The legendary Dr. John has been a cornerstone of New Orleans music for decades. Best known for everything from his 1973 hit "Right Place, Wrong Time" to "Down in New Orleans" (from last year's animated movie Princess and the Frog), he was born in New Orleans and still lives there much of the year, so he's witnessed first-hand how the BP oil spill has decimated the ecosystem and the livelihoods of its people. Rolling Stone caught up with the songwriter to talk about how the environmental nightmare has destroyed his own backyard.
I was at my home in New Orleans when one of my partners heard about the explosion and the spill on his computer machine. I thought, "Oh, no, not again." There have been something like 880 spills in the Gulf that most people don't even know about. This was just the worst one.
Right after it happened, I saw some guys I know. I didn't know it at first, but a couple of them work for Transocean. They said they knew all about this in February and the company didn't do anything about it. It's all about the greed of the corporations. I do a song in my set called "Black Gold." I wrote it with Bobby Charles [the legendary Louisiana songwriter who died in February] for my last album. It's all about the oil companies. I changed the end of it, to talk about what's happening now. Bobby would have wanted me to do that.
I didn't have a chance to see much of what was happening before I went out [to tour] for my new record [Tribal]. But I took my granddaughter, who's 22, to go fishing in this one spot. It's one of the only spots left you can go. On the way there, we saw all these warning signs and things about BP. That was bad enough. When we got there, I could tell something was different. There were saltwater sharks hanging out where you normally don't see them, next to marlins. The last time, with Katrina, I'd see things like that — pelicans where you don’t usually see them. It's nature's way of telling you something's not right.
I've been to that restaurant Bayona [whose owner is suing BP for damages to her business]. I don’t go out to eat too much. I can't eat things like lamb because I have cirrhosis of the liver, so I have a pretty limited diet. So that's depressing because I like to eat seafood. It might never be the same down here. At least after Katrina, you could still go to the beach.
As told to David Browne.