Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
All Music Guide:
A formidable contender in the ring before he shifted his focus to pounding the piano instead, Champion Jack Dupree often injected his lyrics with a rowdy sense of down-home humor. But there was nothing lighthearted about his rock-solid way with a boogie; when he shouted "Shake Baby Shake," the entire room had no choice but to acquiesce.
Dupree was notoriously vague about his beginnings, claiming in some interviews that his parents died in a fire set by the Ku Klux Klan, at other times saying that the blaze was accidental. Whatever the circumstances of the tragic conflagration, Dupree grew up in New Orleans' Colored Waifs' Home for Boys (Louis Armstrong also spent his formative years there). Learning his trade from barrelhouse 88s ace Willie "Drive 'em Down" Hall, Dupree left the Crescent City in 1930 for Chicago and then Detroit. By 1935, he was boxing professionally in Indianapolis, battling in an estimated 107 bouts.
In 1940, Dupree made his recording debut for Chicago A&R man extraordinaire Lester Melrose and OKeh Records. Dupree's 1940-1941 output for the Columbia subsidiary exhibited a strong New Orleans tinge despite the Chicago surroundings; his driving "Junker's Blues" was later cleaned up as Fats Domino's 1949 debut, "The Fat Man." After a stretch in the Navy during World War II (he was a Japanese P.O.W. for two years), Dupree decided tickling the 88s beat pugilism any old day. He spent most of his time in New York and quickly became a prolific recording artist, cutting for Continental, Joe Davis, Alert, Apollo, and Red Robin (where he cut a blasting "Shim Sham Shimmy" in 1953), often in the company of Brownie McGhee. Contracts meant little; Dupree masqueraded as Brother Blues on Abbey, Lightnin' Jr. on Empire, and the truly imaginative Meat Head Johnson for Gotham and Apex.
King Records corralled Dupree in 1953 and held onto him through 1955 (the year he enjoyed his only R&B chart hit, the relaxed "Walking the Blues.") Dupree's King output rates with his very best; the romping "Mail Order Woman," "Let the Doorbell Ring," and "Big Leg Emma's" contrasting with the rural "Me and My Mule" (Dupree's vocal on the latter emphasizing a harelip speech impediment for politically incorrect pseudo-comic effect).
After a year on RCA's Groove and Vik subsidiaries, Dupree made a masterpiece LP for Atlantic. 1958's Blues From the Gutter is a magnificent testament to Dupree's barrelhouse background, boasting marvelous readings of "Stack-O-Lee," "Junker's Blues," and "Frankie & Johnny" beside the risqué "Nasty Boogie." Dupree was one of the first bluesmen to leave his native country for a less racially polarized European existence in 1959. He lived in a variety of countries overseas, continuing to record prolifically for Storyville, British Decca (with John Mayall and Eric Clapton lending a hand at a 1966 date), and many other firms.
Perhaps sensing his own mortality, Dupree returned to New Orleans in 1990 for his first visit in 36 years. While there, he played the Jazz & Heritage Festival and laid down a zesty album for Bullseye Blues, Back Home in New Orleans. Two more albums of new material were captured by the company the next year prior to the pianist's death in January of 1992. Jack Dupree was a champ to the very end.
William Thomas Dupree, best known as Champion Jack Dupree, was an American blues pianist. His birth date is disputed, given as July 4, July 10, and July 23, in the years 1908, 1909, or 1910. He died on January 21, 1992.
Champion Jack Dupree was the embodiment of the New Orleans blues and boogie woogie pianist, a barrelhouse "professor". His father was from the Belgian Congo and his mother was part African American and Cherokee. He was orphaned at the age of two, and sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs (also the alma mater of Louis Armstrong).
He taught himself piano there and later apprenticed with Tuts Washington and Willie Hall, whom he called his 'father' and from whom he learned "Junker's Blues". He was also "spy boy" for the Yellow Pochahantas tribe of Mardi Gras Indians and soon began playing in barrelhouses and other drinking establishments.
He began a life of travelling, living in Chicago, where he worked with Georgia Tom, and in Indianapolis, Indiana where he met Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr. While always playing piano he also worked as a cook. In Detroit, after Joe Louis encouraged him to become a boxer, he fought in 107 bouts, winning Golden Gloves and other championships and picking up the nickname 'Champion Jack', which he used the rest of his life.
He returned to Chicago at the age of 30 and joined a circle of recording artists, including Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, who introduced him to the record producer Lester Melrose, who claimed composer credit and publishing on many of Dupree's songs. Dupree's career was interrupted by military service in World War II. He was a cook in the United States Navy and spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
Afterwards his biggest commercial success was "Walkin' the Blues", which he recorded as a duet with Teddy McRae. This led to several national tours, and eventually to a European tour.
Dupree moved to Europe in 1960, first settling in Switzerland and then Denmark, England, Sweden and, finally, Germany. During the 1970s and 1980s he lived at Ovenden in Halifax, England and a piano used by Dupree was later re-discovered at Calderdale College in Halifax. Dupree continued to record in Europe with Kenn Lending Band, Louisiana Red and Axel Zwingenberger and made many live appearances, still working as a cook specializing in New Orleans cuisine. He returned to the United States from time to time and appeared at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Dupree died of cancer on January 21, 1992 in Hanover, Germany.
Musical style and output 
Dupree's playing was almost all straight blues and boogie-woogie. He was not a sophisticated musician or singer, but he had a wry and clever way with words: "Mama, move your false teeth, papa wanna scratch your gums." He sometimes sang as if he had a cleft palate and even recorded under the name Harelip Jack Dupree. This was an artistic conceit, as Dupree had excellent, clear articulation, particularly for a blues singer. Dupree would occasionally indulge in a vocalese style of sung word play, similar to Slim Gaillard's "Vout", as in his "Mr. Dupree Blues" included on The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions album.
He sang about life, jail, drinking and drug addiction; although he himself was a light drinker and did not use other drugs. His "Junker's Blues" was also transmogrified by Fats Domino into his first hit, "The Fat Man". Dupree's songs included not only gloomy topics, such as "TB Blues" and "Angola Blues" (about Angola Prison, the infamous Louisiana prison farm), but also cheerful subjects like the "Dupree Shake Dance": "Come on, mama, on your hands and knees, do that shake dance as you please".
On his best known album, Blues from the Gutter for Atlantic, in 1959 he was accompanied on guitar by Larry Dale, whose playing on that record inspired Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. Dupree was also noted as a raconteur and transformed many of his stories into songs. "Big Leg Emma's" takes its place in the roots of rap music as the rhymed tale of a police raid on a barrelhouse. In later years he recorded with John Mayall, Mick Taylor, Eric Clapton and The Band.
Although Jerry Lee Lewis did not record Dupree's "Shake Baby Shake", the lyrics in his version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" - "You can shake it one time for me!" - echo Dupree's song.
Although best known as a singer and pianist in the New Orleans style, Dupree occasionally pursued more musically adventurous projects, including Dupree `n` McPhee, a collaboration with English guitarist Tony McPhee, recorded for Blue Horizon Records.