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Citizen King

Citizen King

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The New Orleans king of boogie-woogie piano wasn't always known as Dr. John and he didn't even always play piano. Both the name and the chosen instrument came to him by accident, but they proved to be the kind of accident that paid off. A colorful character that played with both jazz greats such as Leonard James and rock gods such as The Rolling Stones, he was never happier than when he was playing his own brand of blues, boogie-woogie and rock, mixed with just a bit of New Orleans magic. He learned his trade by playing with New Orleans jazz bands as a teen, moved to Los Angeles to work as a session musician in the mid-'60s and soon became a staple at the legendary New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival. A six-time Grammy winner and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the irrepressible Dr. John was the epitome of old fashion New Orleans musicianship.Born Malcom John Rebennack Jr. in New Orleans in 1940, his early love of New Orleans music was sparked by his father's side work fixing electrical wiring for local nightclubs and recording studios. His father would take him along on these trips and through them, "Mac" soon began playing guitar. He landed his first gig playing with the legendary jazz...

The New Orleans king of boogie-woogie piano wasn't always known as Dr. John and he didn't even always play piano. Both the name and the chosen instrument came to him by accident, but they proved to be the kind of accident that paid off. A colorful character that played with both jazz greats such as Leonard James and rock gods such as The Rolling Stones, he was never happier than when he was playing his own brand of blues, boogie-woogie and rock, mixed with just a bit of New Orleans magic. He learned his trade by playing with New Orleans jazz bands as a teen, moved to Los Angeles to work as a session musician in the mid-'60s and soon became a staple at the legendary New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival. A six-time Grammy winner and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the irrepressible Dr. John was the epitome of old fashion New Orleans musicianship.

Born Malcom John Rebennack Jr. in New Orleans in 1940, his early love of New Orleans music was sparked by his father's side work fixing electrical wiring for local nightclubs and recording studios. His father would take him along on these trips and through them, "Mac" soon began playing guitar. He landed his first gig playing with the legendary jazz musician Leonard James and was soon in numerous clubs around New Orleans, jamming with the many jazz bands that dotted the musical landscape.

In the early 1950s he played with Professor Longhair, an icon in the blues and jazz world. By the time he was a teen, Mac was working as a session musician with the likes of Art Neville, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. In 1958 he met Harold Batiste and Melvin Lastie, both established musicians in the jazz world, who were forming a cooperative record company. They invited the young Mac to join them, and All for One (AFO) Records was born. It would prove to be one of the seminal companies for early jazz recordings despite its short discography.

His career could have ended in 1961 when he found himself in the middle of a gun fight between an angry hotel owner and the band's singer. Shot in the hand with the index finger of his left hand hanging by a thread, he was rushed to hospital and had it reattached. He began to play piano as therapy and it soon became his primary instrument. Although he would still pick up a guitar to write music, he would never play it in a performance again.

Not one to be slowed down by a stiff finger, he moved to Los Angeles and picked up session work during the heydays of the early 1960s. Always theatrical, in 1968 he planned with Ronnie Barron fantastic New Orleans-styled characters and a one-off album and show based on them. When Barron opted out, he created the persona of Dr. John Creaux, the Night Tripper and went ahead on his own. The album, Gris-Gris was one part medicine show and one part voodoo with just enough crazed personality to bring it all to life. He brought in his old pals from the New Orleans music circuit to help and together they created a new sound.

It took several years to find a record company adventurous enough to release it; Atlantic Records finally did through their subsidiary Atco. It became a cult hit, its biggest fans being fellow musicians in every stripe of music. Dr. John took the show on the road in the 1970s, continuing to put out eclectic albums. His 1973 collaboration with Allen Toussaint gave him his first bona fide hit album, In the Right Place. With other musicians sitting in on his albums, including Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, Dr. John had established his own unique niche in the world of music.

By the 1980s he had moved to New York City. He tried his hand at writing commercial jingles while continuing with his recordings and keeping his connection to the New Orleans jazz scene. He became a staple with the legendary New Orleans Jazz Festival in addition to bringing his version of New Orleans jazz to music festivals around the world. He even recorded a collection of ballads titled In A Sentimental Mood that gained him popular recognition in 1989. But he stayed true to his blues roots with the 1990 recordings he did with Art Blakey and Fathead Newman for Bluesania Triangle. He proved he could not only play with the recognized masters of blues and jazz, he was one of them.

The 1990s saw Dr. John branching out into different ways to reach new audiences for jazz and blues. He created a series of teaching tapes that explained New Orleans piano techniques to mid-level students and had fun while he did it. Many had hoped to see a biography and in 1994 he spent some time recalling his tumultuous life when wrote Under a Hoodoo Moon. He finally kicked heroin in the late 1990s with the help of his fiancée Cat Yellan, and released his first live album, Trippin Live. The new century saw him with a new label, the renowned Blue Note, and a return to his musical roots with Duke Elegant. When Hurricane Katrina hit his beloved New Orleans, he hit the ground running. He raised money to help musicians who had lost everything in the flood and recorded Sippiana Hericane as a tribute. Taking a break from the writing, he did an album of covers of Johnny Mercer tunes titled Mercernary. In 2013 he received an honorary degree from Tulane University and began work on his next tribute album, this time to the legendary Louis Armstrong, with Ske-Dat-De-Dat...The Spirit of Satch..

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Known for such albums as "Mobile Estates"
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Popular songs include "Better Days".

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