09/29/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
A NEW DAY FOR THE NIGHT TRIPPER
WITH FEATHERED HEADDRESSES AND spangled robes, New Orleans pianist-singer Dr. John ("The Night Tripper") cut an unusual (if portly) figure in the early 1970s when his hits included "Right Place Wrong Time" and "Such a Night." Since then, Mac Rebennack—his real name—has made some big changes, not only acquiring a hipper wardrobe and losing about 50 pounds (at the behest of fiancée Cat Yellen) but also beating a 30-year heroin habit. Now a New Yorker, the three-time Grammy winner, 55, hasn't forgotten his roots. On Trippin' Live (Surefire/Wind-up), his first authorized live album after 40 years in music, he rocks Ronnie Scott's club in London with his gospel-like, barrelhouse piano playing, which was influenced by fellow Crescent City pianists Professor Longhair and James Booker. "In New Orleans you can't separate funerals from parades from church. It's a celebration of life," he says, "whichever one you're in."
A live album has been a longtime goal, says Rebennack, who has played with Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Rickie Lee Jones and the Rolling Stones. "Studio musicians playing for four walls—I did that most of my life," he says. "When you play to people, you're playing different. You're making people dance, you're making people shake their butts."