New Music: A Never-Before-Released Live Show from Dr. John

Listen to an exclusive premiere of the late New Orleans great performing solo nearly forty years ago

Photo: Dr. John Estate

Dr. John onstage in 2015 at Tipitina's in New Orleans.

At the tail end of Jazz Fest in April 1984, Dr. John made one more house call. Looking to celebrate the New Orleans festival’s fifteenth anniversary, Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis booked the famed singer, songwriter, and piano player for a solo show on the riverboat SS President. (Also performing that night were fellow New Orleans greats Fats Domino and the Neville Brothers.) By the early ’80s, Dr. John had started to shed the murky voodoo sounds of his early records in search of “more sophisticated music,” as he put it in his 1992 memoir. Released in 1981, Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack Vol. 1 marked his debut solo piano record, followed by a second effort, The Brightest Smile in Town, two years later.

Suffice it to say, he was in peak form that night on the riverboat, bantering back and forth with the crowd in his trademark growl and taking requests while working the keys in his showstopping way. This April, the legendary New Orleans venue Tipitina’s will release the never-before-heard show. Dr. John Solo Piano / Live in New Orleans 1984 includes Big Easy classics written by his mentors Huey “Piano” Smith (“Don’t You Just Know It” and “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”) and Professor Longhair (“Tipitina”) alongside other fan favorites and Dr. John originals.

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Today, Garden & Gun is proud to premiere a scorching three-song medley from the album. The track features Dr. John’s own “Qualified” followed by New Orleans bandleader Dave Bartholomew’s “Sick and Tired” and finishing with the good doctor’s version of the blues staple “Good Night Irene.” The recording is unbelievably pristine, a minor miracle given how packed and raucous the crowd was that night almost forty years ago. 

The album will first be available on vinyl this April for members of the Tipitina’s Record Club (update: a digital version is now available). It’s a rare treat for any Dr. John fan, or anyone with even a passing interest in the glorious sounds of New Orleans.