We move into 1968 with an eclectic album, the debut from New Orleans piano master Dr. John. My family lived in the New Orleans area for 10 years when I was younger, and I gained a tremendous appreciation for the unique sounds of the city, and you will see that influence bleed through in a big way as this project continues. Starting with Fats Domino, there is a long-running collection of great piano singers that come from this city that includes Art Neville, Allen Toussaint, and of course, Dr. John. This album, “Gris Gris”, is ranked #356 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
When I think of Dr. John, I think of his unique piano sound that is a Cajun version of ragtime with a twist of jazz, funk, and blues. What this album actually delivered, to my surprise, is a much higher infusion of psychedelia, Mardi Gras Indian chants, and cosmic sounds consistent with the world in the late 1960s. If you have seen the movie “Easy Rider”, during the scene where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are on LSD in the New Orleans above-ground cemetery, you could easily envision most of this album working as that soundtrack.
It was a much different listen than I was expecting, and it took a couple of times through to rethink what I was hearing and listen to it differently. From the simpler sounds of “Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya” to the fairly far-out-there track, “Croker Courtbullion”, Dr. John took me somewhere much further and less predictable than I expected. I still resonate with the familiar strains of his more popular sound that will emerge later, but I absolutely appreciate the connection this has to the voodoo-inspired world of New Orleans.
I did have one big dose of flashback myself, as I heard what appears to be the original version of “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”, written by Dr. John as most of these songs were. I have heard this song performed as a cover dozens of times, primarily by another notable New Orleans band I will feature many times down the road.
Time to start a new day, maybe clear my head with a beignet if only I had one, and bid farewell to the Crescent City… for now.