Browse by Title
V W X Y Z #  

Dr. John
Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr. is known to the world simply as Dr. John. He's also been called Dr. John Creaux and Dr. John the Night Tripper, but Dr. John suffices.

He's a man of few words, but his memories are invaluable. Mac is one of the few people with insight on the Rolling Stones failed attempt to make a "Pornographic Album," and the first person we've heard give an unadorned account of a Phil Spector session.

Dr. John's career has spanned multiple phases, ranging from his days as a studio musician (with Spector), to his current role as a sort of elder statesman of The Big Easy music scene. His list of studio credits reads like a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame membership list, as he's recorded with James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison and The Band.

He's by no means just a historical figure, as his 2012 album, Locked Down, addresses contemporary social issues and was produced by The Black Keys front man Dan Auerbach. If you caught the Grammy broadcast, that was Dr. John rocking the keyboard along with The Black Keys performing their hit "Lonely Boy."

We used our appointment with the good doctor to discuss music and memories.
Dr. John
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): How are you?

Dr. John: Well, I'm breathing, so I'm doing wonder fuel.

Songfacts: Yeah, it's like a friend of mine says, "I'm on the right side of the grass."

Dr. John: Well, there it is.

Songfacts: Well, hey, congratulations on the Grammy for Best Blues Album.

Dr. John: Uh huh. Thank you.

Songfacts: I wanted to ask you about the process of writing the songs for the album Locked Down. How did that go?

Dr. John: Well, Dan (Auerbach) had talked to me during the sessions about things that I would jaw-jerk with him about, and he said, "Maybe write some songs about some of that stuff." And that put me on a track towards some of the songs. Dan's a very cool guy. I hadn't done a regular track in so many years, but he gave me a chance to take some lyric-als and figure out ways to make it work with a track in a different way than I usually do.

Songfacts: Did you collaborate on them, or did you write them mainly yourself?

Dr. John: Well, the lyric-als, it was pretty much me, and Dan helped me with some of the real melodic-al things. And I like the way he thinks about that shit.

Songfacts: I really love the music he makes with the Black Keys. Are you a fan of his band?

Dr. John: Yeah. I like not only the stuff he's doing with the Black Keys, I like some of the hip-hop stuff he did, and I like a lot of the stuff he's produced.

Songfacts: In "Right Place, Wrong Time," there's the lyric where you talk about brain salad surgery, which became the title of an album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Did they ever give you credit for that?

Dr. John: Uh uh.

Songfacts: It's kind of interesting, because their music couldn't be more different from yours.

Dr. John: Well, to be honest I don't remember what kind of music they were actually playing, but I hope it was good music. I really don't remember, though.

Songfacts: It was progressive rock, which is very different.

In 1972, The Rolling Stones shot a documentary for their North American tour called Cocksucker Blues. Filled with drug use, groupies, hotel destruction and other debauchery, the film was never released, only seen by those who caught it at screenings. The movie was titled after a song The Stones wrote as a kiss-off to Decca Records. "Brain salad surgery," is a term for oral sex.

Dr. John: I remember they got that name from a picture of a cover I had given to The Rolling Stones. It was just a proof drawing that I made. And I was going to call it "The Pornographic Blues," and it was what the Stones should do. And they actually, they made a movie that starts off with that, and I think it was called Cocksucker Blues. Long ago Mick and the guitar player - Keith - they told me they saw it and it started off with them playing a tape of my song ("The Lonesome Guitar Strangler"). They were laughing about the fact that I had sent them an album that was half pornographic and half risqué. At the time they had radio that played anything.

Songfacts: Well, let's talk about "Right Place, Wrong Time." Was that inspired by a particular event in your life, or is it just sort of a fun song?

Dr. John: That was my life for a long time. At the same time I was in the wrong place at the right time, and the right place in the wrong time, too. That was the problem. We're always shifting those gears.

Songfacts: I want to ask you about your time as a session musician. You played on some incredible recordings. Are there any that stand out in your mind as favorite experiences?

