(Voodoo Blues) Dr. John - Gris-gris
With his eerie growl, and psychotic song structures, Dr. John, “The Night Tripper” (As he likes to call himself) presented Rock ‘n’ Roll with a sound that had never been thought of. The basic Rock ‘n’ Roll sound mixed with New Orleans R+B, Dixieland and Psychedelia add up to produce his outstanding “Voodoo Blues” that has yet to be duplicated nor matched. Though the Doctor’s music brings up enough odd discussion, his story and intentions are just as different and outrageous.
Dr. John (born Malcolm “Mac” John Rebennack) had been interested in the tales and traditions of his native Louisiana since youth. Stories of voodoo and mysterious swamp legends intrigued him, as they would any child. Like the land’s stories, their music had also been quite original. From Dixieland Jazz to New Orleans piano based R+B, they had strongly separated themselves from the rest of the states musically. Apparently, Mac Rebennack had taken an interest in the music. Being taught piano from his childhood years, he would be in the perfect position to play the chosen genre.
Over time and various research, Mac had designed his Voodoo Blues, but he and his band lacked a persona. Mac wanted a mysterious representative to be associated with his music and band. He had been mesmerized by the 1800 root doctor named John Montaigne, also known as Dr. John. The original Dr. John (Also know as Bayou John) had been arrested for practicing voodoo in the swamps of New Orleans with Pauline Rebennack (possible relation with Mac). Many stories of mystery revolve around the man and his mistress. Well, Mac decided that he was the perfect character to model his band and music after. He only need a front man to act as the late Doctor. Mac soon decided that he wanted New Orleans’ very own vocalist Ronnie Barron to be his Dr. John. Fortunately, Ronnie was unavailable, forcing Mac to act the role out by himself.
“Gris-gris” (Cajun for “Voodoo”) came along at a perfect time. The late 1960’s, where all forms of music were accepted, and rarely turned away. Psychedelia, and Acid Rock were the name of the game, and Mac was in no way ignorant to them. He in fact intended on adding them to his he debut. His addition would be vital, for it affected his sound and album greatly, and would help make it as fantastic as it is to this day.
Through, rapid played mandolins and sly vocals, Mac (Now Dr. John) successfully pulled off a perfect concept album based off of the late Bayou John. He managed to incorporate the eerie personality of a legend and his own persona. Ultimately accomplishing a most definitely lesser seen task.
Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
A beyond perfect introduction to both Dr. John and the story and myths of Bayou John. The five minute track opens with the sound of badly recorded, yet perfect horn playing. The Doctor enter with complete style and mystique. The man displays Bayou John’s persona right from the first words. “The call me Dr. John, known as the Night Tripper.” starts off the vocals in an awesome manner. Through the slow paced tune, Dr. John tells what he can do for you. He got medicine, procedures, and various mysterious acts he can perform on you. The pounding toms, the textured rhythms, the elegant mandolin, and the blowing horns make this opener fantastic.
Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
Another voodoo like track, but definitely as exciting as it has ever been. “Danse Kalinda Ba Doom” opens up with pounding percussion. Slightly similar to what Santana’s percussionists do, but Dr. John of course adds his own style. Along side the pounding hand drums are very eerie background vocals combined with beautiful flute and mandolin playing. The composition is wonderful and most definitely progressive. Like the previous track and every other song feature, “Danse Kalinda Ba Doom” is perfect and also very primal.
No, the “Roux” in the title is not a misspelled form of “Rocks”. The song title is not “Mama Rocks”. Though I do not know what “Roux” exactly means, it is irrelevant, for the music is my main interest. The third track opens with a very smooth rhythm, that is perfectly complemented by the Doctor’s nonchalant vocals and his rather odd and diverse lyrical work. Mac’s lyrics actually seem improvised some of the time, but are definitely more than satisfactory. Mac also shows some great leading organ skills without even presenting a solo. Another fantastic display of Mac’s Voodoo music.
A much more Rock track, but needless to sat Psychedelic. The backing electric guitar gives of the definitive Rock ‘n’ Roll sound, while the eerie background vocals vent Mac’s style perfectly. Over the percussion and mandolin lies Mac’s wonderful voice. Full of mystique and scatted words, he manages to make the music original just with his voice. The other musicians are all fabulous, unfortunately the band section on the booklet gives only silly nicknames of the band members and their instruments. So it is of course difficult to tell who reads what. An outstanding bass/tuba center track.
“Croker Courtbullion” would actually start off the second side of the record, if this was a record that is. This actually may be the oddest track, instrumental wise. “Croker Courtbullion” is lead perfectly by a very loud buzzing bass, and is supported by various clusters of background vocalists, guitar solos, and chaotic percussion. The music is very spastic by very intriguing and satisfying. The Jazz side of the Doctor (Not as much the Dixieland side, possibly Free Jazz) is shown greatly and performed very nicely. Dr. John’s consistency keeps on going.
A definite highlight among highlights. “Jump Sturdy” was actually a cover brought into “Gris-gris” because Mac’s grandfather use to perform it in various plays he was featured in, and obviously Mac realized it would mean much to him if he added the song to the track list. Plus, “Jump Sturdy” is a fantastic song that perfectly blends Mac’s growling vocals, and the eerie background vocalists. Right from the get go Mac tells the exciting story of “Jump Sturdy”. A powerful rhythm section of thumping bass playing and a banjo performing various trills back the man up very nicely. A beyond perfect track. Very well done.
I Walk on Guilded Splinters
Almost a conclusion to the life of Bayou John, “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya” and of course a definite conclusion to Gris-gris. The song is very well done, filled with mystique and many of the same attributes that the intro did. Mac once again sings as though he is Bayou John. The lyrics used a fantastic, just like “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya”. The opening words of “Some people think they jive me, but I know they must be crazy. Don’t see their misfortunes, I guess they must be lazy.” says a lot about Bayou John. Through great style and attitude, at this point in the album you overall understand how both Mac Rebennack and Bayou John are. Outstanding track, ending an absolutely perfect album.
Perfect, just perfect.