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Monday, April 3, 2017

Champion Jack Dupree: Vol. 2 - 1941-1945

CHAMPION JACK DUPREE: VOL. 2: 1941-1945 (2009)

1) My Cabin Inn; 2) Bad Health Blues; 3) Gibing Blues; 4) Dupree Shake Dance; 5) My Baby's Gone; 6) Jackie P Blues; 7) Black Cow Blues; 8) Jitterbug; 9) Slow Boogie; 10) Mexico Reminiscences; 11) Too Evil To Cry; 12) Clog Dance; 13) Rum Cola Blues; 14) She Makes Good Jelly; 15) Johnson Street Boogie Woogie; 16) I'm Going Down With You; 17) FDR Blues; 18) God Bless Our New President; 19) County Jail Special; 20) Fisherman's Blues; 21) Black Wolf; 22) Lover's Lane; 23) Walkin' By Myself; 24) Outside Man; 25) Forget It Mama.

In all honesty, the continuing life story of Champion Jack Dupree from 1941 to 1945 is far more interesting than the music that he recorded in between the rising and falling tides. In particular, in between the first batch of recordings on this disc (tracks 1–10, from late 1941 to early 1942) and the second one (tracks 11–25, from 1944 to 1945) Dupree was drafted into the Navy, where he spent time working as a cook before allegedly falling into the hands of the Japanese and spending two years as a PoW — just how true that part of the story is, nobody really knows. Whatever be the circumstances, May 1944 finds him back in New York City, and by April 1945, his studio routine recommences properly on a regular basis. Not only that, but in April 1945, he is laying down one of the most unique blues singles of his era: ʽFDR Bluesʼ, a 12-bar obituary, as the A-side, and ʽGod Bless Our New Presidentʼ, a 12-bar welcome for new guy Harry Truman, as the B-side. Talk about blending in with the times.

As for the actual music, the first seven tracks are just alternate takes of previously recorded tunes; marginally more interesting is the next one, ʽJitterbugʼ, where the Champ joins forces with the legendary duo of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry — provided you can even hear Sonny's har­monica at all, since the sound quality of the 1942 session is atrocious; at least it is fairly evident that the three are having good danceable fun in the studio. From the same session, we have ʽSlow Boogieʼ, which seems more like a demonstration of Dupree's simple, but effective technique rather than anything else; and ʽMexico Reminiscencesʼ, a mish-mash of random Latin motives that the man possibly picked up on some short trip across the border — curious that this sort of homebrewed self-entertainment was even captured on tape, but I guess we all need to hear an old time urban blues pianist practicing Mexican melodies in the middle of World War Two at some point in our lives. The oddest track of 'em all, though, is the May 1944 recording ʽClog Danceʼ, where Dupree is rattling the old piano to the merry sound of some unidentified female «clog-dancing» (very loudly) and whooping like there was no tomorrow — nice to know that the Japanese imprisonment did not lower the Champ's spirits one bit.

From then on, the 1945 tracks are standard blues-and-boogie fare, and even the «presidential single» is mostly notable for its lyrics — mood-wise, there's no way you could tell the «sad» lament for FDR from the «happy» welcome for Harry Truman. "I sure feel bad, with tears run­ning down my face / I lost a good friend, was a credit to our race" and "Stand behind our new President Truman, each and every one of you / Because you know that's what FDR would want us to do" are delivered with exactly the same emotion (codename «boy, I sure hope that paycheck is coming soon») and tag the offering as a hilarious historic oddity. Nevertheless, the very next recorded song is ʽCounty Jail Specialʼ, implying that the Champion is never going to turn into a pawn of the system — he just wants his paycheck, that's all — and will forever stay committed to being the true Champion of the underdogs and the dispossessed. Including sexually dispossessed, that is, since most of the other songs are about being cheated out of his woman, either directly (ʽWalkin' By Myselfʼ) or through seedy innuendos (ʽFisherman's Bluesʼ).

Unfortunately, little can be said about the musical side of these latter tracks — they all feature Dupree playing solo piano and singing, and even though the Japanese prisoner camp did not rob him of his piano skills, it sure didn't help improve them, either: same enjoyable, but predictable chords all over the place. We would have to really wait until the end of WWII before the guy started packing more meat into these arrangements.


  1. "Home brewed", as "homebrewn" is not a valid construction in the English language.

  2. That comment is straight out of the Soviet Union. Maybe George should rewrite the whole article by hand to think about what he's done; then I might consider giving him a 4-.