Champion Jack Dupree - "Blues from the Gutter" - Atco - 1958
Before he became a nationally known pianist, William Thomas Dupree was a talented boxer with a bright future. He left New Orleans, escaping what he saw as a racist culture, for Chicago where he met heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Louis persuaded Dupree to get serious about a career in boxing, and eventually Dupree fought in 107 bouts, even winning the lightweight championship in Indiana. During his boxing days he picked up the nickname "Champion Jack," which stuck with him until his death in 1992.
That intensity in the ring translates well to his debut album, 1958's "Blues From the Gutter," a widely considered masterpiece that most feel is Dupree's best work. The album deals with messy themes that were taboo at the time -- prostitution, heavy drug use, infidelity -- and Dupree crafted a dirty blues sound that fits well with his down-and-out lyrics. In "Junker Blues" Dupree bluntly confesses an addiction to just about every drug under the sun, showing a sense of fragile pride. "Oh yes, I'm a junker," Dupree sings. "I feel all right."
Dupree found the perfect balance in the studio with "Blues from the Gutter." Unlike some blues albums of the '60s, the production isn't excessive to the point where it ruins the southern blues mood, nor is it so bare that it sounds like it was recorded at a backwoods Mississippi radio station -- in fact, it was recorded in stereo, a rarity at the time. So if you're looking for an old-school blues album that is as accessible today as it was in the '50s, "Blues From the Gutter" may be right up your alley.
- Chad Bower
Video: Champion Jack Dupree - "Frankie and Johnny"