Telephone Interview with Dr. John

[Amsterdam] New York, April 6, 2006

By John Sinclair

John Sinclair: You all right?

Dr John: Yeah, I'm cool. You know, I'm just tryin' to agitate a few people.

JS: They workin' you like a mule in Treme. I just got your Mercernary album, that's pretty entertaining.

DJ: Yeah, thanks. I thought there was a couple of pimientos in there.

JS: I can see Johnny Mercer pin-wheelin' in his grave here and there.

DJ: You know what? I know when I messed up Hoagy Carmichael's song and called it "The Nearness of Love," instead of "The Nearness of You," and the publisher wanted me to yank it. And I was thinkin' "Oh God, I'm whacked." And he said Hoagy personally called and said, "Hey, listen, I did real good with that doo-wop record of "Blue Moon," and he told the publisher, right there on the phone, he told the guy, "Leave it. I think it's funny." I know he didn't think this one was gonna sell, because it was just me and a piano.

JS: I loved that song, "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer."

DJ: Oh, thank you. I took a lot - I read his book, you know? So I was readin' about all the stuff he did, and the lines he used. But there was a line, it was like somethin' way back in the game, but he said, "You're so sexy you give me apoplexy." And I had to look up to make sure I knew what the word apoplexy meant. You know, I took a buncha stuff he wrote, like "Pardon my southern drawl," and said somethin' else, like "Pardon my southern accident," you know like I do? I tried to do stuff that he woulda dug in today's parlance. Because they don't have nothin' like what he did now.

You know, he was comin' from this thing where he was tryin' to write stuff to get him in "he always wanted to be" see, I didn't know all this, but he always wanted to be like one a them Tin Pan Alley, Broadway guys, but he was from out in the sticks somewhere and they just didn't let him in. So he was like `him and Hoagy Carmichael and certain guys, when they wrote together, you could buy it. These guys had like another thing, you know. It's like, "Lazy Bones" got a certain thing, and I always liked that song, but I didn't even know they had writ it together.

But then, a lot of that stuff you know, I brought in "Tangerine" as a tribute to Red Tyler, and "Save the Bones" for Danny Barker -- Danny wrote that with [Johnny Mercer]. I've got an Austin City Limits video that I took the words off - I didn't take `em out the song book version, I took `em right out the Austin City Limits video with Danny singin' it with my band. And it was hilarious! The only line I changed, insteada takin' "vegetarian" and whatever he rhymed it with, I said: "He was a vege-terrible."

JS: Yeah, I thought you kinda took Henry Jones outta the 7th Ward and took him down in the 9th Ward.

DJ: Well, you know, listen, all of it has connections, you know. Listen, you know, I always liked "I'm an Old Cowhand" from when Sonny Rollins cut it, and I was determined to do something different than Sonny but make it an instrumental, but I was thinking, "maybe we'll put some background parts." So we cut the thing and, I couldn't help it, I was so shot -- when we came into New Orleans to cut the record I forget we was supposed to do a tribute to Ray Charles, and I had told Sonny [Schneidau] at the House of Blues that we was gonna do a "Tribute to Ray" set. I figured we'd have the charts for that, and we could roll with it. All of a sudden I'm writin' up a tribute to Ray, and so it turned into a whole other set of petunias.

So I was up for like two or three days tryin' to hustle up and write the charts for that gig. I was so shot by the time we got in to cut the record, I never finished all the stuff I was gonna write for the horn parts for the record. What the hell, I figured, listen, we'd just do somethin' different instead, somethin' like an extra keyboard, or some other strangeness.

JS: But it was nice with the horns comin' in every couple of tunes. They stood out like a motherfucker, man.

DJ: Two of the things I did was to get Herbert [Hardesty] to just him play on a couple of tunes, and I wanted to get somebody in there like -- and it worked out really good, because I was able to get James Rivers for "Save the Bones." You know, James has got that little cross between like Fathead, and Donald Wilkerson and James Clay and alla them cats from kind of a freaky school of that Texas sound, you know. And I know he played with the changes I had put to it for him, you know, stuff like that.

JS: Man, when you did "Come Rain or Come Shine" it reminded me of that beautiful thing that Johnny Adams did on that. You ever hear that?

DJ: No.

JS: It was on one of his later records from Rounder. He sang the living shit out of that song.

DJ: You know me, I love Johnny, I don't care what he done. Johnny coulda belched in the mike and made it sound good.

JS: Yeah, I also wanted to tell you that I loved that Sippiana Hericane record. The Wade in the Water suite, that was beautiful.

DJ: Oh, thank you. We was so 'well, I ain't never got un-angry since the hurricane. Every night on the gig I been playing something offa that and, no matter where we at, I give the audience an earful about my thoughts about it. You know?

JS: In Detroit [at the Detroit International Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend 2005], I heard you all the way down on the other end of Woodward Avenue sayinâ [from the stage]: "President Bush don't like black people." Man, I heard it three blocks away! [Laughs]

DJ: Hey, I got it from some hip-hop kid. I was talkin' to Bobby Charles, and I told him that, and Bobby says, "Well, Mac, it's kinda obvious, daddy," he says. "Look on the TV. If ya look at the Convention Center and the SuperDome, you ain't gonna see no white faces -- maybe one or maybe two, but you ain't gonna see `em." And Bobby was pissed. And he got me a song 'I wish we coulda got the words and all, and the music for it. I woulda cut that sucker. It's called, "The road to the White House is paved with gold - and the truth will set you free." Man, but I didn't get the words from Bobby until after we had done cut the record. In fact, we didn't get it until like a month after.

