The SUN sent David Fenton and Genie Plamondon to interview Dr. John way back in December, just a few days after John Sinclair got out of Jackson. The following rap took place in the Cobo Hall dressing room:
SUN: How did you get your start in the business?
Dr. John: I started in the early 1950's as a studio musician in New Orleans. At that time New Orleans was a big recording center for rhythm and blues records. People like Shirley and Lee, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Eddie James a lot of your big acts at that time, the top R and B acts in the country, were recording all their stuff there. And I had the good fortune to become part of the studio band there, working with all the top musicians in New Orleans, and it was like a school for me. From that I got to be an artist and repertoire representative for Ace records in Jackson, Mississippi. Earl King was one of their better artists who never really made it on that label. I got the full picture of this business--I learned how you get burnt, how you get ripped off.
So I did this kind of stuff, until the 1960's, worked in New Orleans playing joints and stuff like that, and I worked in the recording studios until they moved away to Memphis and Muscle Schoals and those places later on. And that experience gave me a different understanding of the record business and the whole entertainment industry thing than if I had been doing something else. It was a good school, but you don't want to repeat certain blunders that you made in the past. So somewhere along the line I formulated the ideas for this kind of stuff that we're doing now.
SUN: What about the rest of the group?
Dr. John: All of us have spent some time and paid some dues in Louisiana, you know, in order to project this music. This is Shirley Goodman from Shirley and Lee that had, you know. Let the Good Times Roll, Feel So Good, all that stuff. I used to play for her, now she, we all, it's the same-- we all are representing the Chippaqua Chawis, the 7th and 9th wards of New Orleans, we're like, all of us live around each other and with each other anyhow, so we might as well play music together.
SUN: Do you all live n the same place?
Dr. John: Yeah, we all there, it's where we organize everything from out of.
SUN: Could you talk some more about the music of New Orleans?
Dr. John: The music of New Orleans, in particular, it'll be on our next album called More Gumbo and Less Gris Gris. It's like a picture of the music that New Orleans people listen to. The Dixieland, the Rock and Roll, and the Funk. The origin of Funk is in New Orleans, Funk carne to be in New Orleans, Mardi Gras Music, you're basic 2-4 music, with compounded rhythms and syncopation added on.
SUN: People are beginning to see the tremendously important role that our bands can play in shaping consciousness, helping to support people's programs, and generally helping to change the situation all around us. People like Mitch Ryder, John Lennon, Mark Farner and especially a lot of Michigan bands, have been doing great stuff recently, and we wonder how you see yourself and your group relating to that.
Dr. John: We're trying to get the message out, cuz otherwise we ain't serving no purpose, we out here just beating our heads in the wind and stuff. We're all searching for something and saying that the old charts that I was brought up in proved to me to be a shuck, and we're looking for something new. If certain people's coats be pulled to certain things about certain places, they'll have a different perspective on the whole issue, you know. If they just know certain things is really happening, then when enough people know then things can change, they can raise enough saying to make it change. But until they know it nobody's going to be bothered about it, you know.
It's like with the whole prison thing, they took down the whipping post like 10 years ago because a lot of saying was raised about it, about the torture weapons that was used to whip guys into submission and stuff like that. Of course these things, in other ways, they're still happening. They took down the post but it was like a gesture, cause as far as any real meaning to be anything changed by that, t was just a lie, you know. That was just for the newspapers to show well here's a big improvement. But let's face it, as long as they got a guy in the joint-- I mean I have enough beefs with a penitentiary of any kind, you know, within myself, but for the moment beings as we got em, if we got to put up with them for now, let's try and get things to where they're of some purpose, other than simply breeding places for guys to make a return performance.
SUN: Well with all these musicians helping to spread the word maybe we can do that.
Dr. John: It's good, it pleases me when I see certain people as focal points raising that saying, and it's even better when people like John Sinclair become a focal point who have lived there, because then they say, you know, he has experienced t, and it's more acceptable to take his opinion about it than to get it second hand. You want to hear someone with first hand information, cause oh well, yeah, he been there and I know he know. Cause sight beat the word, having been there makes it more than just something you're talking about.
SUN: And music beats the word, too.
