Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Champion Jack Dupree month: The OKeh Sides - Better than welfare grapefruit juice

Jack wound up his career as a boxer in Indianapolis, where he took a job as a bouncer at Sea Ferguson's Cotton Club. It was here he met Leroy Carr, who influenced Jack's New Orleans barrelhouse piano with his more uptown, nascent Chicago Blues style. It was a combination of these two styles that made up his playing for most of the rest of his career. He travelled to Chicago, where, according to the song "See My Milk Cow", he met Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, and Jazz Gillum, who helped him get his first recording contract, with OKeh.  He made his first recording in 1940 and is often credited with being the first New Orleans blues pianist to be recorded.

Jack talks about his early career as a musician at the start of "See My Milk Cow", ca. 1968
Top row:  Jazz Gillum, Tampa Red, Scrapper Blackwell
Bottom row:  Jack Dupree, Big Bill Broonzy
in front - Tampa Red's whiskey drinking dog.
Hear Jack talk about this very photo in "Reminiscin' with Champion Jack" from the Champion of the Blues LP!

His first release was "Warehouse Man Blues," a song that combines a number of elements that would be cycled and recycled throughout his work. It's pretty funny, but it's also a striking bit of social commentary about being black and poor in a white man's world. CJD would address these issues more fully in the 60s - it was pretty much why he abandoned the United States for England and mainland Europe.

"My grandma left this morning with a basket in her hand
she going to the warehouse to see the warehouse man
she got down to the warehouse, and white folks said 'ain't no use,
the governor ain't giving away nothin' but that canned grapefruit juice.'
It's a low down dirty shame the way these projects doin.

Now Uncle Sam paid the men that bonus
You know that was mighty fine
You fill them street walkin' women up with that moonlight wine
You spent all your money, you spent it mighty fast 
Now this winter breeze bout to jam you with a . . . yeah! yeah!
Don't you know the relief is closing down?
It's a low down shame the way they really do."

(Paid for) sex, booze, poverty, righteous anger at injustice, double entendre, a woman who has mother in her name that is not quite the singer's mother - it's just about all there, except for the heroin and the cabbage.  And the shaking.

Jack cut enough tracks to release four records on his first date in 1940, including the utterly stompin' "Cabbage Greens" and "New Low Down Dog", an early version of "Stumbling Block", one of his best known and loved rockers.

He was back six months later for another one, when he unleashed the "Dupree Shake Dance" and a song that would have a huge influence on the sound of New Orleans rhythm and blues (and by extension rock and roll in general), "Junker Blues".

You hear a lot about the key piano professors of New Orleans, and too often Jack Dupree does not get mentioned on the list.  But his rolling figures and general acceptance of all facets of human behavior are at the heart of New Orleans music. Fats Domino would take this song, remove all of the references to drugs and squalor (not easy, since that's just about all there is to the lyrics), and create "The Fat Man" in 1949, a song that's often one of those many "first rock and roll" songs you hear so much about.  So, by logical extension, in this month's version of the story, rock and roll was created on a bed of needles, reefer, and cocaine. Something to keep in mind. "Junker's Blues" plays an important part in another key development in the history of rock and roll, but we'll get to that in a couple of weeks.


"Dupree Shake Dance" is another key piece of early rock and roll spirit, mainly because it's such a racket. One thing about Champion Jack Dupree - he does not play with the ease of other New Orleans pianists like Professor Longhair on one side or Jelly Roll Morton on the other. And it's his enthusiastic approximation of a sophisticated boogie that provides a great transition from jazz to rhythm and blues.  He beats the crap out of the keys, playing like he still has his boxing gloves on, going a few rounds with the piano and creating an imprecise splatter of left handed clams that adds a righteous element of chaos to his faster boogies. This leaves him sometimes on the nose wrinkling end of blues critic-type assessment of his work, but for the purposes of rock and roll it is completely on point - you can't guess exactly where his fingers are going to fall, and the whole mess ends up sounding like an Esquerita solo or something.

Jack recorded one more session for OKeh, in November of 1941.  This session included another New Orleans styled r&b number, "Heavy Heart Blues", and some very cool early Chicago style blues which include the first appearance of electric guitar on his records.

His fledgling musical career was interrupted, however, by his first trip overseas, to serve time in World War II.  He wouldn't pick up his musical career again until 1944.

Listen to "Warehouse Man Blues"

Monday, February 4, 2013

Champion Jack Dupree made a LOT of records

Champion Jack Dupree made records for over 50 years.  His first sides came out on the OKeh label in 1930, and his last album was released in 1992.  In the 40s he cut dozens of single sides for about as many labels - including several under different names (like Meat Head Johnson).  Most of these only came out on 78, and were largely unavailable in any other form until the CD-era. He made lots of LPs for a variety of European labels after moving there in the early 60s, and made one of the best blues albums ever for Atlantic. Most of the 45s he recorded were cut from '53 - '59, for Robin, Groove, and King. The Euporean blues afficianado for whom he recorded in the 60s seems to have favored the long player.

