In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Dr John’s Gumbo is made up of one very specific, very dominant ingredient, Dr John.”
When I’m trying to think of classic albums, or iconic artists I should listen to for Bored and Dangerous, I’m trying to find bands or artists who I know I should be more familiar with. Even if I don’t think they’ll match my personal taste, I know they have produced records I need to have listened to if I’m gonna call myself a serious music fan. One simple rule for knowing a band or artist fits this bill is to ask the question, “Did they appear in The Last Waltz?” Asking that question and getting an answer in the affirmative is what lead me to Dr John, and Dr John’s Gumbo.
His Cajun slur is on great display in Iko Iko, as the loose enunciations perfectly suit the loose groove of his piano. This is the sound of New Orleans. And as a white guy from Australia who’s never actually been to New Orleans, I believe I’m more than qualified to make that call. Because I saw all four seasons of Treme. Some episodes, twice.
That looseness gets the 12 bar blues treatment, with Dr John’s piano replaced by a dancing organ, for the Mardi Gras story of Big Chief. Then it’s more of a slowed down, blues lament sound on Somebody Changed the Lock. It’s what should be a depressing story of being kicked out by scorned woman, but there’s a cheeky wink to Dr John’s growl that makes it seem kind of light hearted and even funny.
The ragtime fun of Mess Around leads into the dirty bar room blues rock of Let the Good Times Roll. In this case, you know the good times consist of a lot of drinking and cigarettes in a bar with a sticky floor and no discernible signs of whether it’s day or night.
From Stack-A-Lee, to Those Lonely Lonely Nights, to Little Liza Jane, it’s that bouncing around between loose swing, blues and piano boogies, all filtered through New Orleans jazz, that makes up the rest of Dr John’s Gumbo. And it’s a mix that I never got tired of.
A kind of stew, gumbo can be made of all sorts of ingredients. And apart from their shared Louisiana origins, I’m not sure what the food and Dr John’s record have in common. Because Dr John’s Gumbo is made up of one very specific, very dominant ingredient, Dr John. That’s not to say it all sounds the same. I just mean that his persona is so strong and unique, no matter what musical style he’s throwing in there, it’s always gonna be a Dr John record made up of Dr John songs.