|'Champion' Jack Dupree|
In what seems another historical epoch, I once found myself living in a heavily guarded compound in a rugged town on the Afghanistan border, Miranshah. For astute and tuned-in readers that name will ring bells as the location of frequent drone attacks by the US and military campaigns by Pakistan. Apparently senior al-Qaida operatives liked Miranshah as a base as it was cheek and jowl with the rust-coloured rocky mountains of Afghanistan. Easy escape and easy access, depending on the circumstances.
I was in Miranshah to assist refugees who, since the departure of the Soviets (remember them?), from Afghanistan, were cautiously returning home. Our team’s job was to recover each refugee’s ration and registration card (which entitled him to international assistance) and replace it with a couple of shovels, a 300 kg bag of wheat and the equivalent of $100. I’ll not comment on the effectiveness of the program, as it has nothing to do with tonight’s post.
This operation required us to be at work for about 3 hours each day. The rest of the day we would pass in Scrabble, cricket, reading and smoking hash. I read lots of books, including the biography of Hafez al Assad, whom I must rather sheepishly admit, after finishing the book, I truly admired. I’m sure the hashish must have clouded my judgment.
I also listened to a C-90 tape of blues every day. On one side was Memphis Slim. On the other was an old recording by ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree. As that month of afternoon’s passed slowly (and dreamily) I simply absorbed this tape, especially Dupree’s songs. In a way I had never before, I understood the essential truth of the blues. Jack’s music was the definition of candour. Not only did he sing of every part of his life (troublesome neighbors, lynch-hungry racists, dreams of freedom and ugly women he’d bedded) he did so with an utterly transparent vulnerability. Though he got his name from a sometime career as a pugilist, it was not the brawn, spit and blood that shone through his songs, but a bewildered acceptance of the way things are. Even with lyrics as chilling as these from My Black and White Dog
He said, Well, well, hope there's a rope, you know.
Where's me is a tree, you understand what he was talkin' about, don't you?
You understand what he mean, you know?
I said ain't no use to worry
'Cos you will never, never get me
Jack never sang with hate. Rather life in all it’s horror and glory was a thing to be treasured, cherished and enjoyed.
Dupree’s blues arise from horrific circumstances: orphaned in New Orleans as a young boy, a junkie in adult life, unrelenting racism in his homeland that led him to spend most of his later years in Europe. Each of these trials is sung about, often in explicit detail but always with an unexpected but very genuine sense of humour. The blues according to Jack Dupree are about denying the bastards the last laugh. And drinking, gambling, loving and dancing.
His piano playing is hypnotic if uncomplicated. Be it lightning paced boogie woogie or slow and mournful repetition of a few bars, he is a true Champion of the keyboard.
So without further ado here are the Blues According to Champion Jack Dupree.
01 Can't Kick the Habit
02 Nasty Boogie
03 Forever and Ever
04 When Things Go Wrong
05 Junker's Blues (Feat. King Curtis)
06 How Long Blues
07 Hometown New Orleans
09 Rolling And Tumbling
10 Down In Clarksdale
11 In Prison Too Long
12 When I'm Drinking
13 Drinking And Gambling
14 Morning Tea - 1941
15 Sneaky Pete (Feat. King Curtis)
16 Angola Blues - 1940
17 The Snow Is On The Ground
18 My Home In Mississippi
19 One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer
20 Reminiscin' with Champion Jack
21 Calcutta Blues
22 Poor Boy