Dr. John: Well, yeah, you got other senses you can depend on. The point of sight beats the word extends to other senses, and when you learn how to combine and use all your senses at one time then you operate at full frequency. When your ears and your nose and your eyes and your mouth and your feeling, your inner feeling, are all in tune, then you got something working for yourself.
And it blew my head how together John was after getting out, I mean I didn't see any of the usual effects prison has on people. He blew my mind totally, the cat walked into the room and looked like the last way l'd seen him before, as if nothing had gone down. But of course he was saying all along that everything was going to be all right, and he was right. And I don't know if he actually realized how much change would come about from what went down with him. I mean a mighty thing happened, coming down from a felony to a misdemeanor is a mighty action. Our little state of Louisiana is beginning to cut back on the number of years they give for weed-- they used to give 7 years, which is really cold for a first offense-- now things has lessened but it's still an amount of years. But in this state a change has already came about, and that's a miracle unto itself.
Cause the law is a monster. The beast lays out the laws, and the dragon enforces them. That dragon got blasphemy written all across his head ya know and every dollar bill you look at say In God We Trust. That dragon pulls a lot of weight and has a lot of people strung out. It's like throwing out a nickel bag of heroin to this nation and this is what you live by people, don't worship no divine creator anymore, worship that dollar three-eighty. It's like finance has replaced not only romance but has become the thing that we are supposed to live up to as a goal. They've got people strung out on that mother and they make people think it can 't be any other way. Y'all got the biggest Jones in the world when you got that one.
SUN: There's a lot of bad drugs in the community these days, and in some cases musicians have been responsible for making people think that some of them are hip to use. How do you relate to that?
Dr. John: Well I tell you man, just like no. 11 in the book says, God recommended in no. 11 of the Book of Genesis, First Book of Moses, 'And God said let the earth bring forth grass, and herb-yielding seed, and fruit-yielding trees after its kind whose seed is in itself upon the earth. And it was so. The earth brought forth grass, and herb-yielding seed, and fruit-yielding trees whose seed was in itself after its kind. And God said that it was good.' In between there there's a lot of variations on what people use, but you'll never get the effect that you get from grass with no other thing. That's put here; you can drink it in a tea, you can eat it in brownies, you can smoke it. There's a million ways that you can take it, but it's still a good herb, a healthy herb, whereas a lot of other herbs that people are using and overusing I don't recommend them, I don't think they're no good for you. I don't mention no STP's, I don't recognize no junkie dope at all, no heroin, no opiates. I don't recommend no cocaine and no speed. And speed is 90 percent of what people cali cocaine in this country. There's very little cocaine compared to what people think.
Things that come naturally in the earth, peyote and grass, have been recommended by people that we know are together. But these other things we don't even know all their effects. They can weaken you and put a crack in your foundation. 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' I mean, that's a hell of a statement, ya know. God said it.
SUN: What do you think of Detroit?
Dr. John: Well the people we've played for have been real down, the audiences, which I groove on, as long as people are down, you know. We got to pull their coats, you know, the people who are out there mis-guided, totally believing the things they've been conditioned to believe in. They honestly think that that is the truth, they don't realize that there's a lot of other things happening. That's the kind of people we got to communicate with. Cause we all are out here, and I say we in a way that I think you know what I mean, we are all out here, and we're on this same planet made out of the same black mud. We understand there's a oneness to it, and when you snap to that you avoid a lot of extra hassles that are totally unnecessary and a hang up and a waste of time, too.
SUN: People here tonight have been getting out of their seats and boogyin. Do you dig seeing that?
Dr. John: I like all of them feelings, man. I don't think they should just shake their ass, cause l'd like to get em off out of their heads, let em astrally project themselves around the room for a while and then come back and check it out. You know, that little freedom makes you feel good.
And some of these big concerts where everybody's sitting down are a bummer. I noticed at a Sly Stone concert the other night it was ridiculous. There was Sly Stone singing Stand! and all the people have to sit down. Sly playing Dance to the Music and they've got to sit down. Where is that at? Who booked that concert? He ought to be hung by his fingernails. On the other hand if people could get out there at these things and be free doing what they want to they'd have a good time, and then everybody go home feeling like everything's all right. But we go through a lot of shuck and jive changes like this.