Gris-Gris – A Retrospective

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Considering a) he passed away earlier this year, b) I just used a song from this record in my last post, and c) this is the best Halloween album of all time, it only felt right to do a retrospective. 

First off, I feel like Dr. John gets a bad rap. Probably because he grew up in a boomer generation and was cheap enough to play everywhere. So at some point, he stopped pushing the envelope and kind of lived in neutral for a bit. Which, more power to him. Cause fuck, life is too hard anyway. 

But thats, not how it was when he got started. He started as Mac Rebennack, a gigging guitarist growing up in New Orleans in the 50s. Somewhere along the way, he got part of his finger shot off in a fight. He assumed his career was over, as the guitar was his main instrument. He managed to eek out a living as a studio musician and was working on some Sonny & Cher recordings when the genesis of this record came about. At night, when they weren’t using the studio, Mac came up with this whole thing that he wanted to put to vinyl. A traiteur who may have some friends on the other side. Some other twists and turns aside, that leads us to this thing. 

This is some kind of crazy fever dream masterpiece. 

This record was released in 1968. This kind of sound was totally different than anything else out there. To me, it still stands out. There are plenty of imitators out there. Right from the start, you are tossed into a really sparse word. You can hear the swampiness in the guitar work. The sort of syncopated drum part. Then the vocals come in. And you realize you are being enticed into a deal with the devil. 

The album builds on this atmosphere. For a first album, its such a complete sound. Like it came out of the bayou fully formed and decrepit. 

You then proceed through this record on this journey of different characters, in a little bit of a Waits-ian fashion. You learn about their dances. Weird celebrations. All while the anxiety kind of builds.

I hate horror movies with tons of jump scares. To me thats not horror. Horror is about the creep. That feeling that goes up your spine that you cant shake. That someone is watching you. That you can’t escape. 

Thats horror. This is a horror album. This is the definition of that creeping sensation. 

Lets talk about the conclusion

This song is one of these rare things where everyone knows simultaniously that this thing is special. I have heard covers of this on TV shows, movies, etc. Its easy to see why. Its the masterpiece of the masterpiece. The album ends with the best track, which is also rare. 

Fun fact: Zombies were originally a Voodoo lore creation. Zombies were usually people under the control of some sort of Voodoo spell before it became all about viruses and the current modern fear. 

Did we, as the listener, become a zombie. And this is the creation chant? Who knows. Its so unnerving. Having a full choir chant while Dr. John whispers Cajun/Creole French in your ear. The Night Tripper walks on. 

4/4 – I have heard a ton of creepy albums in my time. Metal, all kinds of stuff. This is my pick for the creepiest. You put this on in the background at a Halloweeen party, and you will win. Je suis a grande Zombie. 

Let’s end on a happier note. The best time of the year comes soon.

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