Dr. John Receives Americana Music Lifetime Achievement Award

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. showed up at the Ryman Auditorium on Tuesday night to help celebrate the greatest creation of his career as a master conceptualist of New Orleans music. Rebennack’s crowning creation is Dr. John, an alter ego that has subsumed his own identity. Mac had already carved out a musical legacy for himself that most of his peers would have settled for before the Dr. John character even appeared. Yet the construct was so magnificent, such a perfect correlation of spirit legend and music, that the character has become the man.

12th Annual Americana Music Honors And Awards Ceremony Presented By Nissan - Show & Audience

Americana Music Festival Concert on Wednesday, September 18 in Nashville (Photo: Erika Goldring)

So Mac observed, as well as participated in, the induction of Dr. John into the Valhalla of Americana heroes with a Lifetime Achievement award. On hand to induct Dr. John was Nashville resident Dan Auerbach, the producer of his Grammy-winning album Locked Down. Auerbach lauded “my friend” Dr. John with great affection as a “songwriter, bandleader, hustler…” a man who would “find work for his friends when they needed it…” Auerbach praised Dr. John’s guitar playing, recounting the story of how Rebennack lost the tip of his finger to a gunshot wound, forcing him to stop playing guitar. Such is the nature of fame that Dr. John didn’t even exist yet when the accident occurred.

No matter. Mac thanked everybody and noted that the band, led by Buddy Miller and featuring Blue Note president Don Was on bass, was in good form. “They kicking it,” he chuckled, then ambled over to center stage, sat down at the grand piano and launched into the song that started it all, “Gris Gris.” Auerbach had strapped on a Gibson hollow body guitar, and with Larry Campbell’s guitar adding another layer of deep fried distortion the song rumbled along in metaphysical glory. With drums, two percussionists, a soprano saxophonist, organ, and a trio of backing vocalists, the band played the song like it was meant to sound — dark, mystical, simultaneously terrifying and exultant.

There have been may comparisons made between various players who’ve backed Mac over the years, and one of the oft-repeated theories is that the band must be from New Orleans to understand and play his music. This brilliant performance proved that all it really takes is the right players, whether they’re from the Lower Ninth Ward, Mars… or Nashville.

More about the 2013 AMA festival and conference, which this year celebrates and focuses on New Orleans as one of the incomparable originators of Americana music, and where you can find OffBeat in Nashville this week here.

American Music Festival & Conference Program:  www.americanamusic.org