The legendary New Orleans performer Dr. John gained national fame for being in the “right place, but it must have been the wrong time,” although his many fans knew better.

Known to family and friends by his given name, Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, he was it, seemed in the right place at the right time to become a renowned musical artist.

Rebennack, who died Thursday at 77, had the good fortune to be born in New Orleans, the perfect laboratory for to develop his distinctive blend of rhythm and blues and rock. And his timing was impeccable, too. Rebennack came of age in the 1970s, a time of great musical experiments in which his unconventional performances, touched by a trademark gravelly voice and spidery piano riffs, found an enthusiastic audience.

His stage name was inspired by his sister, who “told me about some voodoo man named Dr. John,” Rebennack recalled in a 1990 interview. Fellow musicians also took to call him “doctor” as a wry reference to academia since Rebennack was fond of poring over books about music.

It was a surprising side of a performer who didn’t come off as a gentleman scholar. His early career was dogged by addiction and brushes with the law. He seemed to settle as he grew older, though he remained Dr. John the Night Tripper, a nocturnal species common to the French Quarter.

Our 1990 interview with Rebennack happened before noon, when he was still groggy from a performance the evening before. He was in a wistful mood, reflecting on the death of jazz drummer Art Blakey some months earlier. “There won’t be any more cats like him,” said Rebennack, his voice trailing off.

Of course, there won’t be any more cats like Dr. John, either. All the more reason to treasure his memory, and keep his music close to heart.