Dr. John - lead vocal, piano; Edgar Winter - sax, backing vocals; Rick Derringer - guitar, backing vocals; Alan Merrill - guitar, backing vocals; Donnie Kisselback - bass, backing vocals; Benjy King - keyboards, backing vocals; Jimmy Wilcox - drums; unknown- trumpet
It was billed as "A Special Evening with Rick Derringer and Friends." Calling it that was saying the least because the music (and the evening itself) was incredibly special, and Rick Derringer was certainly surrounded by a lot of very notable friends. In reality, the concert was a benefit show, and the charity was none other than Rick Derringer himself. Just a few weeks prior to this concert, Derringer had been on the road when the truck containing all the band's equipment was stolen. Unable to replace the truck and gear himself, Derringer and his band were suddenly in serious peril. Derringer remembers the time as if it were yesterday, "This was a huge loss for us because everything was in that truck: rare guitars, all the stage equipment, the PA equipment, the stage lights, the stage clothes. Everything was stolen and it was never found. What really hurt was the fact that we had no insurance. We were between companies and our old policy had lapsed. We had lost everything."
Help, however, was on the way, and arrived when a friend and singer Lorna Luft came up with the idea to do the special benefit show. Within days of the robbery, she started calling other artists, many of whom had benefited from Rick's work as a guitarist and producer over the years. In less than a week, she had assembled an all-star lineup that included Edgar Winter, Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Ellen Foley, Bebe Buell, Ian Hunter, Southside Johnny, and presented here in its entirety for the first time, a remarkably engaging set by New Orleans' musician Dr. John.
Shortly after the concert was announced, the King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show stepped in and offered to record the event and broadcast it nationwide. "The folks at King Biscuit had heard about the show, and asked to broadcast it," says Derringer. "I had done several King Biscuit shows with the Edgar Winter Group. We had been talking to them about doing a Derringer band show for a while, and they decided to do this one." Derringer opened the show with his core band: bassist Donnie Kisselbach, drummer Jimmy Wilcox, and keyboardist Benjy King, who would also serve as the house band that evening. Highlights of the event were broadcast and later issued on a CD release, but presented here is the complete unedited Dr. John set, newly transferred from the original KBFH multitrack masters.
From a musical standpoint, this set has a few rough edges, considering that it was done on the spot, and without the aid of extensive rehearsals. Regardless, the energy level is palpable and Dr. John, backed by Derringer and with Edgar Winter and an impressive, but unidentified trumpet player serving as the horn section, delivers a thoroughly engaging set containing three of the most popular songs from his extensive catalogue. At the time, Dr. John had just recorded Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack, the first of two critically acclaimed volumes to explore the styles of New Orleans in a solo piano context. Dr. John's superb piano work is certainly on display here, but with so many great musicians eager to play with him, this set is a far more rockin' affair, as the Doctor dips back into his catalogue.
The set kicks off in very strong form by tackling the only Top-40 hit of Dr. John's career, "Right Place, Wrong Time." An original number recorded for his 1973 album In the Right Place," which became a hit single that summer, this funky re-working rocks hard and features some fiery guitar work from Derringer. With Edgar Winter and the unidentified trumpet player serving as the horn section and Derringer and his band fully engaged, this is a fine example of Dr. John's innate ability to saturate everything he touches with the rich and spicy flavor of New Orleans.
Another standout original from that same album follows with "Such A Night." Well known as one of the highlights of the Band's legendary Last Waltz concert of 1976 when Dr. John joined them onstage, this version is equally infectious. As great as these musicians are, the peak moment of this song occurs around the three-minute mark, when everyone suddenly drops out, providing Dr. John the ability to let his fingers fly on some wonderful honky-tonk style piano work.
This three song set caps off with perhaps the most popular covers of Dr. John's career, his definitive reworking of James "Sugar Boy" Crawford's "Iko Iko." Originally recorded in 1972 on the highly influential Gumbo album, this song would subsequently be covered by countless other bands, including the Grateful Dead and fellow New Orleans greats the Neville Brothers. This conclusion to Dr. John's set is truly remarkable, with everyone involved contributing to the relentless propulsion. With each passing verse, things kick up another notch, and again, the trumpet player is a key factor. Both he and Edgar Winter are in superb form here and add a great call and response section to the proceedings. Towards the end of this rich and spicy musical gumbo, Dr. John spontaneously veers off by singing a bit of "Wade in the Water," to extend this joyous stomp just a little bit longer.
Despite the under-rehearsed nature of this benefit and the rock musicians that accompany Dr. John here, this is a wonderfully assembled set of classic songs, all featuring tasty arrangements. With Dr. John's growling voice and superb piano work fueling this music, all of these musicians rise to the occasion and play with great gusto. This is an unusual configuration of musicians to be sure, but the enticing raw energy and spicy flavor of this performance is undeniable.