The jist is that CJD made a LOT of records. He was the John Lee Hooker of barrelhouse piano (in more ways than one, since some of his best recordings are just him, his piano and his stomp). He was always happy to reinvent one or more of his Dupree specials for whoever might be willing to give him some bread. Like John Lee, he got thrown in with an awful lot of younger, white blues players in the 60s, with similar mixed results. But he made records both rockin' and righteous all his life, he tells great autobiographical stories in a lot of his songs, and he casts a shadow over the history of enough Ichiban-oriented interests to keep us amused for a month. Plus he's hilarious.

And he knows his Shakespeare

Jack Dupree was born in New Orleans in 1909 or 1910.  Like Louis Armstrong, he claimed to have been born on the 4th of July, and like Armstrong, that claim has proven to be inaccurate. Also like Louis Armstrong, he was raised in New Orleans' Home for Colored Waifs, after he lost his parents in a house or store fire that may or may not have been set by the Ku Klux Klan. Jack talks about this on his song "The Death of Louis Armstrong" and makes reference to the fire in a song called .

Jack taught himself to play piano after the orphanage acquired one from the Salvation Army, and apprenticed in the juke joints with Willie Hall, also known as Drive 'Em Down, who apparently taught him one of his signature numbers, "Junker's Blues".  He reminisces about Drive 'Em Down at the start of the song "Workhouse Blues", from an early 60s session for Storyville, recorded in Denmark.

In the 30s he split New Orleans for Detroit, where he became a boxer. Here he earned, either honorably or ironically, the nickname "Champion", depending on whose stories you believe. One imagines he got sick of hitting something that hit back, so he moved to Chicago at the start of the 40s and started playing the piano again.

Listen to "The Death of Louis Armstrong"
Listen to "Workhouse Blues (Talkin' Bout Drive 'Em Down)"

sorry about so many slow songs today - we'll get to boogie plenty by month's end . . . 

Relative to his large body of work and the colorfulness of his life, there does not seem to be a lot of information about Champion Jack Dupree out there. He is not the subject of any biographies, and he doesn't get a lot of mention in the blues history books I've checked. Francis Davis's History of the Blues offers a useful if slightly condescending three page biographical overview.  

This blog post has a great interview with CJD and will be returned to frequently this month.

Big thanks to the exhaustive Champion Jack Dupree discography here.  Pretty much my only tether to reality this month.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

It's FOOTBALL, Baby! (mp3 mix)

Happy Super Sunday, sports fans!

KICK OFF - Johnny Ray Gomez & the U-Neeks
KILLER McBASH - The Weird-Ohs
DO THE FOOTBALL - Acres of Grass
FOOTBALL - Mickey & the Soul Generation
IT'S FOOTBALL BABY - Stix of Dynamite


Friday, February 1, 2013

February is Champion Jack Dupree Month

New Orleans barrelhouser.  Spyboy.  Boxer.  Expatriot.  Mickey Baker collaborator.  Babs Gonzales translator.  Middle-finger-to-blues-scholars-giver.  Jiver.  Junker.  John.  Stroller/walker.  Mother-in-Law hater.

February is Champion Jack Dupree month.  But Jack Dupree wants us all to take the weekend off and get up to really shameful antics so we can talk about them ruminatively while we play a slow 12 bar blues and stomp our feet.  Be prepared for vamps 'til Monday.  Lord knows CJD knew how to vamp.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Similar Bat-Time, Different Bat-Channel: Fiveash pulls a David Brinkley

"What the f*ck is wrong with this thing?"

Over the last few weeks, some, if not none, of you Rock & Soul Ichiban Radio listeners may have been wondering what happened to my live Thursday show. Well, there has been a programming shake-up on WFMU's alternate webstreams, with Ichiban returning to its roots streaming obscure bizarro world hits-that-missed from the 50s and 60s. The reasons are complicated and not particularly interesting; the upshot is that my show, starting next Thursday February 7th, will be heard at a similar bat-time and different bat-channel: 2 to 4 PM Eastern Standard Time, Thursdays on WFMU's Give The Drummer Radio stream. Some Ichiban listeners may remember our sister stream GTDR from when they saved our asses in the dark days after Hurricane Sandy. Give The Drummer Radio is similar to Ichiban in that it's a 24-hour streaming jukebox (curated by WFMU veteran Doug Schulkind from his home in Pittsburgh), but with more live programming. Click here for the full schedule.

