We were in New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival. I had been to New Orleans before, in 83, 86, 88 and now, 1989.
This particular night, we were at the River Tent, by the Mississippi. The Neville Brothers were featuring but on arrival the artist on stage stole my senses. Next morning, at a record store in the French Quarter I was rewarded. In a Sentimental Mood was the first major-label release for Dr John in a decade, a collection of American classics.
Rolling Stone magazine reviewed it: "Though this approach may come as a surprise to those who still associate him with the feathers, glitter, and hoodoo dust of the early 1970s, it allows him to display what a complete musician he is."
Back home I played it on radio. In a Sentimental Mood was a Warner Bros product. A decade later Warner Bros NZ approached me about compiling a CD of my favourite music. The result was popular enough to go gold. Dr John featured along with Willie Nelson and others, including New Zealander Evan Silva.
My love of Dr John - who died on June 6 - was contagious and led to talk of a tour but nothing came of it. In 2003 promoter Brian Richards thought he could make it happen.
The morning that Mac (he was born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr) flew in, we put him to air from Brian's car. You could be forgiven for thinking he was on something; slow, out-of-it sort of speech with an accent you had to concentrate on. He would emphasise different syllables, for example, for characters, he would say "charACters". It wasn't affectatious" it was the language of his culture and I loved it.
Next morning, after an hour on air we went for lunch - about half a dozen of us - to Sails Restaurant. New Orleans is renowned for local seafood so Mac decided on whitebait and, not unexpectedly, loved it.
On April 1 2004, Dr John took to the stage at Auckland Town Hall. Among those I invited was the chairman of the Auckland Symphony Orchestra, Sir Selwyn Cushing. He wondered what he was doing there.
He'd never heard of Dr John. Later, he said, by the time Mac was into his third song, he was thinking of ways to have him guest with the orchestra. Mac was a communicator, a performer who spoke to your emotions and inner rhythms.
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His style was unique and his piano could capture your soul. My favourite CD is Afterglow. In his career, he moved through various genres, and while I wasn't fond of his earlier work, I found him as he left one life behind and adopted another.
He had an adventurous life, most of which can be found in his 1994 bio Under a Hoodoo Moon. He did unsavoury things in his youth, but he was who he was. Involved with clubs, drugs and prostitutes in the 60s, he spent time in a federal prison in Texas and was chased out of New Orleans by District Attorney, Jim Garrison. Mac did damage to himself through heroin addiction but was clean before that '89 concert.
When Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Dr John was on tour. We were doing the programme and his tour schedule said he was in Colorado. The voice on the phone at the venue told Carolyn that Mac had just finished the show and wouldn't take calls.
She instructed, "just tell him who's calling". Moments later, he and I were discussing the Katrina damage, that two of the band had lost everything, including an expensive collection of guitars.
Back in Auckland in 2010, we returned to Sails. He queried what he'd eaten last visit. Sadly I advised whitebait was out of season. But having colluded with staff well in advance, they found some frozen whitebait that cost megabucks. Dr John was ecstatic. I was nearly bankrupt.
The conversation was more intimate this time. We talked kids - he has a number by various women. Having lost one adult child, he talked heartache and drugs, post-Katrina New Orleans and more insight into Jim Garrison. According to Mac, he used to frequent the very brothels and clubs that he now closed down. Mac knew because he ran some of them.
By the time he flew out, I had invitations, including to dinner at home where he promised squirrel pie.
That song I first heard was "Such a Night". The last time I saw Mac was at New Orleans airport in May 2013. We chatted, Carolyn took a pick and we flew in different directions.
He told me he wanted to die across the keyboard at the end of a concert. Nature wasn't that generous. At that 2010 Sails lunch, Mac made a comment. Not wanting to misunderstand, I said, "Pardon?" He looked at me and in his beautiful dialect replied, "Leighton, you a blessin' in ma life."
Malcolm John Rebennack, you certainly were in mine, R.I.P.