The call was completely unexpected. It was Concha Buika’s manager on the phone to say that Carlos Santana had invited her to work on the album he was making. “I was like, no!” Buika recalled by telephone from her home in Miami. “I was so nervous and so excited. I couldn’t believe it.”
Buika is a multilingual singer and songwriter from Spain who has fused flamenco, jazz, rock, African and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and more. She won a Latin Grammy in 2010 for the album “El ÚltimoTrago,” a collaboration with the Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés, revisiting rancheras from the Mexican singer Chavela Vargas. (Although Buika and the Santana band have done a few performances together, they are touring separately this summer. Buika is performing at Central Park SummerStage on Sunday.)
Buika expected to be a guest vocalist, for perhaps a song or two, on an album filled with other guests and would-be pop hits, along the lines of Santana’s 1999 blockbuster “Supernatural,” which has sold more than 15 million copies in the United States alone. (On tour this year, Santana is celebrating that album’s 20th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of his barn-burning Woodstock set.) Instead, Buika became the singer and co-writer of every song on “Africa Speaks,” Santana’s new album.
By Giovanni Russonello
Ma Rainey did not make the first blues recording; that distinction belongs to Mamie Smith, the vaudevillian who recorded “Crazy Blues” in 1920. And Rainey did not achieve the monumental acclaim of Bessie Smith, her mentee and, later, friendly rival.
But it’s possible that neither of these figures would have sung the way they did without the influence of Rainey.
Often called the “Mother of the Blues,” she was the first entertainer to successfully bridge the divide between vaudeville — the cabaret-style shows that developed out of minstrelsy in the mid-1800s, and catered largely to white audiences — and authentic black Southern folk expression.
Even before the recording industry took off in the 1920s and the blues became a nationwide craze, she had developed a national reputation for her energizing, straight-talking performances and full-throated vocals. As the biographer Sandra Lieb observed in “Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey” (1983), by combining a black folk style with techniques learned on the vaudeville stage, Rainey “offered to whites a glimpse into black culture far less obscured by white expectations, and offered to blacks a more direct affirmation” of their cultural power.
In the process, Rainey helped to mainstream narratives of black female autonomy that had little to do with the Victorian norms of white society. Partly that meant speaking candidly about her attraction to women as well as men. In “Prove It on Me Blues,”accompanied by a jug band, she sings defiantly:
Went out last night with a crowd of my friends.
They must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men.
It’s true I wear a collar and a tie,
Makes the wind blow all the while.
Don’t you say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me.
You sure got to prove it on me.
A Georgia native, Rainey began her career on the tent-show circuit, traveling with performance troupes that set up their own stages in towns across the South and Midwest, honing her own gregarious brew of music, comedy and social commentary.
The characters in Rainey’s songs rarely allowed themselves to become dependent on a male partner, or any agent of the law. “Far more typical,” the scholar and activist Angela Davis wrote in the book “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism” (1998), “are songs in which women explicitly celebrate their right to conduct themselves as expansively and even as undesirably as men.”
In Rainey’s blues — many of which she wrote herself — even the most jilted narrator was unlikely to fall into despair. In “Oh Papa Blues,” after detailing her grievances against a neglectful lover, Rainey turns on a dime, steeling herself to exact revenge.
Oh, papa, think when you away from home
You just don’t want me now, wait and see
You’ll find some other man makin’ love to me, now
Papa, papa, you ain’t got no mama now.
With a mouthful of gold teeth, richly dark skin and flashy jewelry dangling about her, Rainey cast a striking figure, with a ruggedly powerful voice and lavish stage presence to match.
“When she started singing, the gold in her teeth would sparkle,” the pianist and composer Thomas A. Dorsey, who was the musical director on some of her best-known recordings, wrote in his unpublished memoirs.
“She was in the spotlight,” he added. “She possessed listeners; they swayed, they rocked, they moaned and groaned, as they felt the blues with her.”
How distant the mid-1970s seem now. They were unkempt, hairy, hedonistic, improvisational, analog, inefficient — anything but neatly calculated and Instagram-ready. Post-psychedelic and pre-AIDS, they were a continuation of the idealistic, natural 1960s, yet they were also an immediate precursor to the polymorphous, synthetic, role-playing disco era. The bitterness of Vietnam and Watergate lingered; hippie utopianism was giving way to a more selfish search for individual satisfaction. Things were still scruffy, but not quite so communal.
