Interview: Dr. John's Wishes for a Blessed Mardi Gras

BREAKING: Now that Mardi Gras has passed, you can catch Dr. John at an all-star tribute on May 3 at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans. The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: A Celebration of Mac & His Music will feature Gregg Allman, Allen Toussaint, Widespread Panic, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, Irma Thomas, Zagaboo Modeliste, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and many, many more including his band director and trombone player Sarah Morrow. Don Was is musical director of the show which will be filmed for release. Tickets will be available soon.

Music legend Dr. John, also known as New Orleans native son Mac Rebennack, Jr., probably gets more phone calls on Mardi Gras Day than the whole rest of the year so I got mine in early. Before the revelry hits full gear, here are his wishes to everyone for Mardi Gras 2014, and some memories of the city's neighborhood traditions.

KDB: I remember how Wardell Quezergue used to talk about the Bone Gangs waking the neighborhood up at the crack of dawn, and he'd run and hide. What's the first time you saw them?"

Dr. John: One of the first things I remember about the Bone Gangs, my Pa took me out to look at them and I don't remember the name of the bone gang in the Third Ward, I just remember that they scared the hell out of me. They was all talking about stuff that people could get killed doing so it was a good thing in its way, but as a little kid you just don't know how to relate to that.

KDB: The North Side Skull and Bone Gang has those aprons that say: "You're next." That could be alarming.

Dr. John: Sunpie (Barnes) and some of the guys that was in the Bone Gangs, I like them as cats. But that was a lot later. The first thing I remember back in the game is them guys used to wear real bones with meat. And that was just a weird thing. They would wear them bones and have all that meat hanging off of it, it was just a trip."

KDB: And then you've got the Baby Dolls with their bloomers and cigars, that's another tradition

Dr. John:
The Baby Dolls, they was a lot easier to take than the Bone Gangs. Back then the Baby Dolls and the Gangster Molls, they was two gangs that had the (walking) sticks. They was all from somewhere like Perdido Street, and I used to see them come out. One year my Pa took me, and by the end I saw it all.

KDB: Of course there are the Mardi Gras Indian traditions.

Dr. John
: There was so many great Mardi Gras Indians. I mean, I remember the Red White and Blues, and the Golden Blades. I remember I think that the Red White and Blues snuffed one of the Golden Blades and just left him hanging on the branch of a tree. That's a long time ago though, probably in the '40s.

KDB: Before Big Chief Tootie Montana came out against the fighting, and made it about the artistry.

Dr. John: If it wouldn't have been for Tootie Montana, they would have still been doing all that stuff. Tootie had a beautiful way of trying to pull everything together. It's funny how stuff like that will always stick in your memory banks, even when you don't have memory banks left."

KDB: You have a bank full. I love that your song Big Bass Drum (All on a Mardi Gras Day) gives a shout out to so many of the chiefs.

Dr. John: Certain guys stick out, like the guy they used to call Soulful Pete. He was the Big Chief I think of the Black Eagles, but boy they were hip. He always had all these different kind of patches that was like from ancient Egypt or all kinds of weird stuff that he would put on his patches. It wasn't at all like the other guys' patches. That guy had so many different names, about 20 that people would call him. But he was a bad sucker for sowing them patches, that's what I remember.

KDB: It's great that the traditions are still being handed down.

Dr. John: Yeah, I know Big Chief Little Charles (Taylor) from the White Cloud Hunters, and the Spirit of the Fi Ya Ya, they all slammin things to me.

KDB: I'm glad New Orleans is holding onto that. I think a lot of towns would have lost part of that culture by now.

Dr. John: I think it's a blessing to keep everything they can keep into the whole picture.

KDB: You rarely get to enjoy it here in New Orleans though, it seems like you're always touring on Mardi Gras.

Dr. John: But I'll tell you, more people have called me up to wish me a Mardi Gras, that's kind of special.

KDB: What's your wish to everyone on this Mardi Gras Day, 2014?

Dr. John: Well, I hope they all have a blessed Mardi Gras and do something that will be fun for them. And don't hurt nobody. Tootie would have like that.

KDB: Amen. It's supposed to be a cold day outside, but we'll be warming up our insides.

Dr. John: Hey, if they dress warm enough they'll be warm.