sun 22/04/2018

Dr John & The NiteTrippers, Ronnie Scott's | reviews, news & interviews

Dr John & The NiteTrippers, Ronnie Scott's

Dr John & The NiteTrippers, Ronnie Scott's

The New Orleans legend makes a virtue of his age

Dr John, with the voice that every bluesman wantsCarl Hyde

Blues is an old man’s game. To do it properly you really have to have lived, and to have the scars and the criminal record to show for it. How do I know? Because Mac “Dr John” Rebennack is living proof. As he shuffled on at Ronnie Scott’s last night to join his NiteTripper four-piece, with a walking stick in each hand and his dreadlocked pony tail hanging over one shoulder, he had the look of a man who’s done himself serious damage over the years. But his music was all the better for it.

For starters, life has given him the voice that every bluesman wants, a throaty growl that renders lyrics unintelligible but tells a story of its own, a cautionary tale of substance abuse and neglect, a glimpse of the Big Easy’s dark side. It went hand in glove with “Qualified”, a tune about hangin’ out in housing projects from his landmark 1973 album In the Right Place; it gave a whiskery, tobacco-stained kiss of life to “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams”, covered on 2012 Armstrong tribute album Ske-Dat-De-Dat; and, with nothing but Herlin Riley’s drums for an accompaniment, it made a masterpiece of “The Monkey”.

A younger man couldn’t have played the blues like this

On “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark (When You Come ‘Round)” it seemed to merge with Sarah Morrow’s rasping trombone lines and on classics like “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya", "Right Place Wrong Time” and "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" it was every bit as filthy and funk-addled as Rhoda Scott’s organ.

The ivory-tinkling piano introductions that punctuated the set were just as rich and saw Rebennack lay out the whole history of New Orleans, from Jelly Roll Morton to Professor Longhair. His gloriously stiff-fingered guitar playing on a melancholic 12-bar had everything you could want from the blues, and the grooves that he mustered, with help from bassist Donald Ramsey, were uncluttered and essential, the kind that only come from a deep knowledge of tradition and a disdain for gratuitous flash.

When the time came for Rebennack to reach for his sticks and shuffle off again, with his NiteTrippers still in full swing and the crowd on their feet, it felt all too soon. Had he been a younger man he might have stayed for an encore or two, but a younger man couldn’t have played the blues like this.

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He had the look of a man who’s done himself serious damage over the years, but his music was all the better for it

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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