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Monday, April 17, 2017

Champion Jack Dupree: Vol. 4 (1951-1953)

CHAMPION JACK DUPREE: VOL. 4: 1951-1953 (2009)

1) Deacon's Party; 2) My Baby's Comin' Back Home; 3) Just Plain Tired; 4) I'm Gonna Find You Someday; 5) Goin' Back To Louisiana; 6) Barrel House Mama; 7) Old, Old Woman; 8) Mean Black Snake; 9) The Woman I Love; 10) All Night Party; 11) Heart Breaking Woman; 12) Watchin' My Stuff; 13) Ragged And Hungry; 14) Somebody Changed The Lock; 15) Stumbling Block Blues; 16) Highway Blues; 17) Shake Baby Shake; 18) Number Nine Blues; 19) Drunk Again; 20) Shim Sham Shimmy; 21) Ain't No Meat On De Bone; 22) The Blues Got Me Rockin'; 23) Tongue Tied Blues; 24) Please Tell Me Baby; 25) Walkin' Upside Your Head; 26) Rub A Little Boogie; 27) Camille.

The final volume in the series traces our Champion's adventures in the early Fifties, with at least four different small-size labels in New York City (Apollo, Gotham, King, Red Robin), each of which wasted no time in dropping the Champ after two or three tenaciously commercially un­successful singles — released under at least five different band names and pseudonyms (in­cluding «Big Chief Ellis & His Blues Stars», «Meat Head Johnson & His Blues Hounds», and «Lightning Junior & The Empires»), before finally giving it up and returning to using his original moniker for two sessions in 1953.

Now one might indeed argue that the lack of success was due to New York's general lack of interest in the blues at the time (jazz was really where it was at), but then again, let's admit it, all these sides that Dupree cut at the time weren't exactly the epitome of notability or originality, even though, with Brownie McGhee at his side for most of these sessions, Dupree had a good guitar backing, and on some of these tracks, they are also joined by Brownie's younger brother, Stick, the guy who, some say, was single-handedly responsible for inventing rock'n'roll with his classic recor­ding of ʽDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Deeʼ back in 1947.

As «Meat Head Johnson & His Blues Hounds», they almost came close to replicating that sound with ʽOld, Old Womanʼ, where, at the beginning, you will be hearing some angry distorted guitar chords coming right out of the (future!) Keith Richards chordbook; and it gets even better on ʽShake Baby Shakeʼ from 1953, with both Brownie and Stick on guitars and the Champ laying on a groove that would, of course, only three years later morph into the classic ʽWhole Lotta Shakin' Going Onʼ groove of Jerry Lee Lewis. If only the Champion could show the same punch that the Killer would show... but the days of true rock'n'roll wildness were still ahead, and these cats had to show some decorum, because even with all of New Yorkish tolerance towards black musicians, politeness in playing dance music was still a necessary prerequisite for not being run out of town. Still, there's as much rock'n'roll drive in these tracks here as you could only wish for 1953. Also, ʽShim Sham Shimmyʼ totally rules, with a bombastic drum beat, guitar more distorted than on any given Chuck Berry tune, and cool jazz-boogie runs from Stick that totally presage Alvin Lee of Ten Years After in tone and style, if not in flash.

Still, the majority of these tracks is not proto-rock'n'roll, but slow 12-bar blues, and here, there is nothing more to add unless you really want to start analyzing the lyrics — some of which are quite interesting from the point of historical studies in the evolution of political correctness (ʽTongue Tied Bluesʼ), or from the point of folkloristic studies of the evolution of text (the song that we usually know as ʽLouiseʼ, because this is the name under which it crossed the Atlantic and fell in the hands of The Yardbirds and others, is here called ʽCamilleʼ... come to think of it, the only words it shares with ʽLouiseʼ are in the chorus, but the chorus coincides completely). Also, if I am not mistaken, ʽAin't No Meat On De Boneʼ has a New Orleanian, Mardi Gras-like carnivalesque groove to it (think Professor Longhair), which makes it somewhat of an oddity in the Champion's New York-era material.

Bottomline is, none of this material ever sold much, despite a few of the tracks truly being on the cutting edge of the rock'n'roll movement for 1951-53, but you just gotta admire the guy's tena­ciousness — he eventually spent almost fifteen years on the fringes of New York's musical life, jumping from label to label and making a living by any means he could. It was, in fact, nothing short of amazing that despite all his shortcomings, he was eventually able of securing himself a short-lived contract with no less than Atlantic Records themselves around 1959 (perhaps through the Stick McGhee connection?), at which point we end the story of this 4-CD package and move on to the next exciting (or not so exciting) chapter in the life of the Champion.

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