Almanac Music: Farewell Roky and Dr John

Losing Bowie and Prince within a three month period in early 2016 took the wind out of the sails for many music lovers. It felt like we hadn’t properly grieved for the Starman when His Purpleness exited stage right too. The deaths of Roky Erickson and Dr John (Mac Rebennack) came within a week of each other so offers the chance to reflect on both as more fitting bookends perhaps than what happened a few years ago when we lost the global superstars.


Roky and DJ never scaled the lofty heights of worldwide fame and adulation but their influence on music was significant. They both put a particular slant on roots based music which is difficult to categorise. Dr John’s love of blues and jazz could be heard in the joyous syncopation of his music through the vehicle of his piano playing. Roky’s axe work was more guttural and frenetic, but any lover of Dr John’s music would find solace in much of what Rocky did from the 13th Floor Elevators period and beyond.


My tribute to these greats will be through the lyrics of my favourite songs from each of them. Since Roky’s death, I cannot get “Don’t Slander Me” out of my head. The relentless beat and Roky’s wailing voice resonates and I can sense his spirit sometimes when I sing it. He talks about false Gods will bring the devil the blues in the first verse, and about perfection for a perfect Jew in the second. The sacred and the profane meld seamlessly in Roky’s world. He exhorts his place in the world through his music and calls us to join him on his journey, whether that be to the promised land or some fiery alternative.



In “Such A Night”, Dr John sings so sweetly about sweet confusion under the moonlight. Whilst it subsequently becomes clear the confusion refers to Mack pinching his mate’s girl, many of us I’m sure gloss over that just to hear the dulcet tones of this gifted singer swoon us under the moonlight. That neatly encapsulates the attraction of Dr John. He was a scamp and a vagabond in so many ways but could melt the hardest of hearts when he tinkled those ivories.



Both men came to prominence in the 60s and their swagger was clearly borne from the cauldron that exploded in that decade. Their passing is perhaps also an allegory for the times we live in. The America of Trump is a long way from that of LBJ and Nixon. The mind numbing torpor of modern times must surely have given them cause to reflect on the era that spawned them. Their music filled the air with excitement and gave many of us the chance to express how we would stick it to the man. Not sure many modern artists are having such an effect. I would love to be proven wrong but don’t slander me when I say their music is a beacon which will be hard to match, played on any night where sweet confusion reigns.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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Grew up playing the rugby codes in suburban Sydney. Moved to Melbourne during the Carey era so becoming a Shinboner was the natural call. Still love the game they play in heaven. Took an interest in MLB a few years back and have become infatuated with America's pastime.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    I was fortunate to see Dr John twice, once in New Orleans, and once in Melbourne. Fantastic shows.

  2. Thanks for this tribute, Brian.

    Once, many years ago on a quiet night at work, I spent hours and hours reading on-line stories about the 13th Floor Elevators. It was just amazing stuff.

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