Saturday, June 12, 2010

402. Dr John's Gumbo- Aint not time to stash the gumbo

Album: Dr John's Gumbo
Artist: Dr John.
Year: 1972
Genre: Funk


  1. Iko Iko
  2. Blow Wind Blow
  3. Big Chief
  4. Somebody Changed the Lock
  5. Mess Around
  6. Let the Good Times Roll
  7. Junko Partner
  8. Stack-A-Lee
  9. Tipitina
  10. Those Lonely Lonely Nights
  11. Huey Smith Medley - High Blood Pressure, Don't You Just Know It, Well I'll Be John Brown
  12. Little Liza Jane

The musical world is definitely fortunate that Dr John decided to give up his promising medical career and instead concentrate on music. I'm sure he's a brilliant physician in his own area of specialty (beards probably, or perhaps treating those who suffer from a lack of colourful adornments) but he's certainly a gift to the musical world and a much needed presence in the otherwise fairly bland and pedestrian domain of piano based rock and roll.

I'm joking of course, Dr John was never a qualified medical practitioner, to my knowledge he's always been an eccentric musician in love with New Orleans and the music it's inspired. And there's no doubt that particular city has inspired some outstanding tunes over the years. While his style of playing has always been firmly rooted in New Orleans Funk, Dr John's Gumbo, his fifth studio album is made up entirely of covers from his home city and makes for entertaining listening. It's frolicking stuff that rolls along happily propelled by John's piano lines and the general air of infectious fun that obviously permeated the studio like a constant smoke haze.

You're probably familiar with a lot of these songs thanks to the cover versions made popular in later years. Some of these versions were inspired by the original versions but others were helped into the world thanks to the arrangements Dr John gave them on this album. Iko Iko is the opening track on Gumbo and probably the most famous track here. It started life as an attempt to document the chants that rival gangs in New Orleans used to taunt each other with. It appears that the two groups would gather together and have a competition to see who could come up with the most baffling thing to shout. Many have tried to understand what it means and all have failed. I suggest you enjoy it for the joyously pointless nature of the lyrics, which make as much sense as most hip-hop but have the good grace to embrace their own futility. Iko Iko is best remembered by movie goers from it's appearance in movie soundtracks, most notably Rain Man. Personally I recommend you find a version by The Grateful Dead who played it often in concert and while they could torture it utterly at times they could also launch it into the stratosphere and transform their audience into a happy frenzy of dancing loons (which some might say wasn't really a huge transformation).

All of these songs were recorded before John covered them and many have had several versions committed to vinyl since. I have to confess that the songs I knew from other sources (Iko Iko, Blow Wind Blow, Stack a Lee and Let the Good times Roll) were all the low points of the album for me. I prefer all four of those tracks in other forms. The songs that faired better for me were ones that I'd never heard before. Mess Around for example is fantastic. It really allows John to shine on piano and you can imagine it filling the floor in smokey dance clubs. It was originally recorded by Ray Charles which means I might bump into it later in the countdown. It will be a happy reunion if it occurs.

Dr John's Gumbo is good fun. Its one of the few albums on this list that you can't imagine anyone having a negative reaction to. The Piano is the world's most accessible instrument and in the hands of a master like Dr John it makes an effortlessly charming album. If album's were eligible for office then Gumbo would be Prime Minister by now. It might not be too many people's first choice but everyone would be pleased to see it and nobody would be campaigning against it.

Influenced by: New Orleans
Influenced: Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Grateful Dead.

Highlight: Mess Around
Lowlight: Stack a Lee (but it's more a midlight than a lowlight)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Der Herr Doktor ehrt hier seine Wurzeln. Professor Longhair und Huey Smith sind unverkennbar seine Meister. Und er wird ihnen mehr als gerecht, indem er ihre Stücke spielt, wie sie selbst es nicht gekonnt hätten. Er ist einfach ein Held des Arrangements. Die Bläser und Drummer grüßen direkt von der Bourbon Street und das Klavier aus der Preservation Hall. Und „Iko Iko" war niemals spannender als hier. Mick Jagger und Keith Richards hätten sich mal „Let The Good Times Roll" anhören sollen. Wirklich schöne CD, nur stört mich manchmal, dass das ganze sich etwas zu massiv anfühlt. Aber das musste Anfang der 70er wohl so sein. "

-I read all the reviews on Amazon and there wasn't a single one that was full of the usual entertainment value that customers on that site provide. Doctor John fans are a very literate and thoughtful bunch. So I included this one in the hope that any German speakers out there will be provided with a massive laugh. Although I suspect this is just another well written and considered review as well but since I can't read it I've got my hopes up.

So do you schedule regular trips to the Doctor or do you prefer alternative remedies? Let me know below.

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