Years ago, I got turned on to the psychedelic New Orleans "voodoo" vibe of Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack, Jr.). His 1968 debut Gris-Gris is a fantastically weird amalgam of R&B, dark psych rock, and NOLA culture. I'd never seen footage of the Night Tripper, as Dr. John is also known, until today. Quite a spectacle. From music critic Richie Unterberger's liner notes for a reissue of Gris-Gris:
Gris-Gris was the first record credited to Dr. John, and to most listeners he seemed to have dropped out of nowhere with his mystical R&B psychedelia and Mardi Gras Indian costumes. The album, however, was actually the culmination of about 15 years of professional experience, during which Dr. John -- born Mac Rebennack in New Orleans -- had absorbed the wealth of musical influences for which the Crescent City is famed. Gris-Gris's roots reach back well beyond the dawn of the twentieth century, even as the album took in cutting-edge influences such as 1960s progressive jazz, and pushed into territory that no popular musician had ever explored in quite the same fashion."Gris-Gris" by Dr. John, The Night Tripper (Amazon)
"Gris-Gris" itself is a New Orleans term for voodoo, and the name Dr. John taken from a New Orleans root doctor of the 1840s and 1850s. Also known as John Montaigne and Bayou John, he was busted in the 1840s for practicing voodoo with Pauline Rebennack, who may or may not have been a distant relative of our man Mac. One of Mac's grandfathers sang in a minstrel show, and the latter-day Dr. John adapted one of grandpa's favorite tunes, "Jump Sturdy," into the track on Gris-Gris of the same name. His onstage costumes and feathered headdresses, the source of shock and delight to audiences since the late 1960s, are similarly adapted from those worn by Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, famed for the infectious tribal percussive rhythms and chants they perform in local parades.
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.