Always A Champion : Jack Dupree©2005JCMarion


William Thomas Dupree was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in July of 1910. While still a young child, his parents were killed in a house fire that was believed set by the local KKK in an act of racial violence. He was then sent to the Colored Waifs Home For Boys in the city (from whence Louis Armstrong had been cared for a few years earlier). By the time he was in his young teens, Dupree left the orphanage and hit the streets where he learned the hard life in order to survive. During these years he was introduced to the two pursuits that would form the major part of his life from tat time on – boxing and music. He began to learn the New Orleans style of piano from two major influences of the time – Roy Byrd (who would gain fame as Professor Longhair) and Willie Hall known as “Drive ‘Em Down”.


By the time Dupree was twenty he had enough of the constant racism of New Orleans and so moved North to the Midwest until the time he was in Detroit and met future champion of the world Joe Louis. This reawakened the interest in boxing in Dupree and he became a well known prize fighter in the Midwest. He began with success in the Golden Gloves and achieved enough success to become known as “Champion Jack” Dupree, a name he would keep the rest of his life. At around 1940 Dupree gave up the boxing ring and decided to hone his skills on the piano. He was good enough to become known in parts of the country to enable him to make a living at his craft. He was put in contact with famed blues record producer Lester Melrose by Tampa Red, and Melrose planned to record Dupree for the Okeh label, Columbia’s subsidiary outlet. He recorded a few tunes with Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry in the early forties that were released for Solo Records on the tunes “Once I Had A Girl” and “Black Woman Blues”. Meanwhile Dupree was drafted into military service as a cook in the Navy and had the misfortune to be captured by the Japanese and held as a POW for close to two years.


After the war Dupree relocated to New York and it was there that he hoped to restart his recording career. The first sides that he put on record were for the Lenox label with “Bad Whiskey And Wicked Women” and “Bus Station Blues” on # 505, and listed as by Blind Boy Johnson on the tunes “Mean Old Frisco” and “When You Ain’t Got A Dime” on Lenox # 511. “How Long How Long Blues” and “I Think You Need A Shot” with Brownie McGhee on Continental # 6064 and “Hard Feeling” and “Let’s Have A Ball” on # 6065 in 1945. In 1946 Dupree hooked up with record company executive Joe Davis and made a series of recordings for the Joe Davis label. They include “Rum And Cola Blues” and “She makes Good Jelly” on # 5100; “I’m Going Down With You” and “Johnson Street Boogie Woogie” on # 5101; “FDR Blues” and “God Bless Our New President” on # 5102; “County Jail Special” and “Fisherman’s Blues” on # 5103; “Lover’s Lane” and “Black Wolf” on # 5104; “Walking By Myself” and “Outside Man” on # 5105; “Forget It Mama” and “You’ve Been Drunk” on # 5106; “Santa Claus Blues” and “Gin Mill Sal” on # 5107; and “Wet Deck mama” and “Love Strike Blues” on # 5108.


In 1947 Dupree recorded one record for the Celebrity label ( another one of Joe Davis enterprises) on “Big Leg Mama” and the eye raising title “I’m A Doctor For Women” on # 2012. Continuing his many recordings, Dupree recorded for the Alert label, a small independent company located in Brooklyn, New York. The first side was listed as by Willie Jordan and His Swinging Five which featured Jesse Powell on tenor sax and Brownie McGhee once again. The songs were “Going Down To The Bottom” and “Cecilia Cecilia” on Alert # 207. Following that Jack Dupree & His Quartet (same personnel without McGhee) recorded “Fifth Avenue Blues” and “Highway 51” on # 421. After a number of club dates in the Northeast Dupree hooked up with Apollo Records for a number of releases into 1950. Once again he was together with Jesse Powell and Brownie McGhee, and Cedric Wallace on bass and Gene Moore on drums. Listed as Champion Jack Dupree & His Country Blues Band they recorded “Come Back Baby” and “Chittlins And Rice” on Apollo # 407 , and “One Sweet Letter” and “Mean Mistreatin Mama” on # 413. “Old Woman Blues” and “Lonesome Bedroom Blues” were released by Apollo in May of 1950 on # 421.


