Rock And Rules - Dr John

Offering his opinionation
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Dr. John - aka The Night Tripper, aka Mac Rebennack, the cult New Orleans practitioner of fonk - offers his opinionation on all things musicalistic.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Right at the corner of my house there was a guy named Woo Woo, who used to play piano in F-sharp - it’s a very difficult key to play in. Every song he played was in F-sharp. And I thought, ‘Good God, I can’t do what this guy’s doing!’ He’s flying all over the piano and doing all this stuff. So I talked to my Uncle Joe and I said, ‘Uncle Joe, what’s with this guy? He plays everything in F-sharp!’ I could play in G or F, but I couldn’t play in F-sharp! My Uncle Joe says, ‘That’s what he does’, and he says, ‘You probably could never do that.’ And then I said, ‘I bet I couldn’t!’ I knew a lot of people like this, and these were people - the James Bookers, the Professor Longhairs - they did things that were completely different than somebody else was doing. In Professor Longhair’s case, he just learned in the streets, and then did whatever he did with it, which was completely unconnected, and that made it fresh. And if we don’t play music that’s fresh, it’s stale!

RESPECT ALL MUSIC
My last guitar teacher, Roy Montrell, turned me on to flamenco guitar players and all kinda different musics that I had never heard. It taught me to learn, as a recording studio musician, to respect all musics. And in respecting all musics, you play any music you’re given to play to the best of your ability. Don’t play over your head, don’t play under your head; play straight from your spirit. It works.

STAY ON TRACK
You can’t get anywhere in this world with a one-track mind going wrong. And I did that. And now, with twenty-two years away from all the drugs and everything, I feel like I do things better; I can pass things on to my children, I can encourage them to do things that maybe they wouldn’t do. I was a very close-minded, one-track minded, self-centred junkie, and now...I’m not. And it’s given me a lot of space and time to think about things and tell truths about things that people don’t like to talk about. And it’s important to share that - things that I’ve seen and learned from the life I lived - with kids so they don’t go that way.

WORK UPHILL
What did I get out of jails? Better connections for dope. I don’t think they teach you anything. And what you can learn in jails is not something that’s necessarily healthy - you can learn how to be a better burglar, you can learn how to be a better murderer, you can learn how to be a better safe cracker... But these are not positive things to learn. I was told by a Reverend Mother in a church of voodoo a long time ago, ‘Kid, while you’re young you’re supposed to be going uphill, and when you’re older you’re supposed to come down the hill. And you’re going downhill now. Just think how hard it’s gonna be to go uphill when you get old.’ Well, I’m old now and I got her point now, but it’s a little late!

ABOVE ALL...
Be open to all music. Be open to listening to everything you can to get a foundation in music. And then, as you find things that you love to do, you can lean that way. But still be open to all music, because music is broadening, and the more music you listen to, the more you have to draw from. It’s very important to learn how to make some money while you’re doing it. If you got a job that’s not paying any money, how you gonna live? And be the best at what you do.

Interview by Simon Harper

‘Locked Down’, the new album produced by Dan Auerbach, is out now. Dr. John plays the UK in July.

This feature appears in issue 74 of Clash magazine, out 3rd May 2012. Find out more about the issue HERE.

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