Dr. John: I remember Aretha [Franklin], some of her sessions. And doing some of Dolly Parton's sessions and doing some different people that was always interesting to do. And some of the sessions with Ray Charles, with different people that I like, anyway. But I always liked doing stuff with Marvin Gaye and Joe Tex, but I didn't do any records with them. I worked on the road with them, and it was a lot of fun.

Songfacts: Were there some sessions where you felt like you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, like, 'What am I doing here?'

Dr. John: That was tons of sessions. That wasn't some. When I got to California, Phil Spector had a real reputation for doing his 'walls with sound.' I just looked at it like, 'Walls with sound?' It's just padding the payroll.

Songfacts: Were you on some of those Phil Spector recordings?

Dr. John: Yeah. Lots of them. I used to be with this band, they call them a name and I didn't even know they did [Mac might be referring to "The Wrecking Crew," which Carol Kaye tells us they were never known as]. I was in another planet then.

Songfacts: Did you get tired of the sessions life and have that longing to do your own thing?

Dr. John: Well, I never wanted to be a frontman for a band. I didn't like most of the frontmen I worked for. I just had problems with the whole idea of that. But my conga player told me that if Sonny & Cher could sing and if Bob Dylan could sing, you could do that. He kind of hit a nerve with me, like, maybe I could.

Songfacts: That you could sing?

Dr. John: Actually, I don't have hardly any range. I try to do the best I could. I had sang songs for all tons of artists I worked with in New Orleans. You know, I wrote so many songs, it wasn't always easy to just write all that stuff that had to be written. Because I used to have the right songs sometimes and just show artists down at the session. And it was not an easy thing, because we only had three hours to record them in back in those days.

Songfacts: Well, I think what I like about your singing is you have a growl about your voice that has so much character. Have you always sung that way or is that something that's kind of developed over the years?

Dr. John: I had no idea, I had never looked at myself like being a singer. I just do what I do. I don't try too hard.

Songfacts: The last time I saw you, you were playing in Cerritos. I think on the Blind Boys of Alabama tour. Do you still enjoy touring?

Dr. John: Well, I really don't like travel unless it's on a bus. But I will do it. That's how I make a living, really.

Songfacts: Are you going to follow up Locked Down with another album, maybe with some of the same people?

Dr. John: Well, at some point, I'm going to talk to Dan about maybe doing something else. But now I'm getting ready to work on something else. And each time I do something it's a little off the hook from what I did last.

Songfacts: You like to keep the variety?

Dr. John: Well, I like to play music with different brands. I like to do things that's like all over the place.

Songfacts: So you said you're getting ready to do something. Are you already writing songs?

Dr. John: Actually, no. I'm just trying to figure how I'm going to do something. I'm trying to put all the thoughts together, how I'm going to do this. And that's the way I try to do things is like I'll put a lot of thoughts together and then hone into the best things.

Songfacts: When you write songs, do you always begin with an instrumental riff, like a piano riff or a guitar riff? Do you have a method?

Dr. John: Actually, I don't. I'll just throw a little groove or something, or I'll start on a piano, or maybe I'll start on a guitar. But I just take it from that point.

Songfacts: So it's different every time?

Dr. John: Pretty much, yeah.

Songfacts: Are there ever times where you write the words first and then you put music to them?

Dr. John: Mostly when I write with other writers. When I used to write songs with Doc Pomus, he'd take an idea I gave him about a lyric and he'd run with it, and he'd have it all ready when I'd get to his pad. And then he'd give me words I'd put some music to it. That was one way. And then Bobby Charles and myself used to write songs completely different - we even wrote songs over the telephone. I don't think I've ever done that with anybody else.

Songfacts: Thanks for this talk. I'm so glad that you decided to become a singer, because I just think you're a unique guy.

Dr. John: Hey. Thank you very much for jaw-jerking with me, and I appreciate the fact that you're openminded.

April 19, 2013. Get more at


No Comments yet! Be the first to leave a comment!