The Rolling Thunder Revue, concocted by Bob Dylan, was precisely a manifestation of its era. Starting in Plymouth, Mass., where the colonial Pilgrims landed, it wandered the northeastern United States and Canada from fall into winter of 1975: a brief peregrination. In Dylan’s public career, which is now well into its sixth decade, it stands as his most peculiar tour of all.
Two new projects revisit the Rolling Thunder Revue in extensive detail. “The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings” is a 14-CD, 148-track boxed set of music from the tour’s rehearsals and performances, vastly expanding the two dozen songs released on a 2002 collection, “The Bootleg Series Volume 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue.” And on June 12, Netflix premieres “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.” It’s a not-quite-documentary that mixes 1975 tour footage (which was shot for the 1978 film “Renaldo and Clara”) and latter-day interviews with Dylan, Joan Baez and other Rolling Thunder participants, along with some fictional characters.
Both the boxed set and the film sprawl proudly and unpredictably, just as the Revue itself did. And both projects traffic in revelation and put-on, sometimes simultaneously. Onstage in 1975, introducing a then-new song called “Isis” that traces improbable adventures, Dylan claimed, “This is a true story. Actually, they’re all true.”
The Revue’s initial plan was to play spur-of-the-moment, out-of-the-way bookings — a Mah-jongg parlor, a Native American reservation — and shows at small halls that were announced on short notice, with printed fliers and radio ads: no internet then. (For a second, more conventional tour in 1976, the Revue outgrew that approach; both the boxed set and film stick to the initial Revue.) The concerts themselves rambled through their multi-performer bills, often stretching to three or four hours, taking on local guests at whim.
Someday there ought to be a reissue of a full-length, single-night Rolling Thunder Revue concert recording, opening acts and all. The new box is not that. It collects only Dylan’s own appearances — rehearsals, five professionally recorded shows and a final disc of rarities and outliers, like the piano-pounding “Simple Twist of Fate” recorded at the Mah-jongg Parlor in Falmouth, Mass.
The Revue presented itself as an informal hootenanny, but it was a self-conscious one. With a film crew in tow, the shows were also intended to provide material for the amorphous “Renaldo and Clara,” a film that ran nearly four hours when it was released in 1978 and met with near-universal derision. With a script credited to Dylan and the playwright Sam Shepard, “Renaldo and Clara” jumbled documentary and staged scenes, and it scrambled identities; Dylan is billed as Renaldo while the rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins plays “Bob Dylan.”
In the movie, in theaters and on Netflix this week, Dylan himself starts to explain, saying that he wanted to do something “in the traditional form of a revue,” before cutting himself off.
“I don’t have a clue,” he says. “It’s about nothing, it’s just something that happened 40 years ago. I don’t remember a thing about Rolling Thunder — it happened so long ago, I wasn’t even born.”
This unexpected response sets the tone for an unconventional film about an unprecedented tour. The year before, Dylan had returned to the road for the first time in nearly a decade, accompanied by the Band for a series of concerts that broke ticket-sales records but proved musically unsatisfying. In his autobiography, Levon Helm of the Band wrote that the tour “was damn good for our pocketbooks, but it just wasn’t a very passionate trip for any of us.”
Dylan returned to Greenwich Village and started turning up at clubs, seeking out the sense of musical adventure and community that had initially drawn him to New York City. He assembled a new band of young unknowns, recorded what would become the “Desire” album and dreamed up a different way to tour.
Roger McGuinn, formerly of the Byrds, recalled in a recent telephone interview that when Dylan visited him at his Malibu home, “he said he wanted to do something like a circus, but he didn’t elaborate.”
The Rolling Thunder Revue hit the highway, booking halls in New England and Canada a few days in advance and selling its own tickets. Dylan’s boyhood friend Louie Kemp, who made his fortune in the seafood business, served as tour manager, and over 40 days, the top-billed Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Neuwirthand others played 31 shows, some stretching four hours long, in 23 cities. (The tour nominally picked up again in 1976, playing bigger venues in the South and West. The film is accompanied by a 14-CD box set with performances and rehearsals from the first tour.)
