Tag Archives: Harry Ravain

Song of the Day: “Life Is A Struggle” by Ronnie Barron, the original “Dr. John”

The “Song of the Day” features an unsung hero of New Orleans R&B, Ronnie Barron, performing Johnny Adams’ “Life Is a Struggle” in Los Angeles with a group including ex-Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli and the late Harry Ravain on drums.

Mac Rebennack conceived of the “Dr. John” persona circa 1967 with the idea that his West Bank runnin’ pardner Ronnie Barron from Algiers Point would play the role of a tripped-out hoodoo man. However, Barron’s contract with RCA prohibited him from taking on the role, so Rebennack eventually morphed into Dr. John.

Born Ronald Raymond Barrosse in 1943, Barron worked with Rebennack during his early days as an A&R man for Specialty and Ace records in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Rebennack produced Barron’s first single, “Bad Neighborhood,” which was credited to Ronnie and the Delinquents. The pair later recorded “Talk That Talk” under the name “Drits and Dravey” for Harold Battiste‘s AFO label. Barron also served some time in a group called the Prime Ministers, featuring fellow New Orleanians Freddie Staehle (drums), Bobby Lonero (guitar), Eddie Zip (bass), Jerry Jumonville (tenor sax), and Wayne DeVilliere (organ).

After moving to California and declining the Dr. John role, Barron worked for Louie Prima for several years and concocted his own mystical stage persona, “Reverend Ether,” recording an album by that name for Decca.

By the 1970s, Barron had moved to Woodstock, N.Y., where he worked again with Rebennack as well as fellow Louisiana expatriate Bobby Charles, joining harmonica wizard Paul Butterfield’s Better Days group. This group cut a couple of standout albums – “Better Days” and “It All Comes Back” – featuring Charles and Barron compositions like “Small Town Talk” and “Louisiana Flood,” as well as great vocal performances from Barron. Besides doing some acting, Barron worked with BB King, Ry Cooder, John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Canned Heat, and Tom Waits. He died in 1997 of heart-related ailments.

As lagniappe, the video below is from Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine” album, which features Barron on piano and the late, great drummer “Big” Johnny Thomassie from the West Bank. Barron and Thomassie fuel this savage, swaggering exercise in total New Orleans junko blues, “Mr. Siegal.” Waits of course has worked with a range of other New Orleans sidemen, including Earl Palmer and Plas Johnson.