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Dr. John, a Unique Voice of New Orleans, Dies

Musician combined rock and rhythm and blues with his hoodoo style
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 6, 2019 7:45 PM CDT

(Newser) – Dr. John, the New Orleans singer and piano player who blended black and white musical styles with a hoodoo-infused stage persona and gravelly bayou drawl, died Thursday, his family said. He was 77, the AP reports. In a statement, the family said the musician born Mac Rebennack died of a heart attack. "The family thanks all whom have shared his unique musical journey," the statement said. "Dr. John was a true Louisiana legend," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. Ringo Starr tweeted, "God bless Dr. John peace and love to all his family." Dr. John had a Top 10 hit with Right Place, Wrong Time, collaborated with top-tier rockers, won multiple Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Dr. John's spooky 1968 debut album Gris-Gris combined rhythm and blues with psychedelic rock and startled listeners with sinister implications of other-worldly magic, employing a rollicking and haunting piano style. A white man who found a home among black New Orleans musicians, he first entered the music scene when he accompanied his father, who ran a record shop and fixed P.A. systems at New Orleans bars. As a teenager, he played guitar and keyboards in bands and made the legendary studio of Cosimo Matassa his second home, Rebennack said in his memoir, Under a Hoodoo Moon. He quit high school and got into music full-time, becoming acquainted with drugs and petty crime. He played strip clubs and auditoriums, roadhouses and chicken shacks. The ring finger of Rebennack's left hand was blown off in a shooting in 1961. Fascinated with occult mysticism and voodoo, he created a musical personality out of Dr. John, a male version of Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen in New Orleans folklore. "It was really done sort of tongue-in-cheek," a friend once said. (His birthday celebration in 2018 was a little off.)

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