June 7, 2018 – Dr John’s real name was Malcolm John Rebennack, the same as his father. Rebennack Sr ran an appliance shop in the East End of New Orleans, fixing radios and televisions and selling records. “Mac” grew up listening to his father’s hoard of 78s by blues artists such as Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie, jazz by Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and King Oliver, and country music from Hank Williams and Roy Rogers. His mother, Dorothy (nee Cronin), who had been a fashion model and made her own clothes and hats, arranged for her baby son to feature in advertisements for Ivory soap in the 1940s.
His family was intensely musical, with numerous aunts, uncles and cousins who were amateur musicians. From a young age Mac attended local gigs and, with his father’s assistance, visited recording sessions at the fabled J&M Studio. It was a meeting with the piano player Professor Longhair when he was 14 that persuaded him to pursue a musical career, and he began performing at local clubs. When Jesuit high school told him he must choose between schooling and music, he picked the latter. Proficient on piano and guitar, at 15 he began playing on recording sessions and accompanied artists such as Art Neville, Toussaint and Joe Tex. By 16 he had started producing tracks and was hired as an artists and repertoire man by Johnny Vincent at Ace Records.