Crescent City funk master Dr. John went suddenly mute Thursday in the wake of a weeklong National Football League sweep across New Orleans with cease-and-desist orders in defense of its trademark on "Who Dat?" and other Saints-related phrases.
Local attorneys speculate the music legend was advised by counsel to cease all forms of communication, except for the occasional grunt and some rudimentary hand signs, out of fear that trademarks held by the league would subject Dr. John's entire vocabulary to stiff licensing fees or litigation.
When a reporter called the New Orleans home of the singer and piano man -- born in 1940 as Mac Rebennack -- someone picked up the phone, but did not respond to any questions. Only breathing could be heard over the line.
More details on this story as they become available.
EARLIER, a New Orleans daily, The Times-Picayune, reported on the "Who Dat?" controversy:
Count the National Football League among the growing members of Who Dat Nation. After all, they own the phrase -- or so they say in cease and desist letters sent out to at least two local T-shirt retailers earlier this month.
In letters sent to Fleurty Girl and Storyville, the NFL ordered the retailers to stop selling a host of merchandise that it says violates state and federal trademarks held by the New Orleans Saints.
Among the long list of things the NFL says is off-limits without a licensing agreement are some obvious violations like the official logo of the Saints and the team's name. But the one that stands out is "Who Dat."
The NFL, noting a 1988 trademark the Saints registered with the Louisiana secretary of state, says it has exclusive rights to the phrase and demands that the retailers stop selling it.
"I was surprised," Fleurty Girl owner Lauren Thom said. "I think everybody was."
Thom's shirts feature the phrase Who Dat written as one word with lowercase letters and preceded by a hash mark, a nod to the language of the social networking site Twitter. On Twitter, a hash mark followed by a word unifies all tweets on a specific topic. If a tweet, for instance, includes #whodat, it joins other posts on a page generally about Saints topics on Twitter.
"It was designed to unify the Who Dat Nation, not within a tweet, but through a shirt," said Thom, who began selling the shirts in August on her Web site before opening a store on Oak Street two months ago.
The NFL also claims that several shirts at Storyville T-Shirts violate the NFL trademark, including a black shirt with the phrase Who Dat Nation, a name commonly used to refer to Saints fans, and a black shirt that uses the term Who Dat along with the Roman numeral XLIV.
According to the letter, "any combination of design elements (even if not the subject of a federal or state trademark registration), such as team colors, roman numerals and other references to the Saints" are also trademark violations.
That means that a black shirt featuring XLIV in gold letters, a representation of this year's Super Bowl, is off limits.