It wasn’t just the music, in fact it wasn’t the music at all. Before I heard his laconic, loping, booging piano and wooging singing I discovered, through a photograph, that this New Orleans bluesman, used to live in Halifax, West Yorkshire just around 20 miles from these typing fingers.
When I eventually heard his music the fact that Champion Jack Dupree spent a portion of his life just over the hills, gave the songs extra intrigue and immediacy. Not only that, he also grew up with Professor Longhair, surely one of the funkiest critters ever to have walked this earth.
I’d always thought that music of Champion Jack’s magnitude was something that happened far, far away. Not down the A58.
Halifax isn’t known for its blues. It’s better known for its bank, Mackintosh toffee and the birthplace of Blue Peter presenter John Noakes, and Big Daddy. Granted, the name Big Daddy wouldn’t look out of place chalked up on a board in a honky tonk but he was a wrestler, rather than a musician. Champion Jack on the other hand, as well as being a musician was also a boxer, hence his nickname.
The photograph that alerted me to the existence of Jack was part of an exhibition of Terry Cryer photos, at, I think Dean Clough in Halifax, sometime in the late 80’s, early 90’s?. Some of the images I remember include Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the axe-wielding gospel singing legend, the Jimi Hendrix of her day, some guy with a monkey on his shoulder and Champion Jack Dupree.
The pictures were amazing. Some were taken locally, of blues and jazz musicians performing, practising or just sitting, standing around. A lot of the names were new to me Clara Ward, Zoot Simms and some more familiar, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong.
But the one that stuck was Champion Jack.
Years later I got in touch with the photographer Mr Cryer, after he’d retired and closed down his darkroom, but he agreed to do me a print of Jack. He also invited me in for a brew and to look at some other amazing photos and contact strips.
Look here for more of Terry’s photographs…
And to get a bit of Champion Jack…