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Dr. John, Who Embodied the Music of New Orleans, Dies at 77


As many albums as he made, however, Mr. Rebennack said that he had earned more money cutting jingles. His clients included Popeyes chicken, Scott tissue and Oreo cookies. He also reached younger generations with his theme songs for the sitcom “Blossom” and the cartoon show “Curious George,” and through his Muppet musician doppelgänger, Dr. Teeth, leader of the Electric Mayhem.

In 1989, after 34 years of on-and-off addiction, Mr. Rebennack quit heroin. For several years he split his time between New Orleans and an apartment in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, where he could be spotted with his trademark walking stick, adorned with voodoo beads, a yak bone, an alligator tooth and key rings from Narcotics Anonymous.

“I relate to people up there that kind of hangs on the streets,” he told The New York Times in 2010. Asked if he spoke Spanish, like many of the neighborhood’s residents, he said, “No, I don’t even speak English.”

A spokeswoman said his survivors include children and grandchildren, but provided no other details.

New Orleans gave Mac Rebennack his musical identity, and he tried to uphold its traditions: as a recording artist, as a regular guest star on the HBO series “Treme” (playing himself) and as a frequent performer at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Even thousands of miles away from Lousiana, however, he could invoke its musical magic.

One day in 1968, Mr. Rebennack visited the Topanga Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles with the other members of his band. As he told the story in his memoir:

“We were down by this stream in the canyon and Charlie Maduell broke out his flute and started playing, and frogs started chirping to it. Didimus picked up some rocks and began playing a groove; Dave Dixon had found some kind of animal bones and began playing those. Stalebread Charlie had a tape recorder and taped our little nature jam. We called this the ‘Symphony of the Frogs.’ Before too long, all these naked people came down the creek bed, attracted by the music and the chirping, and started dancing.

“We were getting into the people dancing, and they were getting into our music. It all got very intense. When it died down some, Didimus said, ‘Hey, we should take this to the people.’ That’s how the Dr. John road show began.”



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