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Great Americans Week: Dr. John and Professor Longhair

Second up on The Daily Music Break’s random Independence Day list of great American musicians and bands is Dr. John.

Malcolm John Rebennack was born in New Orleans in 1940. The piano player is one of a truly amazing list of piano players associated with the Crescent City. They include Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, Champion Jack Dupree, Fats Domino, Marcia Ball, Henry Butler and Jelly Roll Morton. In a sense, Dr. John represents the group, which only is challenged for New Orleans supremacy by the trumpet players and the food.

Dr. John

Virtually all the bios of famous musicians are interesting, since it’s clear how things end up. How they get there generally is compelling. Talent and a bit of luck inevitably win out. Dr. John’s bio is even a bit more interesting because he was involved with flamboyant and important characters early on. His father owned a record shop which, presumably, gave him access to some of the greats of the day. He saw King Oliver and Louis Armstrong perform, and crossed paths — Wikipedia is bit vague — with Little Richard and Guitar Slim.

The many who inspired young Dr. John was Professor Longhair, who he met when he was only 13 or 14 years old. The meeting made an impression, as noted by Wikipedia.

He describes his initial impression of Professor Longhair noting not only his musical prowess, but his style: “I was also fascinated that he was sitting out there in a turtleneck shirt with a beautiful gold chain with a watch hangin’ on it, and an Army fatigue cap on his head. And I thought, Wow, I never seen nobody dressed like this guy. Just everything about the man was totally hip. And he had gloves on him, too, beautiful silk gloves. I’ll never forget this.”[4]

Dr. John has many facets. He is an wildly talented pianist, flamboyant, dramatic and unique.

The beauty of running your own website is that you can break or bend the rules without answering to anyone. I originally intended to post one artist or band per day for five days before and after July 4. As much of an icon as Dr. John is, it seemed a bit odd to post about him but not Professor Longhair, who seems to have been his major influence. The site has posted about Professor Longhair, who was born Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd in Bogalusa, LA in 1919. Hopefully next year will be filled with lots of Professor Longhair, since it will be his centennial. Below is Tipitina, one of his best known songs.

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