In November 1994, we produced an event called Mardi Gras At Sea aboard the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2. It was a ten-day celebration of the best of the music of New Orleans. Blues singers, marching bands, concert pianists, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and many others were onboard. I didn’t think the musical mix could be complete without Dr. John, but he was otherwise engaged and it didn’t look as thought it would be possible for him to be on board. Then there was a break in the action.
It turned out that if the fee was right, and we made sure it was, Dr. John and his band could fly into Baltimore after their Saturday night performance, pick up the ship, present a concert on Sunday evening and leave the ship when it reached New York City the next morning and head off to their next performance. It sounded like a plan. I was thrilled. Dr. John was not only a legendary musician, but a pianist unlike any other. His musical roots went in every direction and the way they came together was remarkable.
Everything worked to perfection. The band arrived on time, reached the ship on time, and was on stage, ready to play, on time. The only thing that was wrong was no one had told us that ninety percent of the passengers on board would be leaving in Baltimore. So instead of a concert for 1600 people, we had a concert for about two hundred, but it was quite a concert. In a way the small crowd worked to the advantage of those onboard. They were able to crowd around the bandstand and almost become part of the show.
It was Sunday, November 13, 1994. The first time I worked with Dr. John. My guess is he doesn’t remember it, a day and a photograph among many thousands. The second time was nine years later, under very different circumstances and he probably remembers it very clearly. It was July 1, 2003, on the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Bros. Clint Eastwood was finishing up the live recording segments of a film he was directing, Piano Blues. Dr. John was on hand along with Pete Jolly and Henry Gray.
It was a wonderful afternoon, and his performance can be seen on the DVD that was issued to go along with the PBS special. It was much easier to take photographs on the soundstage and Mac was just as charming and accommodating as he’d been on QE2. He performed as a soloist, and in a spontaneous quartet with Pete, Henry and Clint. He was perfectly dressed, ready for a star turn, a black suit and mustard-colored hat and tie. His socks were adorned with little sculls that looked ferocious, but no one was afraid. He looked very good, knew it and willingly posed for pictures with cast and crew after the filming.
Fast forward to December 18, 2008. Another film project and a bunch more pictures, but that’s another story for another day.
Dr. John, Aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, November 13, 1994