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Monday, May 1, 2017

Champion Jack Dupree: Natural & Soulful Blues


1) Seafood Blues; 2) Death Of Big Bill Broonzy; 3) Don't Leave Me Mary; 4) Rampart Street Special; 5) How Long Blues; 6) Bad Life; 7) Mother-In-Law Blues; 8) Slow Drag; 9) Dennis Rag; 10) Bad Luck Bound To Change.

The years 1959-60 saw some huge changes in Champion Jack's routine. Despite his stubborn clinging to New York's landscape ever since his repatriation from Japanese captivity, in 1959 he agreed to take part in one of those European blues revues that, in the late Fifties and early Six­ties, had warmed the hearts of so many Chicago and Delta bluesmen (not to mention bringing to orgiastic heights of ecstasy all their young British fans like Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton). Among other things, this brought him face to face with Alexis Korner, the famous Kulturträger of Blues Incorporated, with whom he is said to have played a duo gig at the London School of Economics (presumably, Mick Jagger was not part of the audience, since he did not join the ranks of the LSE until 1961).

Fast forward a tiny little bit, and here we have this LP, recorded by Dupree as part of a trio that also involved Alexis Korner on acoustic guitar and Jack Fallon on bass. Details are scarce, but apparently, it was first released in the UK on London Records, then, one year later, in the US on Atlantic Records, with whom Dupree still had his contract. Either way, it is a milestone in the Champ's history: his first proper European release, after which he'd move to Europe permanently, and mostly record and release there, with whoever was ready to support him.

The minimalism works to a certain degree: Korner and Fallon are basically here just to fatten the sound a little, give it a bit of a bottom, but have all the attention focused on Dupree's piano playing and general artistism instead. And he seems to sense it, playing in a loose and relaxed manner, worrying more about making a charismatic impression than about producing a tightly structured 3-minute, 12-bar blues number — many of these tracks sound like little vaudeville miniatures, starting with ʽSeafood Bluesʼ (in which the Champion discovers signs of unfaithful­ness in his humble abode, including a suspicious smell of seafood... hmm? oh, my!) and ending with the melodically identical ʽMother-In-Law Bluesʼ, in which the Champion tells us everything about his (hopefully, imaginary) mother-in-law that's been bothering him for those past twenty years (but now that he's safely crossed the Atlantic, he can finally unburden his heart).

Particularly touching is ʽDeath Of Big Bill Broonzyʼ, a humble obituary to his recently departed friend that begins with Dupree telling us how the two made each other a promise that whoever was to go first was to write a blues about the other. Ironically, this would become a regular thing for Dupree — for the next thirty years, he'd see them drop off one after another, and diligently compose formulaic, but sincere obituaries, gradually turning into Gravedigger Jack Dupree until it was his own turn. Musically, of course, there's not much to speak of, but who else would write a song about the departure of one of the most important bluesmen of the first half of the century? Not Alexis Korner, that's for sure. (Interestingly enough, the last track on the album, ʽBad Luck Bound To Changeʼ, is credited to Alexis Korner — and I am not sure of that, but he may have been the first bluesman to insert the line "someday baby, my bad luck is bound to change" in a blues tune, because normally, bad luck is not supposed to change for these guys. Or maybe he just wanted to wish the Champ some good luck in his safe European future).

Other than that, the record may be notable for one nice example of Dupree's boogie-woogie playing (ʽDennis Ragʼ)... and nothing else. Natural, soulful, and largely undescribable blues.

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