For those of you unfamiliar with my show, the playlists to date can be found here.  Expect more of the same.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The White Boots

Carl Butler & Pearl - May, 1963.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Get Out Of The Car (MP3)

Sammy Davis Jr.  -  Get Out Of The Car

In 1956, Sammy Davis Jr. headed for Broadway to headline a musical production called Mr. Wonderful, written expressly for him and giving him the opportunity to transplant his talents from the nightclubs he usually played to what is sometimes called the "legitimate stage."  In any event, the other side of this 45 featured Without You, I'm Nothing, a song featured in the play.  We're not going to worry about that one.  Instead, here's Sammy Davis' take on Get Out Of The Car, The Treniers' irredeemably insensitive song made a bit less appalling here by adding an extra verse (invoking Sgt. Joe Friday!), in which it's made clear that the young lady in question won't have to walk back to town after all.

Why Me

Dale Denny was the bass player for the Fendermen.  Here is his little known hit on Brandy Records.

Why Me (mp3)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Swingin' Time

Broadcast every day at 3:30 on CKLW-TV out of Windsor, Ontario Canada 1965-1968.  This episode features Bob Segar & The Last Heard, Dionne Warwick and her sister, Judy Clay among others.  Thanks, Freddie.  Integration now, segregation never.

Monday, January 21, 2013

1967 Interview With Double Dynamite!!

Talkin' bout their European tour, their music and if white men can have SOUL!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Do Knock the Rock: The Eternal Hipness of the Square-Biz Mind

By Gene Sculatti

You know what I miss from the past?  Sure, Moxie and men’s spats, The Old Philosopher, pre-surgery Kris Kardashian, etc. But what I really miss the most is comedians who made fun of rock ’n’ roll and pop music.

I was reminded of this by a clip I just came across on YouTube, from a Lloyd Thaxton TV show ca. 1965, in which Steve Allen and Milton Berle satirize the then-current fad of protest singers. In long-hair wigs and the fakest of beards, “Monty Mad” and “Billy Bitter” send up folk-rock with silly songs (“Grown-ups are old, youngsters are kid-ish/ If it wasn’t for George Washington we’d all be British”) and typically Allen-style cheap jokes (Thaxton: “You play piano, but you have a guitar around your neck. Why is that?” Allen: “Man, that’s because the piano’s too heavy!”).

The beauty part is that their deliberate stoopidity in making fun of a form they despise is only a couple of feet removed from the stoopidity of the real deal, like Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me” and “The Revolution Kind.” I mean, they’re practically brothers in bearskin. And it’s a hoot, even if they were coming from what we might think of as a square place.

Back then, as the new kid on the block, rock had to endure the slurs of the ageing, but still dominant, Greatest Generation (the most cited example being Dean Martin’s unsubtle dissing of the Stones on Hollywood Palace). But why shouldn’t pop be able to take a few sucker punches, especially when the punchers don’t really get it that the Showmen were absolutely right when they proclaimed, in 1961, “It Will Stand”?

And that’s the sad part. ‘We’ won. Our music (everything since the pre-rock Fifties) stood, and still stands, as the undisputed champ genre that itself is now above criticism. Where once Steve Allen had Elvis sing “Hound Dog” to a sad-eyed basset on national TV and Stan Freberg’s “Sh-Boom” deliciously spoofed doowop’s goofy syllable-stretching (check YouTube for both), now the New Yorker ponders “The Meaning of Michael Jackson” and asks, “What to Make of Rihanna?” Yeah, what?

Sure, TMZ and catty blogs and awards-show emcees dish the stars, but implicit in the very attention they pay them is the notion that pop culture, above all, matters and means something. And that’s an assumption the old-school rock-knockers, bless ’em, never made. It’s what allowed them to use it as just more joke fuel—like mother-in-laws, Gunsmoke and drive-in banks—and, in some cases, like Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howie Morris’ Three Haircuts satires (YouTube), grab some of the very juice and crazed energy of their target itself. The Haircuts and hams like Freddie Cannon are almost brothers in Butch Wax.

One of the hippest comics ever is Pete Barbutti. Fans of first-rate rock-knocking should track down a copy of his VeeJay LP Here’s Pete Barbutti. Like Allen and Berle’s protest skit, it’s from 1965, just about the last time anyone really effectively skewered pop (outside of Mark Shipper’s 1978 book Paperback Writer). In front of a club audience, Pete takes on “Disc Jockeys,” explaining that “One of the reasons for the poor state of music in this day and age is that, no matter where you live, there’s at least one radio station that plays nothing but rock ’n’ roll music, song after song…” Thereafter follows his impersonation of motor-mouth Top-40 jocks and the music they play: each song sounds like the next, Pete’s screeching vocals attacking caveman-dumb lyrics as he counts down the hits by “Mary & the Knee-Knockers,” “Theresa & the Tree-Thumpers” and the rest. It’s priceless.

I'm Gonna Hang My Britches Up (MP3)

Onie Wheeler  -  I'm Gonna Hang My Britches Up 

Onie takes on the women's liberation movement...and throws in the towel.