New Orleans’ great psychedelic rhythm and blues master Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., better known by his stage name Dr. John, died on Thursday (June 6) at age 77. On Friday afternoon (June 7), an army of the good doctor’s fans assembled outside of Kermit’s Treme Mother In Law Lounge for a steamy yet joyous second-line parade in his honor.
Trumpeter James Andrews prefaced the procession with a solo recitation of Dr. John’s classic “Such a Night,” as the crowd closed tightly around him. Andrews introduced Dr. John’s granddaughter Stephanie O’Quin who would be joining the memorial ramble.
Dr. John, a true New Orleans music legend, dies at age 77
Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. was a six-time Grammy winner.
With a drummer, Sousaphone player and phalanx of assorted horn men at his side, Andrews led the celebrants under the roaring highway I-10 overpass plying the “Hey Song” amidst the concrete columns.
Dr. John was known for many things: his keyboard dexterity, brilliant songwriting, voodoo priest persona, growling New Orleans inflection and playful fracturing and reassembly of standard English. If Dr. John described the second-line route, he might have said that it rambulated to Xplanade Avenue, ternt on North Robertson and circulated back. Or something like that.
Along the way, the parade passed within sight of huge mural portraits of other late New Orleans musicians Allen Toussaint, Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill and Ernie K-Doe, unintentionally symbolizing Dr. John’s varied musical influences.
Free-style dancers practiced their footwork at the periphery of the parade, Baby Doll costumers marched in a cluster, a woman waved a sign that read “Roll On Dr. John” and scores of photographer/videographers documented everything from every angle. At one time, second-line parades were only experienced by participants and neighborhood spectators. In the digital age, second line parades are like pebbles in a pond, rippling in every direction thanks to social media sharing.
Dr. John was like that. For six decades he used his immeasurable talent and eccentric vibe to spread the New Orleans vibe globally. Who else played with everyone from Irma Thomas to the Rolling Stones, from the Meters to The Band, from Frankie Ford to Ringo Starr?
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The parade ended where it started with the band playing a sweaty, soulful version of “I’ll Fly Away,” as barbecue smoke wafted. In the dim cool of the Mother In Law lounge, Dr. John’s granddaughter explained that though she lives in Atlanta, she’d made her way to New Orleans when she hear he’d died. The parade, she said was “pretty incredible, really hot, really nice.”
“It makes me so happy to see all these people here for him.”
Doug MacCash has the best job in the world, covering art, music and culture in New Orleans. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram at dougmaccash, on Twitter at Doug MacCash and on Facebook at Douglas James MacCash. As always, please add your point of view to the comment stream.