Dr John death: Grammy-winning musician dies after heart attack, aged 77

New Orleans-born star produced more than 20 albums

Andrew Buncombe
Thursday 06 June 2019 19:54

The celebrated pianist and musician who for decades delighted audiences and fans around the world using the stage name Dr John, has died at age of 77, his family has announced.

The man who combined blues, honky-tonk and elements of ragtime to create a style as memorable and captivating as his home city of New Orleans, died early on Thursday from a heart attack.

The family of Dr John, whose real name was Malcolm Rebennack, said details of a memorial service would be announced subsequently.

“Towards the break of day 6 June, iconic music legend Malcolm John Rebennack Jr, known as Dr John, passed away of a heart attack,” said a statement posted on his own social media pages.

“The family thanks all whom shared his unique musical journey and requests privacy at this time. Memorial arrangements will be announced in due course.”

John, whose breakthrough came in the late 1960s with the album Gris-Gris, and who would win six Grammys, introduced the world to the music of music of New Orleans, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

It said he would also be remembered as a member of the so-called Wrecking Crew, a group of Los Angeles-based session musicians who worked on thousands of studio projects during the 1960s and 1970s, and who personally appeared on recordings by Cher, Aretha Franklin, Canned Heat and Frank Zappa.

He was known, it said, for incorporating “elements of voodoo into his outrageous stage show and quickly grew a large following, introducing much of America to New Orleans music”.

Among those to pay tribute to the musician was former Beatle Ringo Starr. “God bless Dr John peace and love to all his family I love the doctor peace and love,” he tweeted.

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Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, shared a picture of the two together and wrote: “RIP Mac Rebennack, Dr John.”

The House of Blues, a celebrated live music venue in New Orleans where John frequently performed, tweeted: “We’ve lost a legend. Dr John broke in our stage at House of Blues’ grand opening back in January 1994. Thank you for a lifetime of great music. You will be truly missed.”

The musician, who styled himself the “Night Tripper”, was born into a family amateur musicians, including an aunt who taught him to play piano.

Immersed in music from a young age, he was an avid radio listener, and his father, who sold records in his appliance store, sometimes took his son along to nightclubs when he worked on their sound systems, it said.

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While in school he began hanging around clubs, and by the time he was a teenager, John started playing in rough bars and strip clubs. Along the way, he absorbed a blend of rhythm and blues, cowboy songs, gospel and jazz, as well as New Orleans’ Mardi Gras music, boogie, barrelhouse piano and funk, or – as he trounced it – “fonk”.

It said he started playing as a guitarist but had to switch to piano after a fight with someone attacking his band’s singer, led to one of his fingers being partly destroyed.

In 2011, he told New Orleans’ Times-Picayune newspaper: “Music is the one thing that keeps me alive and happy. If it don’t be for music, I think I would have threw in the towel.”

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said: “Dr John was a true Louisiana legend. He showed the world Louisiana’s rich musical heritage, and his passion for music has left a mark on the industry unlike any other. FirstLadyOfLA and I send our condolences to Dr. John’s family during this difficult time.”

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