Saturday, December 17, 2016

Champion Jack And Cornell Dupree (Junker's Blues)

This is King Curtis’s band, featuring the great Cornell Dupree on guitar, with Champion Jack Dupree sitting at the piano. I have thought for decades that Champion Jack was Cornell’s dad.

It wasn’t just an assumption, and I didn’t get the idea from a rumor. I got it from an interview that Champion Jack gave to a magazine that I liked. It might have been Living Blues magazine, in the late 1980s. Jack died in 1992. On the subject of his children, Jack was asked if any of them were musical. His answer was that one of them was, “Cornell is having great success playing the guitar.”

William Thomas Dupree was born in New Orleans and had a hardscrabble upbringing. He learned to play the piano at an early age, and he had a considerable boxing career, during which he took the ring name “Champion Jack.” None of the biographies that I looked up the other day mentioned his personal or family life, other than a thumbnail sketch about his early childhood and the boxing thing. No mention of a family, or children.

I like Champion Jack’s music well enough, but I love Cornell’s guitar playing. Cornell has style and substance; he’s versatile and exciting. He knows when to step up, when to hang back, and when to lay out. You’ve heard a lot of his playing, even if you are not aware of that fact. The man played on over 2,500 recording sessions. Those included artists like Laura Nyro, Nina Simone (also as a sideman), Miles Davis, and Aretha Franklin. He’s uncredited on a lot of albums from the 1970s and 1980s; I can hear him in there sometimes. His own albums are very good, too.

Cornell’s parents were Cornell and Bernice Dupree. Champion Jack had nothing to do with it.

I can’t guess what would make Champion Jack claim parentage, other than the fact that anyone would be proud to be Cornell’s father. They obviously knew each other; they had worked together with the King Curtis band. Strange things happen. 

One of life’s mysteries, I suppose. 

Update, December 19, 2016: A Facebook page called Blues Power Radio had a post from November 24, 2012 that was another cut from the same concert as the above. The included comment said, ". . . Cornell West, son of famed piano bluesman Champion Jack Dupree . . ." 

Update, December 19, 2016: A nice stand-alone site called The Daily Music Break had a post on December 27, 2013 about Champion Jack Dupree, which included the statement, ". . . Cornell Dupree, who became an important guitarist and I believe is Jack's son, though I couldn't verify that on the webb." 

I'm going with the New York Times obituary of Cornell Dupree at this point. It never mentions Champion Jack at all, and it gave good background on the early life of Cornell and named his original home and his parents, Cornell and Bernice Dupree. The newspaper of record has spoken! 


Unknown said...

I'd assumed the same thing myself...that Cornell was the son of Champion Jack. I recently saw the (incredibly amazing) just-issued Aretha Franklin documentary "Amazing Grace," in which Cornell plays guitar, and decided research the question. Like you, I came up with nothing in either man's biographies to indicate that they were related. Thanks for clearing up the question for me here!

Anonymous said...

I just looked this up because i am a longtime champion Jack fan who discovered a performance of Jack with the kingpins and Cornell. When I saw Cornell's name, I went a-googling because after was struck and curious to know if there was any relation. I didn't even look at the band to see who Cornell was, I was only looking for text information. Next I read this post. After reading everyone's analysis, I began to be convinced there was no relation. But before I wanted to move on, I thought it wouldn't hurt to look at footage of Cornell to see if there were any physical resemblance between the two musicians.

People, I have news for you: there is NO doubt the two men are related. Champion Jack's face is incredibly distinctive. He has a snub nose, baggy eyes, and a weak chin that is unusual, and Cornell has them too. Their hands even seem to move similarly when playing, even though their instruments as different. They may not be father and son, but there's a blood connection. It's too much of an unusual of a look to be that big of a coincidence.

fred c said...

Thanks for chiming in, Anon. You're right, "faces don't lie." Reminds me of my cousin. We have two grandparents in common, and we could easily pass for brothers. You're right about the hand comment too. My son and I could easily be identified as such by someone observing the way we move our hands, and the shape of our hands. Good detective work!