“I think the tour was unique in that it tried to expand the conventions of what a music show would be at that time,” Scorsese wrote in an email. “So there were poets, filmmakers, playwrights, and all sorts of different musicians.”
“It was an attempt to bring an exciting experience directly to the people,” he said, adding, “without thinking about the economics, without thinking about what people had done in the past. Just a pure expression of music and joy.”
The team behind the new movie decided that such an unusual expedition required something beyond a linear documentary. Most notably, the film creates several fictional characters. They represent some of the archetypal figures that surround a rock ’n’ roll tour and are included without comment alongside interviews with Rolling Thunder alumni.
Mac Rebennack, the New Orleans pianist, singer-songwriter and producer better known as Dr. John, died Thursday at the age of 77. The cause of death was a heart attack, according to his family.
“Towards the break of day on June 6, 2019, iconic music legend Malcolm John Rebennack, Jr., professionally known as Dr. John, passed away of a heart attack,” his family said in a statement. “As a Rock N Roll Hall of Fame inductee, six-time Grammy winner, songwriter, composer, producer and performer, he created a unique blend of music which carried his hometown, New Orleans, at its heart, as it was always in his heart. The family thanks all whom have shared his unique musical journey, and requests privacy at this time. Memorial arrangements will be arranged in due course.”
“A true friend and fellow musical traveler died today,” the Allman Brothers Band wrote on Twitter. “The Allman Brothers Band family express their sincere sadness in his passing. Mac played many times with the Brothers. Walk on Gilded Splinters our Old Friend, we will all meet up at The Right Place.”
“God bless Dr. John,” Ringo Starr wrote on Twitter. “Peace and love to all his family. I love the doctor.”
“There was no other performer like Dr. John, and there never will be,” Louisiana native Ellen DeGeneres wrote. “Tonight my heart is in New Orleans.”
Although best known for his Seventies solo work and radio hits like “Right Place, Wrong Time,” Rebennack had a career that spanned pop history. He was a key part of the “Wrecking Crew” stable of ace Los Angeles session musicians in the Sixties. He played on recordings by Cher, Aretha Franklin, Canned Heat, Frank Zappa and countless others, fusing funk with R&B and boogie woogie.
Rebennack began putting out his own records in 1968 with the release of his debut album Gris-Gris. It was the beginning of his larger-than-life Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper character, with Rebennack incorporating elements of voodoo into his outrageous stage show. He quickly grew a large following, introducing much of America to New Orleans music.
Born Malcolm John Rebennack on November 21st, 1940, Dr. John was immersed in the music of his native city from an early age. He started banging on a piano when he was three, venturing to African-America clubs when he was teenager and working at a studio in town during that time. His first instrument was the guitar, not the piano, and he soon met and began playing with Professor Longhair, the New Orleans piano icon. As a teenager, Dr. John had played in bands, wrote songs for local acts like Lloyd Price and Jerry Byrne and worked an A&R job at Ace Records.
His life and music took a fateful turn when, in 1960, he broke up a fight and his left index finger was hit by a bullet. With that, he switched to piano, which would be his primary instrument throughout his career. When the New Orleans music scene gave way to Detroit’s Motown world and other hot cities, Dr. John relocated to Los Angeles in 1964, where he began his session-man career.
Originally, he had planned for another musician to play the “Dr. John” character, modeled after a voodoo priest, but when that player opted out, Rebennack took over the part himself. “I had it all planned and set to go, so I just did it myself out of spite,” he once said. “I never thought I would be doing another record. I never wanted to be a frontman. All of a sudden, I got into it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought.” He soon had fully renamed himself and started a solo career that blended New Orleans, blues and psychedelia, with accompanying robes and headdresses of his new character.
Signing with Atlantic, by way of legendary producer Jerry Wexler, Dr. John found his groove and his voice, starting with Gumbo, the landmark 1972 album that featured his renditions of “Iko Iko,” “Let the Good Times Roll” and other New Orleans classics. The next year, he hit his commercial peak, when his funky stomp “Right Place, Wrong Time” hit the Top 10. Those albums showcased not only his loose growl and rhythmic sense but his piano playing, which incorporated boogie and swinging syncopation.