Where are you from?
Your Comment
 security code

Mark Arm of MudhoneyMark Arm of Mudhoney
When he was asked to write a song for the Singles soundtrack, Mark thought the Seattle grunge scene was already overblown, so that's what he wrote about.
Tom Gray - "Money Changes Everything"Tom Gray - "Money Changes Everything"
Produced by Steve Lillywhite, "Money Changes Everything" was supposed to be the breakout hit for Tom's band The Brains. Then money changed everything.
Sarah BrightmanSarah Brightman
One of the most popular classical vocalists in the land is lining up a trip to space, which is the inspiration for many of her songs.
They Might Be GiantsThey Might Be Giants
Who writes a song about a name they found in a phone book? That's just one of the everyday things these guys find to sing about. Anything in their field of vision or general scope of knowledge is fair game. If you cross paths with them, so are you.

Search in Songwriter Interviews
Songwriter Interviews titles
Aaron Beam of Red Fang
Aaron Gillespie
Aaron Lewis
Adam Duritz of Counting Crows
Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne
Adam Young of Owl City
Al Anderson of NRBQ
Al Jourgensen of Ministry
Al Kooper
Alan Merrill of The Arrows
Alex Call (867-5309)
Allee Willis: Boogie Wonderland, Friends theme
Amanda Palmer
Amy Grant
Andy McClusky of OMD
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash
Angelo Moore of Fishbone
Ann Hampton Callaway
Anna Canoni about Woody Guthrie
Annie Haslam of Renaissance
Anthony Raneri of Bayside
Antigone Rising
Art Alexakis of Everclear
Asher Roth
Badi Assad
Bart Millard of MercyMe
Becca Stevens
Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl
Benny Mardones
Biff Byford of Saxon
Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers
Bill Withers
Billy Gould of Faith No More
Billy Joe Shaver
Billy Montana ("More Than A Memory" - Garth Brooks)
Billy Steinberg
Bo Bice
Bob Daisley
Bobby Liebling of Pentagram
Bobby Whitlock
Boz Scaggs
Brad Arnold from 3 Doors Down
Brad Smith of Blind Melon
Brandi Carlile
Brandon Heath
Brenda Russell
Brian "Head" Welch of Korn, Love and Death
Bronze Radio Return
Bruce Robison
Bryan Adams
Butch Vig
Buzz Osborne of the Melvins
Carol Kaye
Chad Channing (Nirvana, Before Cars)
Chad Urmston of Dispatch
Chan Kinchla of Blues Traveler
Charles Fox
Charlie Benante of Anthrax
Charlie Daniels
Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go's
Chris August
Chris Fehn of Slipknot
Chris Isaak
Chris Knight
Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes
Chris Squire of Yes
Chris Tomlin
Chris Willis
Chris Wilson of The Flamin' Groovies
Christopher Cross
Chuck Billy of Testament
Cody Hanson of Hinder
Colbie Caillat
Corey Hart
Craig Goldy of Dio
Curt Kirkwood of Meat Puppets
Cy Curnin of The Fixx
Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay
Dan Reed
Daniel Moore ("Shambala," "My Maria")
Danko Jones
Danny Kortchmar
Dar Williams
Darren King of MUTEMATH
Darryl Worley
Dave Clark
Dave Innis of Restless Heart
Dave Mason
Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum
Dave Stewart of Eurythmics
Dave Wakeling of The English Beat
Dean Pitchford
Denny Randell
Desmond Child
Devin Townsend
Dexys (Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson)
Dez Fafara of DevilDriver and Coal Chamber
Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper/Lou Reed)
Dino Cazares of Fear Factory
Don Brewer of Grand Funk
Don Felder
Donald Fagen
Donnie Iris (Ah! Leah!, The Rapper)
Dr. John
Dropkick Murphys
dUg Pinnick of King's X
Duncan Phillips of Newsboys
Dwight Twilley
