Piano man Dr. John, living New Orleans legend, plays the The Hamilton

December 27, 2013
(Mark Seliger)
(Mark Seliger)

Before Malcolm “Dr. John” Rebennack steps onstage to celebrate the end of 2013 at The Hamilton next week, the Washington venue will serve its patrons gumbo, a fitting nod to the 72-year-old musician’s status as one of New Orleans’ foremost musical ambassadors. It also represents his music, which mixes together the best sounds his city has to offer: voodoo mysticism, funk, soul, R&B, jazz and more. Express spoke with Dr. John about the past year, his appearance on “Top Chef” and what he has in store for 2014.

When was the last time you were in New Orleans for New Year’s Eve?
I think maybe last year. … Hey, when you’ve been doing as many things as we’ve been doing, your memory can fail ya — sometimes very miserably.

Every night seems like a party in New Orleans, so I’d assume New Year’s Eve isn’t that big of a deal.
It’s not as big a maneuver as some places.

Wanda Jackson is also on the D.C. lineup. Do you know her well?
I think we’ve been on a couple of dates before. Listen, I’m scuffling to remember who I am and thank God I got [bandleader Sarah Morrow] here to keep my head organized. Between being my musical director, she has to be my baby sitter, too.

Is that what happens when you get older, things circle back around to where you need a baby sitter?
I think it is, it’s really pathetical but whatever happens happens.

In November, you appeared on “Top Chef” to judge a hot sauce contest and you told the chefs you were looking for the hip tang. What does that mean?
It’s just something I call a hot sauce when it’s got some slicknosity to it. A lot of things that people look for in a hot sauce is not what I’m looking for. So I wanted them to get the idea that, damn, I might be looking for something a little bit different. I like stuff that puts some flavor on your taste buds and [isn’t] just hot. … The kid [Brian Huskey] that won the thing, I made sure I got a bottle of that kid’s hot sauce.

You started playing with a new version of your backing band, the Nite Trippers, this year.
After my drummer [Herman Ernest] passed [in 2011], it was like everything was like going in different directions at the same time and you ain’t gonna do good music doing that, so I figured this is about the time.

I was a big fan of “Locked Down,” the 2011 album you made with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Are you working on a new record?
We are working on a project: It’s called “Props to Pops” and it’s a Louis Armstrong tribute.

Have you always wanted to do a tribute to Armstrong?
Well, actually, he came to me in a dream and said, “Do my stuff your way.” So I’m trying to do what he said.

What songs are you covering?
We picked a lot of older and newer stuff: “Gut Bucket Blues,” “Memories of You.” It’s gonna be another one of them off-the-hook records that we gonna do. [So far, it’s been] completely blowing my mind.

Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW; 202-787-1000, Tue., 9:15 p.m., $100. (Metro Center)

Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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