There’s a spot on “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” the track that put Dr. John on the map in 1967, where you can hear the young Dr. John call out very clearly, chanting in rhythm: Co-co Ro-bi-cheaux. I used to wonder if that “Coco Robicheaux” had been some legendary figure of New Orleans voodoo, like the original Dr. John, the Senegalese charm-maker described by Lafcadio Hearn from whom Mac Rebennack took his stage name. But no, that shouted-out Coco Robicheaux—born Curtis Arceneaux—was the same guy you can hear on Saturdays at the Apple Barrel. When Rebennack cut “Guilded Splinters,” Coco was 20, and already someone to conjure.
Then he asks Robicheaux about it:
NS: What’s the story about Dr. John on “Guilded Splinters” shoutin’ out “Coco Robicheaux”?
CR: We worked together since back in the early ‘60s. Many times I gone and played with him, all around the world, different places. Dr. John, he was very much interested in metaphysics. We had this little place on St. Philip Street. In voodoo they call the gilded splinters the points of a planet. Mystically they appear like little gilded splinters, like little gold, like fire that holds still. They’re different strengths at different times. I guess it ties in with astrology, and influence the energy. That’s what that’s about.
They recruited about half of New Orleans one time to go out [to Los Angeles] and do The Sonny and Cher Show. They were all out there doin’ that, and Sonny [Bono, who had been in the record business in New Orleans] was always after him [Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John], “Man, I got a state-of-the-art studio, it’s there for you any time you want it. Y’all just lay around here, why doncha go do somethin’?” There was a guy named Ronnie Barron that that persona [Dr. John] had originally been designed for. But Ronnie was like this good-lookin’ guy, liked to wear suits, he didn’t want to be no swamp thing. So they talked Mac into doin’ it. “You be Dr. John.” And everybody loved it.
For more of Sublette’s interview with Robicheaux, go to Bomb’s website.