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Monday, June 19, 2017

Champion Jack Dupree: From New Orleans To Chicago


1) Third Degree; 2) T.V. Mama; 3) He Knows The Rules; 4) Ain't It A Shame; 5) Ooh La-La; 6) (Going Down To) Big Leg Emma's; 7) Won't Be A Fool No More; 8) Take It Slow And Easy; 9) She's All In My Life; 10) Poor Poor Me; 11) Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer; 12) Down The Valley; 13) Too Early In The Morning; 14) Shim-Sham-Shimmy.

More like From Copenhagen To London, to be sure. Perhaps the Champion felt that, despite the warm reception he'd enjoyed in Denmark, this was not really the location where stuff was happe­ning, and that in terms of surrounding musical environment at least, it was sort of a downgrade after New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. At the very least, you couldn't get first-rate blues players to sit in with you in Copenhagen, that much was for certain (and his imported friends from Switzerland weren't that much better). And so, early 1966 finds Dupree in London, making an album for London Records and backed by John Mayall and Eric Clapton in person — not a bad change from those Swiss and Danish no-names, right?

Well, actually, he is only being backed by this double chunk of Britain's blues royalty on two tracks, astutely chosen to bookmark the record (and, by the way, this is not really «John Mayall's Bluesbreakers» on the sessions, because the other players, such as Malcolm Pool on bass and Keef Hartley on drums, were not part of John's regular band at the time). One of these is Eddie Boyd's ʽThird Degreeʼ, with Mayall blowing on the harp and Eric providing his usual melodic breaks (not quite on the level of his Bluesbreakers record, but it would be surprising if it were the opposite, right?) — ironically, thirty years later Eric would record the same song for his From The Cradle album, where he gave it a far more aggressive treatment. The other piece is the fast boogie ʽShim-Sham-Shimmyʼ, which is fun, because Clapton slips into his «Mr. ʽSlow­handʼ Yardbird» mode, letting rip with a ʽToo Much Monkey Businessʼ-style solo that was already a bit anachronistic for him around 1966, but still came off very naturally.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is not a serious improvement over the Copenhagen period. Mostly this is just the Champ doing that same old thing, rehashing and reshuffling his stocks (ʽGoing Down To Big Leg Emma'sʼ, for instance, is a slightly less humorous rewrite of ʽMe And My Muleʼ), and his only accompanyist is guitarist Tony McPhee (of The Groundhogs), who is a little more loose and inventive than Chris Lange, but putting him on the same record with Clap­ton is a bit of a disservice. In an attempt to lively up the diversify the proceedings, Dupree engages in some straightforward silliness: ʽOoh La-Laʼ is a nostalgic parody of Creole music, largely sung in «broken French» (which, in Dupree's execution, truly sounds like a French-African «creole», and is fun to hear once, but no more, no more!), and ʽPigfoot And A Bottle Of Beerʼ is a lively polka-blues that has nothing to do with the Bessie Smith classic, but everything to do with impersonating a drunken romp that is, however, not very convincing (when the bass player begins his solo, Dupree ad-libs that "he's gone real crazy, he must have been drinking corn whiskey", but the sober truth is, he hasn't gone that crazy). This is fun, but not overwhelmingly fun — try as I might, I still do not feel that much chemistry between Dupree and any of the other players on the record.

Arguably the one track here worth saving is ʽPoor Poor Meʼ, a slow, echoey blues number with complete focus on the soloist — very explicitly dealing with racism issues ("ain't you glad you're white, and you ain't none of me?", he asks at one point). I have no idea how hard the Champion may have been suffering from that issue in Europe (I'd imagine he probably had a harder time in Chicago, let alone New Orleans), but even if he was not, this kind of experience stays with you for all time, and there is no denying the sincerity in his voice, or even the added touch of serious­ness in his piano playing, when he concludes that "this is a white man's world, I'm only stopping in". That said, it is still hardly a classic of the freedom-lovin' genre, and all in all, while there are a few signs of life revving up on the record, it is hardly a proper rebound from the Denmark slump. To get that rebound, Dupree needed to find himself a band well suited to his talents, and one that would actually care about making it all worth the listener's while — and that would not happen until his next album.

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