Filed under: Reading
Reading Under A Hoodoo Moon, an excellent autobiography by Mac “Dr John” Rebennack at the moment. It’s been co / ghostwritten but the flavour of the man definitely comes through, and it’s not always palatable. Rebennack is an intriguing character and he’s strong on what made the New Orleans sound, the origins of “fonk”, the major players.
It was published in the early 90s and I’m still in the mid-70s, before he started cleaning up, but the man’s had a hard paper-round. His obsession with music from an early age led him into some serious drug habits in his teens and prison in the early 60s, and along the way he did some pretty unpleasant stuff (pimping, violence, fraud etc). It does give him an interesting perspective on things – he saw a lot of the 60s debauchery and twattery by the likes of the Stones and the Who first hand, and was very dismissive – he thought it was just try-hard rich kid eccentricity (he’d also been on the wrong end of police interest for long enough to believe you never carried more drugs than you could eat, so bowls of coke and big bags of weed at parties made him anxious).
He’s also quite strong on mish-mash of spiritual traditions in New Orleans – Catholicism, santeria, voodoo, gris-gris, orisha and the rest – at one point, running Dr John’s Temple of Voodoo for some of the community. I could have used a little more of this, but it’s still of interest.
But the book’s key strength is in the portrayal of his early years – his teens and twenties in New Orleans before the Feds sucked the life out of it and the talent fled and before Rebennack got too fucked up. The constantly rotating bands, the endless gigs, the fusions of styles, the drag queens and dealers and gangsters and brass bands and voodoo mystics and the rest that make me pine for the chance to have been there, rough as it was. He tells a great story about the lack of respect for segregation / Jim Crow laws in the city, and how two adjacent venues, one purportedly white, the other black, would see the members of the night’s band swap, member by member, during the set (they simply ran from one venue to the other, mid-song) until each venue had a completely different band to the one they’d started out with.
Well worth a read, and I’d recommend digging out your Dr John, Professor Longhair, Huey Piano Smith and Meters records while you read it too.
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