When Dr. John died of a heart attack just before dawn on June 6th, 2019 in New Orleans, the legendary pianist known as The Night Tripper was in the final stages of a new album, Things Happen That Way. Nearly three years after the Zuzu Man’s death, the collection of country covers, reworked classics, and new originals is finally headed for release on September 23rd via Rounder Records.
Known as a stylistic chameleon who would shift from jazz to swamp funk to psychedelic rock to boogie-woogie whenever the moment suited him, Guess Things Happen That Way hears the man born Mac Rebbanack pay tribute to country greats including Hank Williams (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”), Willie Nelson (“Funny How Time Slips Away”), and more. The ten-track collection takes its name from “Guess Things Happen That Way”, originally written by Cowboy Jack Clement and made famous by Johnny Cash, which also appears on the LP.
Dr. John’s daughter and the album’s executive producer Karla R. Pratt called it “a musical tip of the hat to the greats who preceded him.”
“Years ago he talked about how hip Hank Williams was,” Pratt said. “He loved how simple yet emotionally complex Hank’s songs are, that they have a hook with a twist. For this album inspired by listening to the Louisiana Hayride [radio show] and icons of country and western, he was excited to do songs in a way that evokes emotion that sticks with you long after one of the songs—done his soulful way—is played.”
The album also hears Dr. John join with a number of special guests, including Willie Nelson who lends his voice to “Gimme That Old Time Religion” and fellow New Orleans icon Aaron Neville who gives a gospel flair to Travelin’ Wilburys‘ “End Of The Line”. Co-produced by Dr. John and guitarist Shane Theriot, Things Happen That Way was cut in the Crescent City and hosts a lineup of Theriot, former Late Night with David Letterman bassist Will Lee, keyboardists Jon Cleary and David Torkanowsky, and drummer Carlo Nuccio.
Included alongside the country tributes are retellings of Dr. John’s timeless catalog, including “Walk On Guilded Splinters” featuring Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real, which is available now. The Night Tripper slows the classic down to an eery crawl, and his voice strikes a tone of reflection as a legend looks back at a life well-lived.
“In a mystical kind of way, Dad was looking back at the same time he was looking forward, while being present in each moment,” Pratt said. “’I Walk on Guilded Splinters’ is a bit of time-traveling: It’s 1968, it’s now, it’s the future, all swirling through and into their collaboration.”
Dr. John – “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” (featuring Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real)
Finally, Things Happen That Way will include new compositions Dr. John wrote during the recording process. These songs take on an autobiographical nature with Rolling Stone describing “Holy Water” as Mac reflecting on his prison sentence for drug possession in the mid-1960s, along with “Give Myself a Good Talkin’ To” which is a “good-natured scolding.”
Word of the album first trickled out just days after Dr. John passed away, but now fans have an official date to look forward to. The announcement comes in the midst of the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival since 2019, where earlier this week a new memorial totem dedicated to the late Doctor was unveiled. Click here to pre-save Things Happen That Way and visit Dr. John’s website for physical copies and merch bundles. Scroll down for the full tracklist and album artwork.
Things Happen That Way Tracklist
Funny How Time Slips Away
Gimme That Old Time Religion (feat. Willie Nelson)
I Walk On Guilded Splinters (feat. Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real)
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
End Of The Line (feat. Aaron Neville)
Sleeping Dogs Best Left Alone
Give Myself A Good Talkin’ To
Guess Things Happen That Way
[H/T Rolling Stone]
On Saturday, May 7th, an all-star lineup of musicians will pay tribute to NOLA legends Dr. John and Art Neville with Poppa Funk & The Night Tripper. Presented by Live For Live Music as part of the Fest By Nite series of late-night programming during Jazz Fest, the tribute concert will feature Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk, keys/vocals), George Porter Jr. (The Meters, bass/vocals), Nikki Glaspie (The Nth Power, drums/vocals), Ian Neville (Dumpstaphunk, guitar), Tony Hall (Dumpstaphunk, guitar/bass/vocals), Skerik (saxophone), and Neal Francis (keys/vocals) at The Fillmore New Orleans. Click here for tickets and scroll down for the full lineup of Fest By Nite concerts.