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The Great Dr. John

The last three paragraphs of this post were published a few years ago, though I changed them to not look odd after Dr. John’s death. With some exceptions, The Daily Music Break doesn’t post about a musician when he or she passes away. The reason is that many of the musicians we care most about are reaching the age when these sad events are likely to happen. We prefer to post when reading, seeing and listening isn’t tinged with sadness.

dr._johnWe do this sometimes, and Dr. John is one such case. Here is a link to an insightful Rolling Stone article about the recording of Dr. John’s last album through the eyes of guitarist Shane Theriot.

Dr. John was both an outsized personality and an important pianist. He was one in a long line of New Orleans pianio players. The list includes Professor Longhair, Jelly Roll Morton, Champion Jack Dupree and Allen Toussaint. There are many others, and some of them still are going strong.

In some ways, Dr. John seems reminiscent to me of Nat King Cole, who was an important pianist before he became a media superstar. It’s a bit of a dual personality. Though Dr. John’s Night Tripper persona did not last too many years, it — together with his unique personal presentation and great pseudonym — were what the public knew most about Dr. John. I love it all–but it starts with the otherworldly piano playing. A good sample of that is above. I don’t believe that this is a song–I think he is just fooling around. I chose it because of the unique side view, which shows the intensity with which he plays.

We are very lucky that there is a tremendous amount of video of Dr. John on YouTube, and I encourage everyone to check it all out. Most of it is very good quality.

I don’t think it’s possible to not like him. Check out a version of “St. James Infirmary” with Eric Clapton.

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Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.