Dr. John: The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974

Dr-John-Atco-Atlantic-Singles-1968-1974
Dr. John
The Atco/Atlantic Singles 1968-1974
(Omnivore)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Without Sonny Bono, there might never have been a Dr. John. So we can thank Mr. “Beat Goes On” for Mac Rebennack’s (aka Dr. John) nearly five decade career as a dedicated and prolific purveyor of the New Orleans sound.

Back in 1968, Bono donated his pianist/arranger Harold Battiste surplus studio time which allowed his protégé Rebennack to record his debut Gris-Gris album under the alias of Dr. John the Night Tripper, a creation he was planning to bestow on another musician but ended up owning. Even more striking was that Bono also helped get the decidedly noncommercial voodoo inspired session released on powerhouse Atlantic. To their credit, the imprint supported the project with three singles, not surprisingly none of which did much on the charts.

But back in those heady days, labels generally stuck with even their least successful acts for a handful of albums (it was called artist development) and finally in 1973 John hit with the classic “Right Place Wrong Time.” He only lasted for one additional long player on Atlantic with the impressive 1974 follow-up Desitively Bonnaroo (reportedly where the Bonnaroo festival organizers grabbed their name) and was then off to bigger and occasionally better things in a career that, based on 2014’s wonderful Louis Armstrong tribute, is still producing terrific results.

Omnivore rounds up all the A and B sides from the titular years into a generous 22 track, 70 minute collection with five pages of informative, often enlightening liner notes and detailed song annotation.  It may not reflect the best of Dr. John, but this is an essential examination of his early solo work. Why “Right Place…” clicked with the public and not others of these ripping, funky, insanely danceable, (if sometimes creepy and swampy) tracks is unclear, but it wasn’t for lack of quality performances, John’s immediately identifiably craggy vocals or strong, distinctive songwriting.

Collectors note: these are rare single mixes. They include a few cool non-album tracks including a killer take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and Buddy Guy taking lead vocals on a fiery, soul searing “Man of Many Words.” So the next time “I Got You Babe” comes on oldies radio, give a thumbs up to Sonny Bono for unsuspectingly unleashing Dr. John and his New Orleans gris gris/gumbo music to the world.