Legendary funk artist Mac Rebennack – aka Dr. John – died of a heart attack today, his family confirmed in a press statement. He was 77.
Rebennack was born in New Orleans, La. in 1941. The Big Easy had a profound impact on Rebennack’s music, cutting his teeth in New Orleans night clubs and venues throughout his teenage years. The city’s excess of jazz, funk, R&B, blues, and rock and roll would all inform his playing as he progressed as a musician – as well as his fascination with voodoo.
When Rebennack was 13-years-old, he began performing with blues icon Professor Longhair. He’d continue to work as a session and touring musician throughout the 50s and early 1960s. He’d score his first hit in 1959 under his legal name with the bluesy single “Storm Warning.” His career as a guitarist was cut short in 1960 when his ring finger was damaged by a gunshot during a gig in Jackson, Mississippi, prompting him to turn his focus to bass guitar and piano.
In 1968, Rebennack released Gris-Gris, his debut album under the Dr. John moniker. The album failed to chart upon release but has since been canonized as a hallmark of Rebennack’s career. He’d later score a top 10 hit in 1978 with “Right Place, Wrong Time."
Rebennack would go on to have a prolific career, both as Dr. John and as a collaborator with other artists. Over the years he’s worked with such names as B.B. King, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, The Black Keys, Carly Simon, Lou Reed, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and numerous others.
As we remember Rebennack’s life, revisit some of our favorites from his career below.