"They call me Dr. John, known as the Night Tripper," growls the good doc on "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya," the tune that introduced him to the world. If "you got a bad woman you can't control," he chants hypnotically, "I got just the thing for ya." Alas, the bad woman's name was Katrina, and no one had a remedy.
As the devilish lady drowned New Orleans, mourners felt for the people in flooded streets, on soggy rooftops, and in the fetid Superdome. But they remained enchanted with the city, pining for the French Quarter, Mardi Gras, Vampire LeStat, Café du Monde, and the short list of music legends: Louis Armstrong, a few Nevilles, a quartet of Marsalises, and one Dr. John.
With his swampy mix of creeping vocals, jangly piano, funky rhythms, and blues standards, Dr. John embodies the Big Easy. Old-timers know his classics ("I been in the wrong place/but it must have been the right time"); new-schoolers revere him because his "Destitively Bonnaroo" (reportedly Cajun for "great time") christened the Bonnaroo music festival. John made his mark in the '60s by embracing voodoo culture and feather headdresses. When he first started, he told NPR, "We were a little too authentic for record labels. They weren't quite ready for a guy biting chickens' heads off."
In Katrina's wake, Dr. John seemed mad enough to bite George Bush's head off. He was missing a nephew and blaming authorities. The impact could have been lessened, he said, "if anybody in the government would've done something about the disappearing wetlands for the past 50 years." He repeated a quote from his friend Reverend Goat: "New Orleans didn't die of natural causes; she was murdered." Pointing fingers doesn't help, however. Instead, visit www.drjohn.org, where you can donate money to hurricane victims or show your support for the city by buying boxer shorts -- imprinted with the logo from New Orleans water and sewer meters. They're $22.50 a pair.