JS: But Bobby's song "Clean Water" came over good, though.

DJ: Oh yeah. I was wantin' to cut that anyway, but I wanted to put that other one on too. Man, he had did it on the phone, but I couldn't hear it good enough, you know. Man, I was gonna roust up somebody to do some little hip-hop thing on there -- that was my plot for that, you know.

JS: But you couldn't get the words, though, huh?

DJ: Man, look, we was scufflin' talkin' you know. Bobby had lost his pad, you know, I mean everything where he lives at was gone. I mean, Holly Beach don't exist no more, amongst a whole lotta other places. We was comin' back through southwest Louisiana from Austin to work in Lafayette, and man, it was like --all of a sudden you could tell when you was outta the state of Texas and hit the Louisiana border. It was like -- Lake Charles looked like a volcano flowed over it and alla that.

We know we definitely Third World country material now. You know, everybody I know in New Orleans is elsewhere. You know, look, I run into people -- I talked to little Tracy the other night, he said he just got his FEMA lights on and he's lucky. And he's callin' it like it is. It's just pathetic crap, you know?

JS: So you givin' `em a little preachment from the stage?

DJ: Every night on the gig I get on my robe and --you know I'm crazy, so I don't give a damn what I tell `em. And the only time we ever had any complaints about it -- actually, I got one in Seattle that was a complaint that I didn't say enough. In Miami -- that was just one show, though, because we was doin' two shows a night and I think I had ran out of gas on one set -- the only negative thing I got was a mayor, I think it was Hollywood Florida, she come up and said, "We don't use the `C' word in Florida." I said, "Well, look, Lady Mayor, I'm a coon-ass. I think we had dibs on possibly inventin' corruption, so if you don't like the `C' word here, what do you call it? What you call corruption?"

JS: I think they call it 'business as usual.'

DJ: Oh yeah. Well, we know all of what they might call it, but their business ain't cuttin' it for me. I don't know who it's cuttin' it for, but their portion of the pie looks kinda cock-eyed to me. So I'm very glad to see some of `em fall -- it makes me feel "a tinge" -- as Jelly Roll Morton would say 'a tinge better.' But if I was to look at these lames and try to say, hey, well, I feel good about anything, wow, Iâd be really jivin' myself.

JS: Alright, man, I'm gonna write this up for a little magazine outta Oxford, Mississippi called Honest Tune, and they gonna put you on the cover.

DJ: Hey, listen, you just do whatever the hell you regulationally do and it'll work. I have absolutely no -- you know what, it's a funny thing, but -- where the hell did I just put it? I got one of your -- wait a minute, I just put the sucker somewhere --a CD that you gave me with some guy that I don't even know who this guy is, -- Here it is. I can't even read it -- looks like, is it Wayne Kramer? Where you did "Doctor Blues"?

JS: Yeah, you know what's on there? "I'm an Old Cowhand." Give it a spin, you'll enjoy it. We used the Sonny Rollins arrangement.

DJ: Yeah. I took the sucker out to check it out, I got five of `em -- no, I got seven of `em up there, I'm gonna check `em out as I get to `em. Right now I'm lookin' at Basie with Joe [Williams] singin' wit, but I'm puttin' stuff in some sorta order for me. You know, when you're on psych meds, you gotta have your own kinda somethin' that makes orders.

Yeah, I always liked Sonny's thing on that, and Sonny was the one that made me actually think, well, maybe I could do something different with this sucker other than what he done, but keep it in a thing that's kicks.

You know what was the song that got me to do that Mercer record? My daughter was singin' about-- that song about "Personality" from a buncha years ago, and she said, "I got a song for you to do." She listens to all kinda shit, and she said --now it ain't by him, right, but he recorded it when he was first runnin' Capitol Records.

JS: Are you comin' over here? They said you was coming to England.

DJ: I don't know where we goin', when we goin' or nuttin', John.

JS: Well, let me say this: if you get here to Amsterdam, look for me -- I'll be there.

--Transcribed at Cannabis College > 420 Café > The Dolphins
Amsterdam, April 11-13, 2006

© 2006 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. John: Mercernary
The Songs of Johnny Mercer
Blue Note CD

[01] Blues in the Night
[02] You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby
[03] Personality (J. Burke-J. Van Heusen)
[04] Hit the Road to Dreamland
[05] I'm an Old Cow Hand
[06] Dream
[07] Lazy Bones
[08] That Old Black Magic
[09] Come Rain or Come Shine
[10] Moon River
[11] Tangerine
[12] I Ain't No Johnny Mercer (Mac Rebennack)
[13] Save the Bones for Henry Jones (Jones-Barker-Lee)

Produced by Dr. John

John Fohl, guitar
David Barard, bass
Herman V. Ernst III, drums
Charlie Miller, trumpet (1,6,8,13)
Herb Hardesty, tenor saxophone (1,4,6,13)
Eric Traub, tenor saxophone (1,6,13)
James Rivers, tenor saxophone (12)
Alonzo Bowens, baritone saxophone (1,6,13)
Steve Simon, percussion (1,5,10,11,13)

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