Song of the Day: Dr. John “Black Widow Spider”
“Black Widow Spider” is one hell of a rave-up from New Orleans musical royalty, the indomitable Dr. John. The song appears on the good doctor’s second LP, Babylon, and is powered by a fuzzy guitar riff, tribal percussion and pure, unadulterated swamp voodoo. The song starts out, fittingly, “In a candlelit cafe, in New Orleans” before careening off into a tale of seduction by non-other than a deadly black widow spider. As well as being a fun riff on the femme fatale trope, the song also discusses at length strange happenings in Southern swamp land and, of course black magic and voodoo. Dr. John‘s incredible talents as a songwriter and musician shine through and this stands out as a classic Dr. John cut even during a period where he could, musically speaking, do no wrong.
Dr. John was born Malcolm John Rebennack in (where else?) New Orleans. He began his career as a talented and in demand studio keyboardist and guitarist. His first great musical impression was made when he met Professor Longhair at the age of 14. From Wikipedia:
When he was about 13 or 14 years old, Rebennack met Professor Longhair, which started a period in his life that would mark rapid growth as a musician and the beginnings of his entry into professional music. He describes his initial impression of Professor Longhair noting not only his musical prowess, but his style: “I was also fascinated that he was sitting out there in a turtleneck shirt with a beautiful gold chain with a watch hangin’ on it, and an Army fatigue cap on his head. And I thought, Wow, I never seen nobody dressed like this guy. Just everything about the man was totally hip. And he had gloves on him, too, beautiful silk gloves. I’ll never forget this.”
Rebennack gigged with and led several local bands and was a mainstay of the New Orleans music scene throughout the 50s and early 60s, predominantly as a guitarist. His career was badly stunted at a gig in Jackson, Mississippi in 1960 when Rebennack was shot in the hand while attempting to defend his band-mate and friend, Ronnie Barron. This injury to his ring-finger made it difficult for Rebennack to play guitar and he switched to playing bass and subsequently piano as his main instrument. In 1965, he moved to Los Angeles, rechristened himself Dr. John and began to fuse sounds from the rock and roll scene with his native New Orleans sound. Dr. John definitively announced himself on the scene with his 1968 album Gris-Gris, a unique fusion of classic New Orleans R&B, psychedelic rock and voodoo (which has been a long-standing interest of Dr. John).
Dr. John is still alive, well and gigging at the age of 77.