Dr. John – I Walk on Guilded Splinters

“Walk through the fire, fly through the smoke…
See my enemy at the end of their rope.
Walk on pins and neeedles, see what they can do.
Walk on guilded splinters with the King of the Zulu.”

It is nearly impossible today to find an artist who is the genuine article. Someone is who not only talented, but was actually a part of the innovations in their genre. While British blues is at times staggering and filled with emotion, it is common knowledge that the blues from the Mississippi delta and, later, Chicago, was the genuine article. Our links to this original music are fading fast. Dr. John, known to some as Mac Rebennack, is an artist who represents the traditions and spirit of New Orleans. Whether he is quoting his background through Dixieland jazz or blues, New Orleans bleeds through the speakers whenever he performs. At 69, the Nite Tripper has been ensconced in his musical environment long enough to have defined the past, but also helped carry on traditions into our future.

‘I Walk on Guilded Splinters’ was the epic masterpiece from his 1968 debut on Atlantic-owned Atco Records, “Gris Gris”. Throughout the fifties and early sixties, Dr. John worked as a session musician, producer and A&R man until he began his prolific solo career. He was already established as a key ingredient in the New Orleans music scene when he began putting on elaborate stage shows showcasing his cultural heritage. The massive productions were highlighted by elaborate costumes with headdresses that recalled the Mardi Gras parade attire for those of Creole heritage. Underneath the stunning visuals was an undercurrent of the voodoo practices New Orleans was also known for. By pairing this showmanship with music representing both the musical and cultural values of the Crescent City, Dr. John had effectively created a new genre of music that helped put Creole music back on the map.

The song cycle on “Gris Gris” is best experienced in LP format, from start to finish with additional tracks like ‘Mama Roux’ adding much to the proceedings. You can hear, however, in ‘I Walk…’ how intense and involved Dr. John’s live shows were in the late sixties. The song boils his persona down to an essence, giving the listener a true feeling of what the backbone of New Orleans traditions really are. Mixing influences from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Professor Longhair, a history of New Orleans is contained within the seven minute epic. This reverence crystallized on the 1972 Atco release “Gumbo”. This album, his fifth solo release, became his calling card, mixing standards with self penned tracks to great effect. His own songs mix so well with the classic New Orleans based covers that you are hard pressed to tell a difference between the old and the new.

Dr. John has gone on to great success with many different types of music. His standard Jazz albums have become his best known work, with the collections “In A Sentimental Mood” and “Duke Elegant” becoming best sellers in the genre. He also revisits his Nite Tripper persona from time to time, as well as the traditional New Orleans stylings on albums “Goin Back to New Orleans” and “Anutha Zone”. While he continues to perform, his shows are now a mixture of the old and the new, the taboo and the mainstream. To see him perform is to experience a century’s worth of music most of us have no reference for. Listen to the albums to read the map he has left the rest of us to go and seek out this classic music of the American south.

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9 responses to “Dr. John – I Walk on Guilded Splinters

  1. Dr. John is a legend. “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” sounds like nothing else that’s ever been recorded, even by the man himself. There are a bunch of covers out there, but they’re pretty pointless. What makes “Splinters” great is the mystical yet dangerous atmosphere of the record, how it sounds like you’re actually listening to a Voodoo ritual. Dr. John’s released some great music since, but nothing quite as dramatic and affecting. Oh to be able to go back and time and see him perform c. 1968!

  2. I didn’t know there were covers until I went looking for a clip of this. It was hard to believe anyone would try to conquer this one, it is quite the signature song! He is a one of a kind artist…this song just has so much ATMOSPHERE, I can’t imagine a record made today sounding so rich.

  3. Does anyone know why “… Gilded Splinters” is getting so much airplay of late? I’ve just heard it for the second time in a week on 6music and feel sure I saw it on telly the other day too. Maybe it’s just a fluke.

    Ace blog by the way.

    • I’ll be honest, it is one of those songs that most people have never heard…at least in my experience. I know that Widespread Panic has been covering it for a few years, so that may be why it is back on the airwaves.

      • First time I’d heard it the other week, so hearing it again today (Cerys Matthews on 6music) made me google it to see if it was used on a film soundtrack or something. Nothing popped up so I guess it’s just one of those things. Great song, I love 6music.

  4. It is amazing and timeless you can mix it with up to the minute intelligent drum and bass and it still stands out -not anachronistically just the sheer hypnotic quality .I did listen to it when it first came out and unlike so much other stuff from then that are so disappointingon a re-find as compared to modern tight productions it lives up to all it’s past glories sounding if anything better now than it did then.Dr John I loved it back in 1968 and still love it and play it now Namaste

  5. Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any points for rookie blog writers? I’d definitely appreciate it.

  6. Dr. John and Leon Russell are truly original, creative geniuses… no holding back… no bending to fit the hole. Their talent and success can be measured by the longevity of their careers and their popularity with each new generation… I’ve seen them both many times, separately and together on stage. A mind blowing experience, fo sho!

    I have searched several sites, looking for the lyrics… They all seem to be copying the same flawed words… I am not professing to know the correct words… but I’m sure it’s not, “kon kon, the kiddy kon kon.” And I think ” ‘Ti Alberta” is “‘Til I burn up” I don’t speak Cajun, but “C’mon, man!”

    Walk on gilded splinters = probably reference to the ritual of walking on a bed of hot embers…

  7. ‘tit Alberta is Cajun for “petite Alberta”

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