Top 10 Dr. John Songs

Dr. John Songs

Photo: wpopp [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Mac Rebennac, better known as Dr. John, A.K.A. The Night Tripper has been one of the most enduring and influential musicians and songwriters of all time. Dr. John’s career spanned five decades. Dr. John was born Mac Rebennac in New Orleans in 1941. Dr. John was influenced by the predominantly black musicians in the New Orleans club scene and early rock and roll musicians like Little Richard. Dr. John began writing songs for other musicians in his mid-teens. In 1960 Dr. John was shot in the hand causing him to switch from guitar to piano.

Dr. John embarked on a successful solo career with a heavy jazz, blues, psychedelic and traditional New Orleans R&B. Rebennac’s fascination with New Orleans Voodoo earned him the name Dr. John, The Night Tripper. Originally an invented persona akin to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, eventually it simply became Rebennac’s stage name. Dr. John released several highly regarded albums beginning in the late 60’s and early 70’s like 1973’s In The Right Place. Along with notable musicians such as Neil Young, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, Dr. John was one of the artists to play at the Last Waltz, the farewell show for The Band. Dr. John performed a memorable version of “Such A Night” with The Band.

Dr. John’s career continued throughout the next few decades. In 2000 Dr. John appeared in the movie Blues Brothers 2000 and contributed several songs to the soundtrack including a cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and “New Orleans.” Dr. John continued to perform and record regularly up until his death in 2019. Dr. John has been cited as an influence by multiple generations of musicians from multiple genres such as Bob Dylan, The Band, Los Lobos, U2, James Taylor, Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Chicken Snake and countless other bands and artists.

10. (Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away

Recorded for Dr. John’s 1974 album Desitively Bonnaroo“(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away” was the first single from Desitively Bonnaroo“(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away” was written and arranged by Dr. John. “(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away” features the New Orleans funk group The Meters as the backing band as well as a number of session musicians. “(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away” continued the popular funk and soul sound on Dr. John’s previous record, ensuring his enduring musical popularity.

9. Season of the Witch

Originally written in 1966 by Donovan and Shawn Smith for Donovan’s Sunshine Superman album. Though Donovan’s version of “Season of the Witch” is a psychedelic folk song Dr. John reworked it entirely. Dr. John’s cover of “Season of the Witch” has a completely different arrangement, style, and instrumentation than the original. Dr. John’s “Season of the Witch” is a heavy, electric guitar based psychedelic swamp blues song. The only similarities shared with Donovan’s version of “Season of the Witch” are the lyrics. Dr. John recorded “Season of the Witch” for the soundtrack of the film Blues Brothers 2000. Dr. John’s backing group for “Season of the Witch” is The Blues Brothers Band.

8. Babylon

The title track to Dr. John’s second album, Babylon“Babylon” is musically rooted in R&B and psychedelic rock. The lyrics of “Babylon” are topical and apocalyptic referencing the chaotic state of the world at the time “Babylon” was written. Harold Battiste helped to produce and arrange “Babylon.” “Babylon” became a classic and Dr. John often played it live. As such “Babylon” appears on Dr. John’s subsequent live album, 1975’s Hollywood Be Thy Name. “Babylon” features apocalyptic lyrical imagery and atypical tempos to give it an otherworldly feel.

7. New Orleans

Appearing on Dr. John’s 1975 release Dr. John and His New Orleans Congregation“New Orleans” was originally written by Joseph Royster and Frank Guida. “New Orleans” was first recorded in 1960 by Gary U.S. Bonds. Dr. John’s version of “New Orleans” is vastly altered from the original. “New Orleans” features Dr. John’s Bonnaroo Horn Section and backing band, the funk group The Meters giving “New Orleans” a more full bodied, energetic sound. “New Orleans” became a staple of Dr. John’s live set. Dr. John contributed a version of “New Orleans” recorded with the Blues Brothers Band for the movie Blues Brothers 2000. Dr. John also made a cameo appearance in the film.

6. I Walk On Gilded Splinters

The final track on Dr. John’s debut album, 1968’s Gris-Gris“I Walk On Gilded Splinters” mixes surreal lyrics with psychedelic rock and New Orleans R&B to achieve a haunting, mysterious sound. Dr. John sang the vocals for “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” as well as writing the surreal lyrics and playing keyboards, guitar and percussion. “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” was produced and partly arranged by Harold Battiste who also played bass and clarinet.