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1973, Rebennack discussed his internal battle over making “commercial” music. “The only thing that makes a record commercial is if people buy it,” he said. “Originally, I felt to go commercial would prostitute myself and bastardize the music. On reflecting, I thought that if without messin’ up the music and keeping the roots and elements of what I want to do musically, I could still make a commercial record I would not feel ashamed from, I’m proud of, and still have a feel for, then it’s not a bad thing but it even serve a good purpose.”
He was popular enough by 1976 to be invited to perform at The Band’s Last Waltz alongside Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters and other greats of the era, but his commercial fortunes waned in the Eighties and an addiction to heroin hobbled his career for years. He kicked the drug in 1989, around the time that Ringo Starr helped revive his career by bringing him on the road for his inaugural All Starr Band Tour. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famein 2011.
Rebennack released dozens of albums over the course of his career as both a solo musician and member of Bluesiana Triangle, a trio he formed with jazz giants Art Blakey and David “Fathead” Newman. He made jazzy pop (1979’s City Lights), pre-rock pop standards (1989’s In a Sentimental Mood) and homages to his home town (1992’s Goin’ Back to New Orleans). In 2012, he released the Dan Auerbach-produced album Locked Down, which landed on Rolling Stone‘s Best Albums of the year.
He continued to tour heavily until 2017 when health problems took him off the road. “I don’t go out to each too much,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010. “I can’t eat things like lamb because I have cirrhosis of the liver. So I have a pretty limited diet and I like to eat a lot of seafood. So that’s kind of depressing.”
Rebennack summed up his career back in 1973, when he told Rolling Stone that audiences didn’t need to know anything about New Orleans or voodoo to enjoy his music. “If you’re gonna get off on somethin’ you don’t need to know nothin’ about it, music is a universal language,” he said. “If it’s opera in Italian, you ain’t supposed to know nothin’ about Italy. You can just sit there and dig on it.”
Dr. John, Legend of New Orleans, Dead At 77 ~ NPR
Mac Rebennack, the pianist, singer, songwriter and producer better known as Dr. John, who embodied the New Orleans sound for generations of music fans, died on Thursday. He was 77.
A family statement released by his publicist said the cause was a heart attack. The statement did not say where he died. He had been living in recent years on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, La.
Mr. Rebennack belonged to the pantheon of New Orleans keyboard wizards that includes Professor Longhair, James Booker, Huey (Piano) Smith and Fats Domino. What distinguished him from his peers was the showmanship of his public persona.
Onstage as Dr. John, he adorned himself with snakeskin, beads and colorful feathers, and his shows blended Mardi Gras bonhomie with voodoo mystery.
He recorded more than 30 albums, including jazz projects (“Bluesiana Triangle,” 1990, with the drummer Art Blakey and the saxophonist David Newman), solo piano records (“Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack,” 1981) and his version of Afropop (“Locked Down,” 2012). His 1989 album of standards, “In a Sentimental Mood,” earned him the first of six Grammy Awards, for his duet with Rickie Lee Jones on “Makin’ Whoopee!”
His only Top 40 single, “Right Place Wrong Time,” reached No. 9 on the Billboard chart in 1973. In 2011, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. was born in New Orleans on Nov. 20, 1941. His mother, Dorothy (Cronin) Rebennack, worked as a model and in a music store. Malcolm Sr. owned an appliance store. Mac, as he came to be known, was a photogenic baby whose picture appeared on boxes of Ivory Soap.
He immersed himself in the sounds of New Orleans at a young age, first through the city’s radio stations and then by following his father to nightclubs, where Malcolm Sr. would repair P.A. systems while young Mac peered through the window, watching musicians like Professor Longhair rehearse.
Leon Redbone, the singer who built a career out of performing ragtime, vaudeville and American standards with a sly wink and an unmistakable, nasally voice, died Thursday. He was 69.
A statement on Redbone’s website confirmed his death, though it did so with a sweet bit of humor and joking that he was actually 127 years old.
“He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover and a simple tip of his hat,” his family said in a statement. “He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing singalong number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you… and good evening everybody.’”
