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.
We 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.