Since getting his start as a studio musician in the 1950s, Dr. John has been one of the most definitive and influential pianists out there. Six decades into his one-of-a-kind career, the New Orleans native has six Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011 by John Legend. While many artists would simply rest on credits like that, Dr. John — also known to those close to him as Mac Rebennack — remains active as ever in 2016, with plenty of gigs planned.
Dr. John next returns to the New York area on Jul. 16 as headliner of the third annual Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World Festival. The festival takes place at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site of the 1964 World’s Fair, which is steps away from the UTSA and the Mets’ Citi Field. The location of the festival is also close to 34-56 107th Street in Corona, where Louis Armstrong lived from 1943 until his death in 1971. Soulive and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins are also among the performers at this year’s event.
2014’s Ske-Dat-De-Dat…The Spirit Of Satch is Dr. John’s most recent studio album, not so ironically a tribute to Louis Armstrong. In support of this appearance, Dr. John kindly conducted some Q&A with Downtown. For those unable to attend the festival in Queens, the legend will be back in the area on Aug. 6, performing as part of Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and on Aug. 14 at City Winery.
For more info on all things Dr. John, click on over to his official website, www.nitetripper.com.
Do you remember the first time you heard Louis Armstrong?
Dr. John: I first heard Louis Armstrong in my Dad’s record shop. I remember that I heard “Sweet Hunk O Trash” with him and Billie Holiday, and that was a good thing to hear. Louis was a blessing.
What do you remember about the first time you ever played a gig in New York City?
DJ: I remember working sessions in New York more than I remember gigs. I played sessions there like Aretha Franklin’s “Spanish Harlem.” Bobby Womack once told me he wrote a song for Aretha Franklin on a session he was doing with Ray Charles. That’s how we had to make a hustle back in those days.
Is there an accomplishment of yours that you’re most proud of?
DJ: Not really. (laughs) I described a lot of that stuff to my sister and asked her to do what she could with it, so it’s all in the book.
Finally, what do you wish more people knew about Dr. John?
DJ: They can come to the Wonderful World show and see for themselves.