Music Interviews
3:58 pm
Mon April 2, 2012

Dr. John: A Rock Legend Gets Personal

Originally published on Mon April 2, 2012 11:01 pm

In his 1995 autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon, Dr. John writes about his tumultuous music career, a decades-long heroin addiction and the time he spent in prison on a drug-possession charge. The book is candid in a way that most of his music is not — until now. On his new album, Locked Down, Dr. John takes a more personal approach.

The album is the brainchild of 33-year-old musician and producer Dan Auerbach, the singer and guitarist for the indie-rock group The Black Keys. He says Dr. John was a big influence on the band's music.

"I'm such a huge fan," Auerbach tells NPR's David Greene. "I think he is sort of underappreciated. I knew the timeless quality of what he did. I just felt like, if I went down and met him and his head was anywhere near where it used to be, it just might be fruitful."

With that vague idea for a record, Auerbach got on a plane for New Orleans to track down Dr. John.

"I knew that I wanted to pick the musicians," Auerbach says. "I wanted to surround him with younger guys. To test him a bit. I didn't want anything to be too comfortable, or too comfortable about the record ... and I also wanted him to talk from the Mac Rebennack [Dr. John's real name] perspective — lyrically. I didn't want him to talk from the Dr. John perspective."

In any case, the two hit it off, and Dr. John agreed to join Auerbach in his Nashville studio.

"I think Dan wanted me to tell my story in some kind of way," Dr. John says. "And he put this record together so it kind of started in one place and just kept going through chunks of stuff that I experienced in my life."

The music evokes the seedy streets of New Orleans, where Dr. John cut his teeth as a musician. The title track is about prison. Other songs deal with drugs. But as the album progresses, the songs become more uplifting. A standout deals with his effort to reconcile with his children.

"I been trying to clean up my act with my children for a long time," Dr. John says. "And I pretty much got them all talking to me now. And they accept me as a humanoid again."

Auerbach says Dr. John has never written something so personal — "and I really pushed him to go there," he adds. "And he did. And I think he felt really good about it."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

How about some music now from one of rock's most enduring performers. In his more than 50 years in music, Dr. John has played with some of the biggest stars on the planet. He's won Grammys, he's scored hits. With his growling voice and funky New Orleans piano, Dr. John's music is instantly recognizable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GREENE: Dr. John has seen his share of trouble. In a 1994 autobiography, the New Orleans musician writes about his youthful delinquency, a decades-long heroin addiction, and also prison time on a drug possession charge. The book is revealing in a way that his music rarely is - until now. On his new CD, Dr. John looks to his own colorful life for inspiration. The album is called "Locked Down."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GREENE: The new album is the brain child of the 33-year-old musician Dan Auerbach. He's the singer and guitar player for the indie rock group the Black Keys and the producer of this record.

DAN AUERBACH: I've just been such a huge fan, you know? And I think he's just sort of underappreciated. And I just knew the kind of timeless quality of what he did. I just felt like, you know, if I went down and met him and if his head was anywhere were near where it used to be, that it just might be fruitful.

GREENE: And so with a vague idea for a record, Auerbach hopped a plane for New Orleans and invited the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer - whose real name happens to Mac Rebenack - to join him in the studio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

AUERBACH: I knew that I wanted to pick the musicians. I wanted to surround him with younger guys. I wanted it to be all fresh for him. And I also wanted him to talk from the Mac Rebenack perspective, lyrically. I didn't want him to talk from the Dr. John perspective.

GREENE: Auerback says Dr. John is a stage name. Mac Rebenack is a real person.

DR. JOHN: And he wanted me to say something, like, tell my story and my life in some kind of way.

GREENE: That's the voice of Dr. John.

JOHN: He put this record together so it kind of started at one place and just kept going through chunks of stuff that I experienced in my life.

GREENE: And so Dr. John wrote about prison, a doomed romance, drugs. It's pretty dark stuff. But as the album progresses, the songs become more uplifting. One standout deals deals with his effort to reconcile with his children.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

JOHN: I been trying to clean up my act with my children for a long time. And I pretty much got them all talking to me now. And they accept me as a humanoid again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GREENE: Auerbach says Dr. John has never written something so personal.

AUERBACH: And I really pushed him to go there. And he did. And I think he felt really good about it.

GREENE: Dr. John's new record is called "Locked Down." And to hear more of the songs, you can visit nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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