Often clad in a Panama hat and big, dark sunglasses, Redbone rose to prominence in the mid-Seventies, though he always had an air of mystery about him, famously refusing to answer questions about his age and background. He was reportedly born in Cyprus, but moved to Canada in the Sixties and began performing in Toronto nightclubs. He eventually hit the folk festival circuit, which is how he met Bob Dylan, who praised Redbone’s enigmatic aura in a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone.
“Leon interests me,” Dylan said. “I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, I’ve been [a foot and a half from him] and I can’t tell. But you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.”
Redbone kept things characteristically strange when Rolling Stone profiled him several months later. When asked if his parents were musicians, Redbone joked that his father was the long-dead Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini and his mother was the 19th century Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind. When asked where the first place he ever played publicly was, Redbone threw on a W.C. Fields voice and cracked, “In a pool hall, but I wasn’t playing guitar, you see. I was playing pool.”
“The remarkable thing about Leon Redbone is that he’s so accurate in every aspect of his presentation – from his scat singing to his yodeling to his authentic nasally slurred vocals to the unerring accuracy of his Blind Blake-styled , ragtime-piano type of guitar playing,” Rolling Stonewriter Steve Weitzman wrote in 1974.
Redbone soon notched a record deal with Warner Bros and released his debut album, On the Track, in 1975. The album offered up endearing takes on classics like “Ain’t Misbehavin,” “Lazybones” and “Some of These Days.” He would release two more albums on Warner, 1977’s Double Time and 1978’s Champagne Charlie. His 1981 album, From Branch to Branch (released via Atlantic) featured his sole Hot 100 hit, a rendition of Gary Tigerman’s “Seduced.”
Though Redbone never achieved huge commercial success, he developed a cult following thanks in part to frequent appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared in commercials for companies like Budweiser, Chevrolet, All laundry detergent and Ken-L Ration dog food, and sang the theme songs for Mr. Belvedere and Harry and the Hendersons.
Redbone continued to tour and record albums throughout the Eighties and Nineties,though his output slowed as he got older. In the 2003 film, Elf, he voiced Leon the Snowmanand recorded a rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanelthat played over the film’s closing credits.
Redbone released his final studio album, Flying By, in 2014, and announced his retirement from music due to health concerns a year later. In 2015, Third Man Records issued a double-album compilation, A Long Way Home, that collected Redbone’s live and studio solo recordings, dating back to 1972.
“He’s just amazing,” Bonnie Raitt said of Redbone in 1974 before nodding to his enigmatic past. “He’s probably the best combination singer-guitarist I’ve heard in years. I’d like to know where he gets his stuff. I’d also like to find out how old he is.”
Leon Redbone, who burst onto the pop-music scene in the mid-1970s with a startlingly throwback singing style and a look to go with it, favoring songs from bygone eras drolly delivered, died on Thursday in Bucks County, Pa. He was 69.
His family announced the death on his website. A specific cause of death was not given, but Mr. Redbone had retired from performing in 2015 because of ill health.
Toting an acoustic guitar, his face generally half-hidden by a Panama hat and dark glasses, Mr. Redbone channeled performers and songwriters from ragtime, Delta blues, Tin Pan Alley and more, material not generally heard by the rock generation. His music defied easy categorization; he was sometimes described as a jazz singer, other times as a folk or pop or blues artist. He sang in a deep, gravelly voice that combined singing and mumbling, but he also deployed a falsetto of sorts on occasion.
He began turning up on the coffeehouse circuit in Toronto in the 1960s and developed a cult following. He broke through to a larger audience in late 1975 with his first album, “On the Track,” which included songs like “My Walking Stick,” by Irving Berlin, and “Lazybones,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. His sound was unique for the era, as The New York Times noted in a January 1976 article about the record and its producer, Joel Dorn:
“Redbone, who in his nightclub appearances plays the role of a grinning, almost catatonic folkie, will undoubtedly confound many, but Dorn has certainly given him his due in a completely ungimmicked musical setting.”
The album earned Mr. Redbone two appearances on “Saturday Night Live” in 1976, during the show’s first season. Fifteen more albums followed, most recently “Flying By” in 2014. Mr. Redbone also sang the theme songs for the television series “Mr. Belvedere” and “Harry and the Hendersons,” was heard on various commercials, and provided the voice of an animated snowman in the 2003 movie “Elf.”