Though he’s currently on a grueling tour promoting his latest album, Locked Down, Dr. John is already planning his next maneuver. Dr. John and Will Porter are shopping the final sessions of Wardell Quezergue’s career, an album’s worth of material produced by Mac Quezergue arranged Porter’s 2003 release Happy! and was working on these tracks when he passed away last year. Quezergue completed two duets with Porter and Dr. John as his very last sessions. One of the tracks, “Tick Tock Tick,” is a Mac song structured by Quezergue as a pop single.
“Man, you could hear dat song playin’ on any radio anywhere,” says Dr. John. “Dis was Wardell’s last record he was doin’, and dat’s gonna be part of the project. Wardell is the most responsible for all the great hits comin’ outta New Orleans over the years, and we’re gonna make sure he’s remembered.”
The other Mac tune on the album is “When This Battle Is Over”, which he wrote for Aretha Franklin and was first recorded by Delaney and Bonnie. It’s the first time Mac has recorded it himself. Leo Nocentelli plays guitar, and the Womack Brothers are the backing vocalists.
One of the highlights of the record is Porter’s duet with Bettye Lavette on Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”
“When Wardell heard that one he said, ‘Big, big strings and one oboe,’” Porter recalls. “And that’s what he did, used the New Orleans Symphony strings with a single oboe.”
Other memorable tracks include a bilingual duet with Barbara Lewis, “Vaya Con Dios,” the Burnette Brothers’ rockabilly classic “Tear It Up” and a gospel tune with the Womacks, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
The sessions consist of 15 finished songs and one additional track, “Didn’t We Shake, Sugaree.”
“Wardell arranged that as a New Orleans mambo, Professor Longhair-style,” says Porter, “and we need Mac to add keyboards to that.”
The Quezergue sessions went so well that Porter and Dr. John also began work on another project, an album of Dr. John songs sung by Porter, in some cases as duets with Mac. “Will’s gonna cut a record,” Mac explains. “It’s gonna be all my songs.”
The working title is Prescriptions.
“Mac came down before the tour, started to do pre-production on the songbook project,” says Porter. “We set a songlist, keys, and basic arrangements with Emmy-winning film arranger Mike Esneault. Mac and I spent six hours listening to 280 songs of his; he found stuff he thought was gone forever.”
One of their discoveries was Mac’s original demo of “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere,” co-written with Doc Pomus for B.B. King.
“When B.B. heard it he had to change it up ‘cause he thought it sounded too much like a Ray Charles thing,” Mac says, “so we gonna take it back to the way we originally envisioned it, as a slow, churchy gospel tune.”
Dr. John and Will Porter are currently searching for label and distribution connections for both projects.