Other musicians to play on “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” include Richard ‘Didimus’ Washington on guitar and mandolin, Plas Johnson on sax, Lonnie Boulden on flute, Steve Mann and Ernest Maclean on guitar and banjo, Bob West on bass, Mo Pedido on congas and John Boudreaux on the drum kit along with a number of backing singers. The unprecedented size of Dr. John’s band gave “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” a wild, full sound. “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” is one of Dr. John’s most influential recordings. “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” has been covered by the likes of Humble Pie, The Drive-By Truckers, Jello Biafra and Paul Weller.

5. Same Old Same Old

The second track on Dr. John’s critically acclaimed 1972 album In The Right Place. “Same Old Same Old” is anything but the same as it explores new sonic territory for Dr. John. “Same Old Same Old”moved away from his swampy psychedelic roots to reveal a funk and soul influence. Rebennack wrote “Same Old Same Old” himself on the piano. The recorded version of “Same Old Same Old” features a full sound complete with a New Orleans style horn section, named the Bonnaroo Horn Section.

Aside from the vocals, horns and piano most of the instruments in “Same Old Same Old” are played by New Orleans funk group The Meters. “Same Old Same Old” is a departure from Dr. John’s more standard R&B material. The risk paid off as “Same Old Same Old” is now considered one of Dr. John’s classic songs.

4. Desitively Bonnaroo

The title and closing track to Dr. John’s 1974 album Desitively Bonnaroo“Desitively Bonnaroo” featured the eclectic Voodoo flavored New Orleans funk and R&B that Dr. John was now well known for. “Desitively Bonnaroo” was written by Mac Rebennack and Jessie Hill. An updated live version of “Desitively Bonnaroo” appeared on Dr. John’s 1975 live album Hollywood Be Thy Name. This second version of “Desitively Bonnaroo” was co-written by famous producer Bob Ezrin who also worked with Pink Floyd and Lou Reed. “Desitively Bonnaroo” lent its name to the now world famous Bonnaroo music festival.

3. Iko Iko

Originally a traditional New Orleans Creole song, Dr. John covered “Iko Iko” on his fifth album, 1972’s Dr. John’s Gumbo. The single of “Iko Iko” reached number seventy one in the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Dr. John’s version of “Iko Iko” built on the original by Barbara and Rosa Hawkins as well as earlier covers by Joan Johnson and James Crawford. Since “Iko Iko” was a New Orlean’s classic it was heavily influenced by New Orleans traditional music and Louisiana R&B. “Iko Iko” was produced by Jerry Wexler and Harold Battiste.

2. Such A Night

Appeared on Dr. John’s classic 1973 release,  In The Right Place“Such A Night” was the second single from  In The Right Place. “Such A Night” is an upbeat, catchy, piano based R&B, soul and funk song. “Such a Night” reached number four on the Hot Soul Singles chart in 1973. In 1975 Dr. John did his most famous performance of “Such A Night” at The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz. Dr. John was invited to play because The Band considered him to be a major influence on their music. “Such A Night” is thus one of Dr. John’s most famous signature songs. “Such A Night” combines Dr. John’s many musical interests utilizing elements of R&B, New Orleans blues, rock and roll, funk and soul.

1. Right Place Wrong Time

Released in 1973 on Dr. John’s highest charting and most famous album,  In The Right Place“Right Place Wrong Time” is an upbeat track influenced by classic R&B, New Orleans music, soul, funk and psychedelia to create a sound that was wholly original. “Right Place Wrong Time” reached number nine on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart. “Right Place Wrong Time” did even better in Canada, peaking at number six.“Right Place Wrong Time” ended up being the 24th most popular song of the year 1973.

“Right Place Wrong Time” is Dr. John’s most well known song. “Right Place Wrong Time” has spawned several cover versions, notably in the 1990’s by New York alt rock band Jon Spencer’s Blue’s Explosion on their album Acme Plus. “Right Place Wrong Time” has also been covered by the Dave Matthews Band and Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies among others.

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