Dr. John’s concert at the Saenger Theatre on April 6 was more than listening to a Grammy-winning New Orleans icon. It was also understanding how Dr. John is part of the foundation of Mobile music, and an influence on three of Mobile’s best local musicians, Harrison McInnis, Ryan Balthrop, and Eric Erdman, who opened the show for him.
“People ask the secret ingredient to Mobile music and I usually tell them the heat, humidity, and fried food makes us a little slower and funky,” says Eric Erdman, “The truth is Dr. John’s music is our secret ingredient. We grew up on his music and tonight we get to open for him.”
“I wrote ‘Dog on a Runnin’ Line’ while I was listening to Dr. John,” said Balthrop, ending the song in his Dr. John voice saying, “How come my dog doesn’t bark when you come around?”
“Please Dr. John, take me back to New Orleans,” said McInnis.
The skull on Dr. John’s piano looked on as the three added harmony, harmonica, electric guitar, background vocals and a little comedy to one another’s songs including “Two Less Fishes,” “You Can’t Hear Me,” and “Why.”
Dr. John is 76, but still full of funk and Voodoo. He wore a fedora with a feather, a necklace with beads and bone, and a long braid of hair down his back. He walked slowly on the stage in alligator loafers and leaned his cane with a handle that looks like a ram’s horn against his piano. He sat down, looked at his band, The Nite Trippers, and started banging out a New Orleans street beat with “Iko Iko” into “Shoofly Don’t Bother Me” then “The Monkey Speaks his Mind.”
Here’s another thing a monkey won’t do
Go out on a night and get all in a stew
Or use a gun or a club or a knife
And take another monkey’s life
Yes, man descended, the worthless bum
But, brothers, from us he did not come
Yea, the monkey speaks his mind
John’s sunglasses reflected the black and white piano keys and the binder of lyrics on his piano. Pages of words that looked like the paragraphs of a term paper. There were no notes but John’s fingers knew where to go. His voice growled and soared and as the crowd dance to “Right Place, Wrong Time” and sing along to “Such a Night.”
Such a night, it’s such a night
Sweet confusion under the moonlight
Such a night, such a night
To steal away, the time is right
Your eyes caught mine and at a glance
You let me know that this was my chance
But you came here with my best friend, Jim
And here I am, tryin’ to steal you away from him
Oh, but if I don’t do it, you know somebody else will
The Nite Trippers brought out the blues, rock, blues, jazz and zydeco in each song. In “Black Widow Spider,” band leader Sarah Morrow’s trombone solo sounded like the black widow playing with her prey in her web of tragedy.
Kissed her. Couldn’t resist her.
How was I know when I sat down beside her
That I was falling for a black widow spider?
The crowd came down to dance by the stage during “Big Chief.”After the song, John smiled at the crowd and blew them a kiss. He walked to the edge of the stage and took his time shaking hands.
As he walked off the stage, Morrow said, “Dr. John, cultural icon.”
Dr. John. Cultural icon and the secret ingredient in Mobile music.1