NEW ORLEANS - MAY 16: (L-R) Director of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and tuba player Ben Jaffe and New Orleans musician Dr John perform at the GULF AID benefit concert at Mardi Gras World River City on May 16, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Skip Bolen/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Ben Jaffe;Dr John
Dr. John, born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. in New Orleans, originally played guitar, but he switched to the keys after being shot in the hand. Despite the traumatic nature of Rebennack's injury, most would call the turn of events a good thing; he's now considered one of the most innovative piano players of his generation.
After his hand injury, Rebennack found a mentor in the ironically nicknamed Professor Longhair (who also went by the name Roy "Bald Head" Byrd). While Longhair's specialties mainly encompassed blues and jazz, Rebennack went on fuse the two genres with New Orleans zydeco, boogie-woogie, R&B, funk and, naturally, rock & roll.
In the early '60s, after stints playing guitar and bass with bands in New Orleans, Rebennack moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a session musician. In the late '60s, Rebennack became Dr. John -- a name inspired by a 19th-century voodoo priest -- and he embarked on a celebrated solo career. He got off to a good start -- Dr. John's 1968 debut, Gris Gris, was named in 2003 by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Since then, Dr. John has continued on a similar track -- but not in the traditional sense. If anything, his modus operandi over the years has been to experiment, and he's broken ground by transforming forgotten genres into something entirely his own. Like the title of his 1972 album, Dr. John's style might best be described as gumbo.
San Diego is fortunate to host Dr. John on June 10 at Anthology. He'll be playing two shows -- one at 7:30 p.m. and one starting two hours later -- so you can't say you missed the opportunity to see him. Get your tickets before it sells out.
T. Loper is a writer for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear.
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