Abbey Records released “Featherweight Mama” and “Day Break” by Brother Blues & The Backroom Boys (Dupree and Brownie McGhee featured) on # 3015 in August of 1950 and then Dupree had additional sides for Apollo. Champion Jack recorded with Big Chief Ellis and His Blues Stars with Ellis on piano, McGhee on guitar, Thomas Barney on bass, and Ernest Hayward on drums. The songs were “I’m Gonna Find You Someday” and “Deacon’s Party” on Apollo # 426. Some versions of this recorded are listed as by Jack Dupree & His Bucket Busters. In February of 1951 “Deacon’s Party” is a good seller in the South for Apollo. This was followed by “My Baby’s Comin Back Home” and “Just Plain Tired” on # 428. Dupree made two records as Meathead Johnson with Brownie McGhee and brother Stick McGhee, with Melvin Merritt on drums – “Old Old Woman” / “Mean Black Woman” on Gotham # 514, and “Barrelhouse Mama” / “Going Back To Louisiana” on Apex # 1110. In October of 1951 Dupree records with Bobby Harris on vocal with “Doggin Blues” and “Up And Down The Hill” on Derby # 773.


In January of 1952 Dupree records as Big Tom Collins for King Records with the songs “Heartache Blues” and “Real Good Feeling” on # 4483. In July of the year he appears on Apollo # 440 as Duke Bayou & His Mystic Six with “Doomed” and “Rub A Little Boogie”. Dupree closes out the year as Big Tom Collins again with “Watchin My Stuff” on King # 4588 which is a good seller on the West Coast especially in the San Francisco-Oakland area.
In 1953 Dupree made a series of recordings for Bobby Robinson's Red Robin label in New York. In the combo for these sessions was Sonny Terry on harmonica, Stick McGhee on guitar, Bob Harris on bass, and Willie Jones on drums. The records were "Stumblin Block Blues" and "Number Nine Blues" on # 109; "Highway Blues" and "Shake Baby Shake" on # 112; and "Drunk Again" and "Shim Sham Shimmy" on # 130. In the summer of 1953 Dupree is signed to the King Records label based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and begins recording for them with a combo that includes Mickey Baker on guitar, Sidney Grant on tenor sax, Cedric Wallace on bass, and John Taylor on drums. The first sides released come out in September and consist of the songs "Tongue Tied Blues" and "The Blues Got Me Rockin" on # 4633", followed by "Ain't No Meat On Da Bone" and "Please Tell Me Baby" on King # 4651. They feature vocals and piano by Dupree as he becomes one of the top players in the New Orleans R & B style.

In late 1953, King sets up a new combo with Champion Jack consisting of Alexander Lightfoot on harmonica, Charles Connor on tenor sax, Edwin Moire on guitar, Nathaniel Perrilat on bass, and Milton Batiste on drums. King # 4695 contains "Walking Upside Your Head" and "Hard Feelings" and is released in February of 1954. By April Dupree's contemporaries see success - Professor Longhair with "Tipitina" and John Brim with "Tough Times", but Dupree keeps at it with that month's release on King of "Rub A Little Boogie" and "Camille" on # 4706. Surprisingly enough, one of Dupree's older recordings "Shim Sham Shimmy" on Red Robin shows up on top seller lists in the South, especially South Carolina. The year and a half old release is featured on radio in Atlanta. By September it is a big seller in the Georgia city. Meanwhile Champion Jack continues to record for King Records.

In April of 1955 as the rock revolution builds steam, Dupree records "Blues For Everybody" and "Two Below Zero" on King # 4779 with Jerome Garr on guitar, Sidney Grant on tenor sax and Cornelius Thomas on drums. The next month "Harelip Blues" and "Let The Doorbell Ring" is released on # 4797. That same month Dupree records a side for the Harlem label as "Lightnin Junior" along with backing by the vocal group The Empires on the tunes "Somebody Changed The Lock On My Door" and "Ragged And Hungry" on # 2334. In July of the year Dupree gets together with Teddy McRae and records "Walking The Blues" and "Daybreak Blues" along with Joe Williams on bass and George DeHeart on drums. McRae is billed on the label as "Mr. Bear". "Walking" gets off the ground fast and immediately becomes a record to watch. Champion Jack finally has a big selling record. Soon Willie Dixon records a cover version for Chess Records. By September the record is high on the top ten national R & B best sellers. That month the record gets a huge boost as it is used during a city wide transit strike in Washington D.C. as a daily commentary. In October Dupree signs on for the big "Lucky Seven Blues Show" that will cross the country beginning with a date at New York's Apollo Theater. Others on the bill are Little Willie John, Marie Knight, Otis Williams & The Charms, and Hal Singer and his band. In November King releases "Stumblin Block" and "That's My Pa" on # 4827. At year's end "Silent Partner" and the wonderfully titled "She Cooks Me Cabbage" is released on # 4859. At the session are Mickey Baker on guitar, Lloyd Trotman bass, and Cliff Leeman on drums.

