Flashback to the spring of 1968: I’m walking down Haight Street in San Francisco and pass two Hell’s Angels lounging on their bikes, swapping a large jug of wine. The larger and uglier of the two waved me over with that sort of undeniable authority the older Angels have. I was at ease with the situation, but the twosome seemed pleasantly bemused by their wine, so I moved a little closer.
“Here,” said the older and uglier one, thrusting two ticket stubs at me. “We’re too loaded to go.”
In my hand were two tickets to Dr. John the Night Tripper at the Carousel Ballroom about a month after the Gris-Gris came out, and quite a night it was.
Wednesday at Havana I saw Dr. John again for the first time in 45 years, and I have to say he may not have the same smoke and incense voodoo show as he did that night at the Carousel, but he has lost none of his chops.
It was an amazing evening of music. At 73, the Doctor still has the same fluid, slightly-behind-the-beat piano style of years gone by. Playing a beautiful six-foot black grand piano and a small Nord synthesizer, he led his band through a stellar evening which included tunes like Walk On Guilded Splinters (a personal favorite), Right Place – Wrong Time, and Such A Night, before reeling out some wonderfully sly blues on guitar (his primary instrument before his left ring finger was injured by a gunshot while defending singer/keyboardist Ronnie Barron some years ago).
His five-piece band did a solid job of backing him up, with Ben Alleman on organ, Dwight Bailey on bass, Reggie Jackson (no, not that Reggie Jackson) on drums and Dave Yoke on guitar. Special mention should be made of the Doctor’s musical director and brilliant trombonist, Sarah Morrow, who ripped the doors off the place with her stellar trombone playing.
Mark Stevens, general manager of Havana, and producer Dave Maida did a fine job of putting the show together. Sound quality was excellent, and the band was well set. Seating was by rows of chairs, and worked quite well. Down front seats ran $75, and the rest were $50. There were no blocked sight lines.
All in all, a wonderful evening.