In Memoriam: Dr. John, The Night Tripper (1941-2019)
Photo by Dino Perrucci
Six time Grammy winner and New Orleans icon Dr. John has died of a heart attack. He was 77.
Born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Dr. John was best known for his unique brand of swamp funk, with tunes like “Right Place Wrong Time,” “Such A Night,” “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” and more.
He grew up in NOLA’s Third Ward, and had a passion for music from a young age.
“My auntie taught me how to play the piano as a little kid. She showed me how to play some boogie-woogie stuff and all,” he told the Bonnaroo Beacon in 2006. “But I knew I’d never get a job in New Orleans playin’ no piano with all them bad piano players around. Everybody, every neighborhood had bad piano players. I wanted to play music, so I figured that’s how I’m gonna get me a job learn the guitar.”
Nevertheless, after injuring his left hand in a gunfight, Dr. John returned to the keyboard and broke onto the scene in 1968 with his album Gris Gris.It was during this era he adopted the persona of The Night Tripper, a title that stuck with him for the rest of his life.
Later, he teamed with fellow funk trailblazers The Meters on classic LPs like In The Right Place and Desitively Bonnaroo (the latter becoming the inspiration for the landmark Bonnaroo Music Festival).
Dr. John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, and his final live performance was, appropriately, at the 2017 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
He retired from public life in 2018. “After six decades of life on the road, Dr. John is taking a well-earned break and resting at home,” read a statement from his publicist.
“I had to hustle out of left-field to stay in this business,” Dr. John said in 2006. “Cause I was never musically trained or I wasn’t a lot of things.”
The Night Tripper remains one of the most unique voices to ever come out of New Orleans, his style and character only overshadowed by his tremendous talent. He will be dearly missed by music fans worldwide.