In January of 1956 Dupree appears at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem with Marie Knight and The Charms. In february Dupree records with Willis "Gatortail" Jackson on tenor sax on "Failing Health Blues" and with George Smith on harmonica, Barney Richmond on bass, and Alfred Drears on drums on "Me And My Mule" on King # 4876. "Overhead Blues" and "So Sorry So Sorry" is issued on # 4906in April, and in June "Big Leg Emma's" and "Mail Order Woman" from the Willis Jackson session is released on # 4958. "Mail Order Woman" turns out to be a decent seller for Dupree and it is also his last for King Records after more than two years with that label. In October of 1956 Champion Jack signs with RCA Victor subsidiary label Groove, and is reunited with Teddy McRae ("Mr. Bear") who is already at the label. They immediately join forces again in the recording studio and the result is "Lonely Road Blues" and "When I Got Married" on Groove # 0171. The record is pushed by RCA in a "together again" promotion hoping to capitalize on the success of "Walking The Blues".

In January of 1957 RCA announces the end of the Groove label. Jack Dupree will move to that company's Vik label along with most of the other R & B talent for the company. Dupree does a session for the new label with Larry Dale on guitar, Al Lucas on bass, and Gene Moore on drums. "Just Like A Woman" and "Dirty Woman" is released on Vik # 0260. In June "Old Time Rock & Roll" and "Rocky Mountain " is released on # 0279. "Old Time" gets an immediate boost in Chicago. In October "Shake Baby Shake" and "Lollipop Baby" is released on Vik # 0304 in a continuing attempt to get Dupree to appeal to a younger audience which by late 1957 was seen as the majority of record buyers. The attempt didn't work for the veteran blues man and so he moved on to Atlantic Records which saw so much success in the R & B field. In early 1958 he recorded for Atlantic with Pete Brown on alto sax, Larry Dale (Ennis Lowery) on guitar, Wendell marshall on bass, and Willie Jones on drums. "Frankie & Johnny" and "Strollin" were released on # 2032, and "Evil Woman" and "My Mother In Law" on # 2095 followed. Neither record did much for Champion Jack or Atlantic Records. It was at this time that Dupree made a life altering decision.

Because of the continued battle against the racism inherent in many parts of the United States, Dupree decided to join a number of other Black American performers and became an expatriate living in Europe. He lived in a number of countries on the continent, and continued to perform his music for appreciative audiences. He remained in Europe for the next thirty two years. He returned in 1990 to his hometown of New Orleans and appeared at the Jazz And Heritage Festival in that city. He returned the following year and also played at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1991. Soon after he passed away in Hanover, Germany in January of 1992. Champion Jack Dupree left a rich heritage of music and remains a giant among American blues performers.

There are a great many CDs that document the life and times of Champion Jack Dupree. As with so many performers that are represented by a number of recordings after their time in the spotlight, duplication of tunes on many CD collections are common place. Here are some of the many CDs that are available of the music of this wonderful performer. Covering the early years of Dupree's recording career are : "Jack Dupree - 1940-1950" on Wolf from 2000 featuring 18 tracks; "Jack Dupree : 1945-1953 on Krazy Kat from 1994 with 22 tracks; "The Joe Davis Sessions" on Flyright from 1995 with 20 tracks; and "Jack Dupree Sings The Blues" on King from 1994 featuring 16 tracks from the King Records vaults in the 1950s. Other worthy CDs are "Blues From The Gutter" originally from 1958 on Atlantic; "New Orleans Barrelhouse Boogie" on Sony from 1993 with 25 tracks; a double album set on CD - "Natural And Soulful Blues" and "Champion Of The Blues" on Collectables from 2001; "Blues Live From Montreaux With King Curtis" on Atlantic from 1992; "Junker Blues" 22 track CD from Catfish (U.K.); "Back Home In New Orleans" on Bullseye Blues from 1991; "A Portrait" on Rounder from 2000; "One Last Time" on Bullseye Blues from 1993; and the recent "Drunk Again" on Grammercy from 2004 featuring the tune "Viet Nam Blues".

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