With Halloween and Voodoo both on the way, this month’s playlist looks at the subject of voodoo—not surprisingly, a topic that’s fueled more than a few local classics.
Dr. John “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya”: You could put anything from Dr. John’s early albums—or for that matter, his whole damn catalogue—on this list. But when he released this track—the opener to his first album, Gris-Gris—nothing quite like it had been heard before. In five beautifully spooky minutes he not only creates the Dr. John persona, but lets you know what those voodoo rituals sound like.
Coco Robicheaux “Louisiana Medicine Man”: The much-missed Mr. Robicheaux had to be the most gifted latter-day practitioner of the deep-swamp school of R&B. This ’90s track has the spooky hoodoo ambiance down, and Irene Sage adds some unearthly chorus wails. Robicheaux’s voice embodied the character and you know he’s not joking when he resolves to gather all those herbs and use them on you.
Dash Rip Rock “Voodoo Doll”: On the other hand, Dash prefer to use voodoo after the relationship goes south: The guy in the song promptly orders a doll when his lady flies the coop. Between the power chords comes this bit of wisdom: “I’m not even sure if this voodoo stuff works/ But man, it’s great therapy for swearin’ off a jerk.”
The Radiators “Drinkin’ Dragons Blood”: This was the Rads at their grittiest and swampiest, with the band playing a fearsome funk riff and Dave Malone sounding like he hasn’t cleared his throat in a week. Sounds like a great lost Creedence track, but John Fogerty never wrote lyrics like “I thank the dragon for a wonderful treat/ One night I’ll be dragon meat.”
The Bluerunners “Voodoo Mens and Voodoo Dolls”: Something about the topic of voodoo seems to bring out the grit in every band. These Cajun rockers’ contribution may be the heaviest swamp-rocker in their catalogue, accordions and all. From the Honey Slides album, which is as shamefully underrated as everything else they did.
Ray Davies “The Voodoo Walk”: Even the Kinks’ leader gets into the swamp groove on this tune, written and recorded during his years as a French Quarter resident. True to his wry lyrical style, the song’s really about neurosis, but it has an ominous blues feel that’s fairly unique in his mighty catalogue.
Cowboy Mouth “Voodoo Shoppe”: This nifty rocker has been a mainstay of the band’s sets since it appeared on a post-Katrina album steeped in the mysteries of their hometown. Here Fred LeBlanc points out that life can get strange when you’re living upstairs from such an emporium—short-term renters, take note.
Jimi Hendrix “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”: Can’t overlook the obvious, one of the great bits of mystic imagery in the classic-rock canon. Keep in mind that it was released ten months after Dr. John’s Gris-Gris, which Hendrix may well have heard. If you need another local connection, the funky Meters play it all the time.
LaVern Baker “Voodoo Voodoo”: The greatest voodoo song of ’em all is also late-’50s R&B at its absolute wildest, with a killer sax solo and lyrics about a guy who puts ooblie-ooblie under her bed—we all know that trick works every time. So if anyone asks why you’re misbehaving on Halloween, just make like LaVern and say “It was the voodoo that dood me!”