"May the Gilded splinters of Auntie Andre spew forth in your path to light and guide your way through the bayous of life" [Dr.John]
With the news today of the passing of Mac Rebbenack [Malcolm John] I thought I would provide a rewrite of an album of his I reviewed some six years ago.
That review was in my Cream Of The Crate series, and the fact it was #3 in a set of reviews that ran for 250 albums does give some insight into my delight, appreciation and respect for his music.
Mac Rebennack began playing music in New Orleans clubs at a young age and at 13 years of age met the iconic Professor Longhair whose own flamboyant style of dress and piano playing had a lasting effect upon him.
Dr Johns web site says of him, “His very colorful musical career began in the 1950s when he wrote and played guitar on some of the greatest records to come out of the Crescent City, including recordings by Professor Longhair, Art Neville, Joe Tex and Frankie Ford.”
Further trouble at home sent Dr. John west in the 1960s, where he continued to be in demand as a session musician, playing on records by Sonny and Cher, Frank Zappa, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones’ infamous Exile On Main St. to name a few.”
His first release was a Bo Diddley influenced instrumental called “Storm Warning” which was released on Rex Records in 1959.
Working in and around New Orleans he became very interested in New Orleans style voodoo and in fact, the persona he took as Dr. John was inspired by a 19th century voodoo practitioner.
it was in his persona of Dr. John that I became aware of Mac’s music, in 1969 – 50 years before his death.
As Mac Rebbenack he released a plethora of music and as Dr John he released a significant number of albums, and it is that first album release – Gris Gris, that grabbed my attention.
He created a transfixing album based upon Cajun Voodoo mixed with a dynamic and rhythmic musical backing and a dash of southern swamp music– and, using his own gravely voice and ethereal female backing singers, produced a lasting piece of highly original work.
His shows were extremely elaborate and in many ways he was a pace-setter. They bordered on voodoo religious ceremonies and were filled with elaborate costumes and headdress’.
The good Doctor describes his group during one of his many incantations.
“My group consists of Dr. Poo Pah Doo of Destine Tambourine and Dr. Ditmus of Conga, Dr. Boudreaux of Funky Knuckle Skins and Dr. Batiste of Scorpio and Bass Clef…(rambles on)…who were all dreged up from the rigolets by the zombie of the second. Under the eight visions of Professor Longhair reincannted the charts of now.”
Gris-gris, also spelled grigri, is a voodoo amulet originating in Africa and those polyrhythmic African beats permeate the track, mixed with just the right amount of western psychedelic rock.
Tracks vary between the hypnotic chant style of ‘Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya” through to the dance pace of “Danse Kalinda” and the very threatening, but entertaining, “I Walk On Guilded Splinters”.
The Album “Gris Gris” was spectacularly unsuccessful, except with a hard-nosed group of fans in both the USA and Australia.
the album was released in the US in 1968 and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to it not long after and that ATCO original remains a treasured LP in my collection.
The CD version was released many years later and touched a sympathetic nerve with a new audience, who have gone on to discover and recognise, that whether as Dr John, or Mac Rebbanack, he has produced some remarkable music.
He garnered Grammy award wins in 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2000. In 2004, his musical love letter to the city of New Orleans, “N’awlinz Dis Dat or D’udda,” was awarded the prestigious Académie Charles Cros 57ème Palmarès award in France. It was the first time since the 1970s that an artist from North America received the award.
In 2011 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This album continues to have pride of place in my collection. In order to understand why – turn the lights down low, maybe light a few candles, and listen to Gris Gris – you may never be the same again.
1. Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
2. Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
3. Mama Roux
4. Danse Fambeaux
1. Croker Courtbullion
2. Jump Sturdy
3. I Walk on Guilded Splinters
Unfortunately I have only been been unable to locate one video of Dr John doing tracks from this album, even though I remember two different video/film clips being used in the late 70’s. So the first is from from the Gris Gris album and then some wonderful clips of Mac playing.
Walk on guilded splinters
Vale Mac Rebennack and may you walk on gilded splinters [(November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019)
Read and listen to more: Cream of The Crate: Album #116 – Ske-Dat-De-Dat The Spirit of Satch: Dr. John