Tag Archives: blues

Dr. John: Under a Hoodoo Moon, Review

The funky bluesman Mac Rebennack, otherwise known by his stage name Dr. John is a much-honored part of the cultural fabric that is 20th and 21st century New Orleans.  His autobiography Under a Hoodoo Moon chronicles Rebennack’s life from his time as a child coming of age in The Big Easy, through a young struggling musician’s career, and eventually building a legacy as one of America’s most treasured musical icons.

Under a Hoodoo Moon is written in a loose manner with a bit of Rebennack’s New Orleans vernacular, giving it a sense of authenticity and the playfulness that is characteristic of funk music in general and New Orleans music specifically.  The book for the most part follows a linear path, but it repeatedly backtracks to cover stories that Rebennack decided were more relevant at a later point in time. In some cases this seems like a less efficient method, but it does not detract from the overall presentation.

 

At times Rebennack’s story seems to focus more on the development of his career, business associations, projects and the politics surrounding the music industry, without any emphasis on the personal, philosophical, emotional and inspirational experiences that contributed to the making of the man.  Then he very candidly writes about his struggle with heroin addiction that plagued him for thirty years until he finally kicked it in 1989, but not before doing a stint in Louisiana “Angola” State Penitentiary.  In his writings, it seems Dr. John tended to compartmentalize his professional activities from his more illicit affairs. He introduces the reader to an assortment of characters, hustlers, and junkies along with the musicians he calls family.

In his early days, Rebennack paid the bills by gigging with racially integrated bands at a point in American history when such groups were technically outlawed, and by working as a session musician for countless popular acts. He paints a picture of a golden era of New Orleans music in the 1950s and early 60s before the musicians unions caused so many problems which drove national recording acts to take their business to other cities such as Memphis and Los Angeles.

 

In 1965, after Rebennack was released from prison, with the music scene dead in New Orleans he too set out for the west coast.  In California he made contact with several colleagues from back home and began working as a session musician with many of the top acts of the day.  These included The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Sonny and Cher, the O’Jays, Frank Zappa, and Iron Butterfly just to name a few. Dr. John offers some interesting and often humorous observations about some of these acts and his experiences working with them.

During his tenure in Hollywood Rebennack created and adopted the persona of Dr. John, a New Orleans hoodoo medicine man from the 1860s and recorded his ground-breaking Gris Gris album. This is a point in the story where more strictness toward a linear narrative would have improved upon this biography.

 

Though Dr. John rose to fame on the popularity of Gris Gris with all its voodoo and hoodoo imagery, there is very little in the first two-thirds of the book about his experiences with those traditions.  Up until this point what is mentioned amounts to a brief reference to making goofer dust, a companion burning a black candle to curse the police during a drug score, and more humorously a brief description of a joint ritual in California with another musician who practiced Aleister Crowley styled ceremonial magic in order to curse a producer who had screwed them both in a deal.  It’s not until chapter nine, well after he covers the recording of Gris Gris that Dr. John goes into any detail about his personal connection to a Voodoo temple, and his investment in a voodoo curio shop in New Orleans which really inspired the album.

 

Under a Hoodoo Moon is a great read, and also provides a fair bit of ethnographic gems covering the roots of the New Orleans musical tradition. He describes his first experiences with the Black Indian Tribes, Mardi Gras Krewes that competed for marching routes during the annual Mardi Gras festivities and pioneered second-line drumming that gives New Orleans music much of its uniqueness.  He also dedicates a significant chunk near the end of the book to speaking nostalgically and reverentially about his time playing with Professor Longhair, the New Orleans pianist who had more influence upon him than anyone else.

 

I enjoyed reading every page.

Tyla J. Pallas, One Creative Dog

Few artists have had as much of an influence on me as Tyla J. Pallas.  It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that I learned to sing by listening to this man.

I first discovered Tyla when I saw an ad for his band the Dog’s D’Amour and their album release In the Dynamite Jet Saloon in Hit Parader Magazine in 1988.  I acquired the album through some means after that, and was fairly pleased by the record.  Though you couldn’t tell by looking at the album cover, the Dogs D’Amour were doing something in strong contrast to all the other hard rock bands that were making a name in the mid and late 80s.  The songwriting was a striking and refreshing twist on the blues-infused rock and roll pioneered by classic bands such like the Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith.

On top of guitarist Jo Dog’s phenomenal slide guitar work on In the Dynamite Jet Saloon, Tyla’s gritty, bourbon-wrecked vocals defined the sound and personality of the Dogs D’Amour.  His fluctuation between growling, mumbling, and quirky melodic deliveries helped create a dynamic and distinct sound.  As the primary songwriter, Tyla’s lyrical approach was infused with the dark poeticism of Charles Bukoski, romantic and desperate.  It was quite a departure from the party-anthem bands that defined the decade.  Tunes like the ballad “How Come It Never Rains” and the acoustic “Billy Two Rivers” stand out the most.

While Dynamite Jet Saloon is a great album, it was only a couple years later when a friend moved to my hometown from England and brought with him the follow up and mostly acoustic albums Errol Flynn and A Graveyard of Empty Bottles that I really became the die-hard fan I still am to this day.  These albums were amazingly written. Everything that was good about Dynamite Jest Saloon was doubled-down on and made great. To me, these albums are what the Dogs D’Amour were all about.

The Dog’s D’Amour, A Graveyard of Empty Bottles, 1989


Each song on those records is so good it’s difficult to shine a light on any of them over the others, but “Comfort of the Devil” and “Ballad of Jack” probably stand out the most. Both exemplify the mixed styles of blues-rock and country with a distinctly recognizable English interpretation that defined the Dogs.  Not only did these acoustically dominated albums convince me of the viability of the approach in an era defined by electric guitar, it reacquainted me with my native County and Western music and put a mark on my musical delivery that is still with me to this day.

Second to the music, or course were the album covers featuring Tyla’s distinctive artwork, mostly paintings.  They were personal interpretations of the band in a style that was a mix of naïve and almost comic art, and expressionism.  As an aspiring singer and visual artist myself, I found this approach inspiring..

Over the years since these early Dog days, Tyla has produced a host of solo projects and collaborations, while his artistic abilities have developed into a well-crafted, distinct and recognizable style that is the natural visual counterpart to the wicked western blues rock that is Tyla’s legacy.

The Dog’s D’Amour, Errol Flynn, 1989


Pub Songs on Palafox by Lojah

Pub Songs on Palafox is a four song, lo-fi EP recorded in the raw as a live-air production that captures the energy and sound of a Lojah solo performance while busking downtown Pensacola, Florida in competition with the various sounds of a bustling city street.

Lojah begins with a rowdy Irish pub tune, Dicey Reilly, about a lush of a woman who spends her life crawling from pub to pub; a sailor’s favorite. The Black Velvet Band is another classic Irish ballad about infatuation, deceit and injustice which takes us out of the pub and away from the Emerald Isle to a penal colony in Australia. Following up is Looks Like Jesus, a rockabilly-blues styled piece and a Lojah original tells the story illustrating the conflict between despair and ambition, shroud with esoteric imagery, set in the Southern atmosphere he calls home. Miss Constance concludes the record, a naughty Caribbean-styled tune about the perils of younger women.
Lojah’s Creolized Roots Music is a style deeply influenced by Caribbean rhythms, Celtic melodies, and blues.



Download Pub Songs on Palfox here.