Dr John: “People had never seen things onstage like Chicken Man biting the heads off chickens…”

The Night Tripper on Methadone, N'Awlins voodoo and getting shot in the finger

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What did you think of working with all us Brits on that Anutha Zone album?
Paul Weller
I liked that album a lot. Paul Weller turned me on to a song that was by a guy from Scotland, and I really loved that song (“Don’t Want To Know”, by John Martyn).  It’s a good mantra: if we don’t know about evil we can put it off to the side and know about good things. It’s what we should all strive for. Jason Pierce and me – we were meant to be arguing. There’s certain people in my life I was meant to argue with, and he’s one of them – I loved to argue with him. We would have the best arguments – I would feel exhilarated afterwards. It’s a positive argument. If anyone tape-recorded our conversations, they would think we belonged in mental institutions. What’s the name of his band? Spiritualized! I shouldn’t forget a name like that!

Not many people know you had a hip-hop phase. What’s the story behind “Jet Set” (1984)?
Dr R Hallett, Leeds
A guy that was playing congas with me, his name was Duke Bootee. I said, “You’re not going to make any real money doing that. Your best shot is producing records, you’re good with that…” he had helped with something or other. So he did that, and he did start producing records. He wrote “It’s a jungle out there, sometimes it makes me wonder…” And it was Grandmaster Flash’s first hit. He wrote some other songs for other artists and he had a string of hits and he was doing well as a record producer, and I felt real proud that I’d helped push him along, to that. And he did a track, and I thought, ‘Yeah!’. There’s only two kinds of music: good and bad, and if I like something, I’ll roll with it. If I don’t, then I ain’t gonna roll.

You quit drugs after 40 years using. Was that a relief?
Guy Parfect, Chichester
I felt a sense of relief whenever I had to go through customs, through borders. For 19 years I used to carry a little metal fishing box with letters in it from the US government saying I was a Methadonian. But you got to consider, where did a drug like this come from? Methadone maintenance became a trap – they just wanted to keep people on it. My first wife, she died as a result of being on Methadone for 37 years. She was all crippled up, and that’s not a good thing.

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Which of all the tracks you played on at that time is your favourite late ’50s/early 1960s session?
Randy Newman
Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras In New Orleans”. Of all those sessions, that sticks in my mind, because Professor Longhair untuned the drum set before recording “Hey Now Baby” and “Mardi Gras In New Orleans”. And John Boudreaux left the drums how he untuned them, and it made the records sound very… Mardi Gras. It felt great for that song – it made it sound like there was a parade band coming down the street. It was a very spontaneous way of making records. I liked that we had to do the whole record at the same time, there was no overdubbing – we recorded on one track. They were all recorded with Cosimo Matassa – he was a real hip engineer. He had got into the idea that mic placement was so important, so he would tell, like, a saxophone player to get up to the mic when he took a solo and the trumpet player would play at an angle to the mic, or whatever. He got the best sounds all of the time.

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