Jack Dupree was one of the barrelhouse champions. Weaned on the coarser piano styles of the brothels and speakeasies of his New Orleans youth his utilitarian approach on the instrument always favored volume and vigor over skill and polish. But the attribute that set him most apart from the legion of juke joint ivory ticklers was his world-weary voice. He lived and breathed the life recounted in his colorful lyrics. Traveling across America, and in later years Europe, all the hard times he soaked up in his wanderings as an itinerant musician bled out to innumerable audiences through his gruff intonation.
The Catfish label does him a great service with this compilation. Gathering a generous slice of his 1940s Chicago output these tunes run a wide topical gamut from the bleak realities of prison life (‘Angola Blues’ and ‘County Jail Special’), to the temptations of drugs and booze (‘Junker Blues’ and ‘Rum Cola Blues’), to the inevitable worries posed by the opposite sex (‘All Alone Blues’ and ‘Mean Mistreatin’ Mama’. Through the entire program his muscular, but agile piano rolls duck and weave around the loose accompaniment of a varied crew of partners. Most commonly it’s a lone string bassist tying down the rhythmic end, but guitar, drums and sax do crop up on occasion. Somewhat of a surprise is Jesse Ellery’s electric guitar; on hand a full seven years before Muddy Waters made Chicago blues history on the instrument.
While there’s not much flash in Dupree’s presentation there’s still plenty of fire. The emotive directness of his down home delivery makes the music impossible to resist and these sides show off why he usually managed to pack a house. Also making the music a beautiful repast is the clarity of the Catfish crew’s remastering. Considering their vintage these sides are remarkably free of static and surface noise and all of the musicians, but particularly the bassists, are crisply rendered. Dupree recorded a large body of work during his lifetime, but these tracks from his heyday rank among the finest.
Catfish on the web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk/
Personnel: Champion Jack Dupree- piano, vocal; Bill Gaither- bass; Wilson Swain- bass; Ransom Knowling- bass; Jesse Ellery- electric guitar; Brownie McGhee- guitar; Count Edmondson- bass; Jesse Powell- tenor saxophone; Melvin Merrit- drums; Lannie Scott- piano; Sticks McGhee- guitar.