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The rock 'n' roll doctor returns -- and this time he's angry

even the most talented writer would struggle to come up with the strange tale of Malcolm Rebennack. Born in late 1942 in the musical melting pot that is New Orleans, Rebennack was a musical prodigy and began finding session work in his native city at the age of 15.

Originally a guitarist and bassist, he switched to piano after having one of his fingers shot off in a bar room brawl and drifted to Los Angeles, where his session skills gave way to a solo career.

Rebennack adopted an alter-ego for this move and concocted the persona of Dr John, the Night Tripper. Based on a 19th-century New Orleans witchdoctor, the character provided the canvas for Rebennack to deliver a rich musical tapestry which was as exotic as it was eclectic. His 1968 debut Gris Gris remains as mysterious and surreal as ever. Slippery funk, soul and gospel meshed together in a weird voodoo vortex which was at once sinister and soulful, perhaps the highlight coming with the classic I Walk on Gilded Splinters.


Dancing on the dark side takes its toll, however, and Rebennack himself admits that the Dr John persona took over during a drug-filled 1970s and Eighties, leading to him making a return to New Orleans and adopting a significantly lower profile.

Last year, however, Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys produced and co-wrote Locked Down, a wonderful collection of songs which reflect the anger in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Classic and timeless, this is true music from the soul and fully befitting one of the larger than life characters of rock'n'roll in the past half-century.

>George Byrne