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Monday, August 14, 2017

Champion Jack Dupree: One Last Time


1) Bad Blood; 2) She's Jail Bait; 3) Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door; 4) Give Me Flowers While I'm Livin'; 5) Hey Mary; 6) Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Oo-Dee; 7) You Can Make It; 8) Big Leg Emma; 9) Early In The Morning; 10) School Days.

Nobody knows for sure when William Thomas Dupree was born, but at least there seems to be a happy consensus on when he passed away: January 21, 1992, in Hanover, Germany — one more European stop in one of the most mobile careers ever known by an African-American artist. He was approximately 82 years old at the time, and if not for a nasty case of cancer, he might have lived well into the 21st century, as unstoppable as ever. But I guess that at some point God must have taken pity on humanity, and, with an impatient yell of "oh no, not another recording of ʽDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Oo-Dee!ʼ", summoned the Champion to his abode, where space and time no longer matter and new versions of ʽDrinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-Oo-Deeʼ may no longer be produced because there is no deviation from the golden Platonic standard.

On Earth, things remain dirty different, though, and thus, even after the Champion's passing, some of his recordings were scheduled for posthumous releases. The album title One Last Time might give the wrong idea, because, accordingly, Dupree never intended this album — or any album — to be his «last» one; the ten tracks here may be read in different ways, but certainly nothing like a musical testament. Instead, this is simply more of the same stuff that we'd already heard on the previous two albums: summarizing completion of a trilogy that is neither any better nor any worse than its predecessors. And yes, by all means, there is another version of ʽDrinkin' Wineʼ here, as well as another one of ʽEarly In The Morningʼ and ʽSomebody Done Changed The Lock On My Doorʼ. And ʽBig Leg Emmaʼ makes one last guest appearance.

That is about as much as needs to be said about the album, so let me just offer a general conclu­sion instead. Essentially, Champion Jack Dupree had said everything he ever had to say even before the war was over: the last fifty years of his life were spent in continuous repetition, slight revision, and occasional lyrical and stylistic updating of the first few years of his recording legacy. But there are lengthy musical careers where you simply keep wishing that the artist finally croak or at least retire — and then there are lengthy musical careers which command a certain degree of respect just because of the artist's sheer stubbornness and tenacity. At a certain point, the whole becomes transcendentally bigger than the parts: bands like AC/DC, for instance, whose career sags in the middle, but then, as they just keep going on, even the weakest of their albums get a second life as weak, but necessary links in an amazingly long and strong chain.

The same is pro­bably applicable to the Champ. Nobody needs to have more than a small com­pilation of his early singles, and perhaps that Mickey Baker album from 1967 for complete comfort — but everybody might get a kick from simply contemplating a career that guided him from the antiquity of acoustic urban blues all the way to the modern blues-rock era, not to men­tion the anabasis from New Orleans to New York to Copenhagen to Switzerland to London to Hamburg and finally back to New Orleans; and not a single time during all that anabasis has the man ever lost his cool, even if he never did all that much to diversify it. From this point of view, he has certainly deserved the «Champion» moniker, far more convincingly than he ever did with his boxing career (where, on the contrary, we do not have readily accessible records of his triumphs — Muhammad Ali he certainly wasn't). So let us simply take the man as he was and pass on the legend — something makes me doubt there will be any more like him in this century of rapidly passing careers.

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