Eddie Carswell of NewSong
Eddie Reeves
Edwin McCain
El Sloan of Crossfade
Elvin Bishop
Emilio Castillo from Tower of Power
Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls
Emmylou Harris
Eric Burdon
Eric Kretz of Stone Temple Pilots
Francesca Battistelli
Francis Rossi of Status Quo
Gary Brooker of Procol Harum
Gary Lewis
Gary Louris of The Jayhawks
Gary Numan
Gentle Giant
Georgia Middleman of Blue Sky Riders
Gilby Clarke
Glen Burtnik
Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket
Gordon Bahary
Graham Bonnet (Alcatrazz, Rainbow)
Graham Parker
Graham Russell of Air Supply
Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Greg Puciato of Killer Be Killed and Dillinger Escape Plan
Gretchen Peters (Independence Day)
Guy Clark
Gym Class Heroes
Hal Ketchum
Harold Brown of War
Harry Shearer
Hayes Carll
Henry McCullough
Henry Paul of The Outlaws, Blackhawk
Holly Knight
Holly Williams
Howard Bellamy
Howard Jones
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull
Ian Anderson: "The delight in making music is that you don't have a formula"
Ian Astbury of The Cult
Ian Thornley of Big Wreck
Ingrid Croce
J.D. Souther
Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees
Jake Owen
James Williamson of Iggy & the Stooges
Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed
Jamie O'Neal
Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Go`s
Janis Ian
Jann Klose
Jaret Reddick of Bowling for Soup
Jason Michael Carroll
Jason Newsted (ex-Metallica)
Jason Reeves
Jason Roy of Building 429
Jay Graydon
Jeff Walker of Carcass
Jello Biafra
Jeph Howard of The Used
Jeremy DePoyster of The Devil Wears Prada
Jess Origliasso of The Veronicas
Jesse Valenzuela of Gin Blossoms
Jim McCarty of The Yardbirds
Jimbeau Hinson
Jimmy Jam
Jimmy Webb
JJ Burnel of The Stranglers
Jo Dee Messina
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard
Joe Ely
Joe Grushecky
Joe Jackson
Joe King Carrasco
Joe Rickard of Red
Joel Crouse
Joey + Rory
Joey Burns of Calexico
John Doe of X
John Gallagher of Raven
John Garcia (ex-Kyuss)
John Lee Hooker
John Oates
John Rzeznik of Goo Goo Dolls
John Waite
John Wheeler of Hayseed Dixie
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde
Johnny Winter
Jon Anderson of Yes
Jon Foreman of Switchfoot
Jon Oliva of Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Jon Tiven
Josh Kelley
Josh Shilling
Josh Thompson
Judas Priest
Julian Lennon
Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues
Kasim Sulton (Utopia, Meat Loaf)
Keith Morris of Black Flag and OFF!
Keith Reid of Procol Harum
Kelvin Swaby of The Heavy
Ken Block of Sister Hazel
Kenneth Nixon of Framing Hanley
Kenny Vance
Kerry Livgren of Kansas
Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
Kip Winger
Kirk Franklin
Kristian Bush of Sugarland
Kristine W
Kyle Nicolaides of Beware of Darkness
Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust
Larry Burnett of Firefall
Larry Wiegand of Crow
Laura Bell Bundy
Lee Ranaldo
Les Claypool
Leslie West of Mountain
Lindi Ortega
Lisa Loeb
Lita Ford
Little Big Town
Lori McKenna
Loudon Wainwright III
Louie Perez of Los Lobos
Lukas Nelson
Mac Powell of Third Day
Marc Roberge of O.A.R. (Of A Revolution)
Marcy Playground
Maria Muldaur
Maria Neckam
Mark Arm of Mudhoney
Marshall Crenshaw
Martin Gordon
Martin Page
Martin Smith of Delirous?
Martyn Ware of Heaven 17
Marvin Etzioni of Lone Justice
Mary Gauthier
Mat Kearney
Matt Pike of High On Fire
Matt Pryor of Get Up Kids
Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon
Matt Sorum
Matt Thiessen of Relient K
Matthew West
Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)
Meshell Ndegeocello
Mia Doi Todd
Michael Bolton
Michael Franti
Michael Gilbert of Flotsam and Jetsam
Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root
Michael Schenker
Michael Sweet of Stryper
Michael W. Smith
Mick Jones of Foreigner
Mike Campbell
Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North
Mike Love of The Beach Boys
Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies
Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater
Miles Doughty of Slightly Stoopid
Millie Jackson
Mitch Myers about Shel Silverstein
Mitts of Madball
Mountain Heart
Neil Fallon of Clutch
Neil Giraldo
Nick Van Eede from Cutting Crew
Nick Waterhouse
Nick Wheeler of The All-American Rejects
Nina Persson of The Cardigans
Nona Hendryx
Oliver Leiber
Our Lady Peace
Pam Tillis
Pat Alger ("The Thunder Rolls", "Unanswered Prayers")
Paul Dean of Loverboy
Paul Evans
Paul Williams
Pegi Young
Penny Ford of Snap!
Pete Anderson
Peter Lord
Petula Clark
Phil Hurtt ("I'll Be Around")
Philip Cody
Queensrÿche founder Geoff Tate
Radney Foster
Ralph Casale - Session Pro
Randy Goodrum (Oh Sherrie)
Randy Houser
Randy Montana
Randy Newman
Randy Sharp (From Glen Campbell to Edgar Winter)
Randy Stonehill
Rebecca St. James
Reverend Horton Heat
Rhonda Vincent
Richard Hell
Richard Marx
Richard Patrick of Filter
Richie McDonald of Lonestar
Richie Wise (Kiss producer, Dust)
Rick Finch
Rick Springfield
Rick Wartell of Trouble
Rik Emmett of Triumph
Robert Ellis
Roger Clyne
Rosanne Cash
Rupert Hine
Ryan Star
Sam Phillips
Sandy Chapin
Sarah Brightman
Scorpions Rudolf Schenker
Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders
Scott Jason of Thriving Ivory
Scott Stapp
Scotty Emerick (Beer For My Horses)
Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities
Serena Ryder
Seth Swirsky
Shane Volk of One Bad Son
Shaun Morgan of Seether
Shawn Smith of Brad
Shelby Lynne
Skip Ewing ("Love, Me," "The Gospel According To Luke")
Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D.
Speech of Arrested Development
Spooner Oldham
Squeeze: Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford
Stan Ridgway
Steel Magnolia
Stephen Christian of Anberlin
Steve "Zetro" Souza of Exodus and Hatriot
Steve Azar
Steve Hindalong of The Choir
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai
Sum 41
Sunny Sweeney
Supertramp founder Roger Hodgson
Tanita Tikaram
Taylor Dayne
Terry Cashman
Terry Jacks ("Seasons in the Sun")
Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos and Lost Dogs
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
The Dandy Warhols
The Fratellis
The Limousines
They Might Be Giants
Thomas Dolby
Tim Butler of The Psychedelic Furs
Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles
Tina Shafer
Tobin Esperance of Papa Roach
Toby Lightman
Todd Harrell of 3 Doors Down and 7dayBinge
Tom Gabel of Against Me!
Tom Johnston from The Doobie Brothers
Tom Keifer of Cinderella
Tommy James
Tommy Lee James ("She's My Kind Of Rain")
Toni Wine
Tonio K
Tony Hiller and Brotherhood of Man
Tony Joe White
Travis Stever of Coheed and Cambria
Trent Wagler of The Steel Wheels
Udo Dirkschneider (UDO, ex-Accept)
Van Dyke Parks
Vanessa Carlton
Ville Valo of HIM
Vince Clarke
Vince Gill
Vinny May of Kodaline
Vonda Shepard
Wayne Hussey of The Mission
Wayne Swinny of Saliva
Wednesday 13
Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit and Black Light Burns
Will Jennings
Yael Naim
Yoko Ono
Zac Hanson
Zakk Wylde
Other Songfacts Blogs
Songwriter Interviews
Song Writing
Music Quiz
Fact or Fiction
They're Playing My Song