NEW ORLEANS (CelebrityAccess) — New Orleans music legend Dr. John, who performed everything from Tin Pan Alley hits to psychedelic rock, died on June 6th. He was 77.
Dr. John’s passing was confirmed in a statement on his social media, which said he died after suffering from a heart attack.
Born Malcolm John Rebennack, Dr. John grew up in New Orleans’ Third Ward, where he was exposed to influences that ranged from early Jelly Roll Morton era jazz to rock pioneers such as Little Richard.
As a teenager, Rebennack was mentored by the legendary New Orleans blues pianist Professor Longhair and he began to perform professionally, both with the Professor and with other New Orleans lineups, including the Skyliners, and The Thunderbirds.
While still a teenager, Dr. John was hired as a producer at Johnny Vincent’s Ace Records and he soon dropped out of high school to pursue a full-time career in music.
He scored his first regional hit at the age of 17 when he co-wrote Jerry Byrne’s 1958 Speciality Records hit “Lights Out” with Seth David, and followed it up in 1959 with his recording of “Storm Warning.”
However, despite his early success, Rebennack began to supplement his income with petty crime and was forced to switch from guitar to piano after one of his fingers was shot off during a barroom dispute.
As well, he began using and selling drugs and developed an addiction to heroin, which eventually led to his arrest and a two-year stint in a Federal prison in Texas.
After he was released in 1965, he decided to try his luck in Los Angeles, where he became popular session musician and part of the famed Wrecking Crew, providing backing for artists such as Canned Heat, Sonny & Cher, and Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention.
It was in California that he created his Dr. John, the Night Tripper persona, a character based on a spooky fusion of New Orleans R&B, Voodoo and psychedelic rock. The early 1970s were a creatively productive period for Dr. John and led to some of his best known hits, including Iko-Iko, the lead-off single from his 5th studio album which cracked the Billboard Hot 100, and “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Such a Night” from his 1973 album “In the Right Place.”
Other notable albums include “Goin’ Back to New Orleans,” which was a paean to his native city, and which earned Rebennack a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1992.
In his later years, he participated in a variety of projects both musical and film. He performed “Down in New Orleans” for the animated Disney film “The Princess & The Frog”, and a take on “The Bare Necessities” for Disney’s 2016 live-action remake of “The Jungle Book.” He also appeared as himself on David Simon’s HBO drama “Treme.”
After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Rebennack took part in the recovery effort, including performing “Walkin’ to New Orleans”, to close the Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast telethon.
In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of a class that included Neil Diamond, Leon Russell, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, and Darlene Love.
His final public performance took place on Oct. 25, 2017, when he taped a tribute to Fats Domino as part of the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame, performing “Ain’t That A Shame” with Elvis Costello, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and members of the Neville Brothers backing band. Shortly after that appearance, he canceled upcoming performances.
“After six decades of life on the road, Dr. John is taking a well-earned break and resting at home,” his publicist said at the time. “I wouldn’t count out more shows down the road, so stay tuned. The last statement he gave me is: ‘Everything is good.'”
Following his passing, a statement from his family asked for privacy and said that information regarding a memorial would be forthcoming.