Last night, Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach presented Dr. John with a lifetime achievement award at the Americana Music Honors and Awards ceremony at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, praising the blues-rock and psychedelic zydeco pioneer for his decades of musical contributions.
“Songwriter, bandleader, hustler – the guy who found work for his friends when they needed it – A&R executive, keyboard player, a phenomenal guitarist,” Auerbach said, furthering the bromance he forged with the singer when producing his 2012 effort Locked Down.
Auerbach told how the man then known as Mac Rebbennack developed his idiosyncratic R&B piano style after a portion of his ring finger was shot off while he was defending a band member, Ronnie Barron, on Christmas Eve in 1961. “He stepped into the middle of a fight to protect his lead singer. I’ve never actually heard of anyone [doing] that before,” Auerbach joked, before praising Rebennack as a legendary pianist in tradition of Professor Longhair, and “a man whose music transcended race and cultural divides. . . . A man who’s been in the right place at the wrong time and lived to write the songs.”
“For a guy that’s never worked this venue, I feel blessed to be here,” Rebennack said in his gravelly drawl while accepting the honor in the hall revered as Mother Church of Country Music. Joined by Auerbach and a house band featuring Buddy Miller, Don Was, Larry Campbell and the the McCrary Sisters, Dr. John performed the swampy “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” from his 1968 debut Gris-Gris.
Guitarist Duane Eddy also received an instrumentalist lifetime achievement award last night. The Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member is best known for rockabilly hits in the Fifties and Sixties including “Rebel Rouser,” “Peter Gunn” and “Forty Miles of Bad Road.”
Along with the lifetime achievement awards, the ceremony featured Robert Hunter’s first public performance in a decade. Strumming a barely tuned guitar and singing in a raspy, vulnerable warble, the Grateful Dead lyricist played “Ripple.”
Later, in an equally rousing moment, Stephen Stills performed Buffalo Springfield‘s 1966 protest anthem “For What It’s Worth” with former bandmate Richie Furay and guest Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar. Stills received the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award.
The evening began with Hank Williams‘ granddaughter, Holly Williams, accepting the President’s Award from filmmaker Ken Burns on behalf of her forebear. Later, actor Ed Helms presented the Trailblazer Award to Old Crow Medicine Show.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam and Shovels and Rope were the big winners in the main awards portion of the evening. Harris and Crowell took home Duo Group of the Year and Album of the Year for their collaboration Old Yellow Moon.