An error repeated often enough takes on the guise of fact.  One of those errors is that Dr. John is a Cajun musician.  Here’s one very recent example.  Dr. John is the stage name of New Orleanian Mac Rebbenack.  He began playing rhythm and blues guitar in the late 1950s on songs like the local hit Storm warning.  He also learned piano songs from his aunt.  There’s a *lot* to this man’s career.  I think he is a giant of New Orleans and piano music.  (This March 2011 article in offBeat magazine says more than I can.)  But he is not a Cajun musician.

Nor is his accent Cajun.  He is a New Orleanian, speaking an accent we call “Yat,” for the greeting, “Where ya at?”  Here are several sources on New Orleans many accents:  National Public Radio (transcription, listen to the accompanying audio), Wikipedia article on the Yat accent (just one of many), Lexicon of New Orleans Terminology and Speech (with phonetic versions of many famous New Orleans pronunciations), and Why Do People in New Orleans Talk That Way? from Slate Magazine.

It’s easy to lump New Orleans music together with Cajun and zydeco, but they are definitely separate, though there has been some mutual influence.  Dr. John plays traditional rhythm and blues (on the great recording Gumbo), his own form of rock as Dr John the Night Tripper, and great solo piano in the stride and boogie woogie traditions.

I have never seen him appear on a Cajun recording nor any Cajun artists appear on his recordings.  He doesn’t perform traditional or modern Cajun songs.

So, here it is, folks:  Dr. John is not a Cajun artist.  Thank you for listening.

Advertisements