in the land, but whatever went down, apparently it wasn't right on the nail enough for Van. After they finished the record, Van changed his mind, decided he didn't like the album, and erased it.

He's probably one of the few guys that I ever felt like punching out in the middle of a session, but I didn't do it--not because I didn't feel like it but because I respected his singing so much. I really did get that mad at him sometimes; he's a very hard guy to deal with, but he has a thing about him that I iust dig. His music is powerful. He's a mystical cat and I got to respect that in him. I figure the more talent there is in people, the bigger pain in the ass they usually are. But there are guys like Eric Clapton who disprove my rule: He has that kind of talent, but he's an easy-to-deal-with cat, a real sweetheart. He's always contributing, never in the way--the total opposite of Van.

Van references in:

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