Dr. John, whose name has been synonymous with the music of New Orleans for six decades, has passed away at age 77.
Born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., the six-time Grammy nominee died Thursday morning of a heart attack, with the sad news announced on social media.
Raised on music in his hometown of New Orleans, Rebennack — nicknamed Mac — played several instruments, but was best known for his work on the keyboard, taking lessons from New Orleans music icon Professor Longhair when he was just a teenager.
He was already a familiar figure in New Orleans when he burst on the international music scene in 1967 under the name Dr. John the Nite Tripper, making his debut with the groundbreaking album Gris Gris, which melded the soulful funk of New Orleans with spooky voodoo and psychedelic rock in the eerie hit single “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”. His onstage persona took things even further, adorned with feathered Mardi Gras costumes, skulls and other voodoo accoutrements.
A sought-after session musician, Dr. John played with numerous artists through the years, including The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond, Gregg Allman, Carly Simon and James Taylor, and many more.
Dr. John ditched the psychedlia with his 1972 masterpiece Gumbo, putting his unique spin on the classic New Orleans tunes he grew up with, including “Iko Iko” and “Tipitina”.
The following year he achieved his greatest commercial success with In the Right Place, which leaned heavily into New Orleans funk and spawned the hit singles “Right Place Wrong Time” and “Such a Night”; he memorably performed the latter with The Band at their farewell concert, documented in Martin Scorsese’s classic concert film “The Last Waltz”.
Dr. John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, and in 2012 released Locked Down, an album produced by Black Keys’ frontman Dan Auerback that earned some of the best reviews of his career.
“The old-timers schooled me good,” Dr. John reflected in an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “They brainwashed me to respect music, whether we were playing rockabilly or blues or rock and roll.”
Upon news of his passing, tributes from fellow musicians and celebrity fans came flooding in via social media: