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ForgottenHeroes:CornellDupree

Givenhisinvolvementwithsomanycharttoppingradiohitssince1965,itisastonishingthatsofew
peopleincludingguitaristshaveheardofCornellDupree.Yetthereislittledoubttheyveheardhim
play.Foralmosthalfacentury,AMandFMradiostationsandnowinternetradiochannelshave
beenbroadcastingtunesheplayedonmanytimesaday.
CommercialhitsthatfeaturedhisuniqueplayingincludecroonerBrookBentons1969smashRainy
NightinGeorgia,ArethaFranklinssoulful1971hitRockSteady,PaulSimonsKodachrome,and
formerMotttheHooplefrontmanIanHuntersLettertoBritanniafromtheUnionJack.Jazzfans
haveheardhimonrecordsbyeveryonefromBuddyRichandCarmenMcRaetoRahsaanRoland
KirkandMilesDavis.CornellDupreeplayedonsomanysessionsduringhislifetimethathis
nicknameofMr.2500couldeasilybeanunderstatement.

ButthosewhohaveonlyheardhimonahitrecordaremissingmuchoftheDupreeexperience
because,ashissolorecordsandbandfrontingliveshowsprove,hewasalsoaskilledpurveyorof
singingmelodiesandbluesdrenchedsolos.Itisinthosecontextsthatitiseasiesttounderstandthe
wordsofsessionbassistWillLee(DavidLetterman,FabFaux),whodidcountlessstudioandlive
dateswithDupree:Hewaspureheartandsoul.
TheEarlyYears
CornellLutherDupreeJr.(December19,1942May8,2011)wasborntoCornellandBerniceDupree
inFortWorth,Texas.ThoughDupreesfatherplayedguitarabitatparties,itwashisgrandfathers
fiddlethatfirstcaughttheyoungerCornellsearasachild.GivenhisFortWorthupbringing,itsnot
surprisingthatDupreewasexposedtomorecountryandwesternthanR&Bsaveforhismothers
gospelpianoplayingandthebluesandR&BonradiostationKNOK.
Dupreesoonfiguredoutsomeboogiewoogieonthepiano,butthefirstinstrumentthattruly
attractedhimwasthesaxophone.At11,hebeganlessonsandplayedthehornthroughjuniorhigh
school,includinginthemarchingband.ButbythenDupreehadstartedfrequentinglocalvenues
whereartistsincludingRayCharlesandB.B.Kingperformed.Ononeofthesefatefulnights,hesaw
theflamboyantJohnnyGuitarWatsonataMasonicHall.Virtuallyovernight,hewasbegginghis
motherfora6string.

BerniceobtainedasunburstStellaacousticfromapawnshop,andthe14yearoldDupreestarted
learninglicksfromlocalpickers.By1956,hehadaHarmonyhollowbodywithaDeArmondpickup
andhedformedabandwithacoupleofguitarplayingfriendsnamedFrankLottandCalvinLove.
Thethreeyoungmusiciansplayedamostlyinstrumentalrepertoireattalentshowsandatlocalclubs
onSundayafternoons.
TwoplayerswhoseinfluenceisevidentinDupreesstylewereBobbyBlandsguitaristWayne
Bennett,aswellasBillyButlerthemanwhoplayedtheclassicsoloonBillDoggetts1956
instrumentalhitHonkyTonk.CornellboughttheDoggettsingleandlearnedthesolonotefornote
onhisGibsonLesPaulCustom,whichhereplacedwithaTVyellowLesPaulJuniorwhenthe
Customwaslostinafire.
DupreesmusicaleducationcontinuedwhenhewashiredtoplaywithU.P.Wilsonsband,wherehe
playedrhythmonWilsonsStratocasterwhiletheleadersoloedonDupreesLesPaulJunior.Thelate
50sfoundDupreeplayingwithLeonChildsHiTones,aswellasLouisHoward&theRedHearts.
WhileventuringoutfromFortWorthwiththesebands,Dupreewasexposedtomusicofmanystyles
andcrossedpathswithcreamofthecropTexasmusicians.TheseincludedbluesartistssuchasT
BoneWalker,LowellFulson,AlbertCollins,LightninHopkins,FentonRobinson,andClarence
GatemouthBrown,aswellascountrystarslikeRayPrice,BobWills,andRogerMiller.Dupreemay
haveevenrunacrossavantgardejazzsaxophonistOrnetteColeman,whowasalsofromFort
Worth.
KingCurtisandJimiHendrix

CornellDupreeinthelate70sorearly80s
withhismodifiedFenderTelecaster.
PhotocourtesyofGordonEdwards
In1959,17yearoldDupreemarriedErmaKindles.AndcountrystarDelbertMcClintonassertsthat,
by18barelyoutofhighschoolDupreehadareputationasoneofthebestbluesguitaristsinthe
area.1961wouldbeapivotalyearinhiscareer:WhilevisitingTexas,R&BsaxplayerKingCurtissat
inwithLouisHoward&theRedHeartsattheParadiseClub.Beforereturningtohishomebaseof
NewYorkCity,CurtistoldDupreetokeeponpracticingandoneofthesedaysIwillsendforyou.
Truetohisword,hecalledtheguitaristtheverynextyearandhadhimauditionoverthephoneby
playingCurtisthennewhitSoulTwist,aswellasthestandardMoonlightinVermont.
Apparently,Dupreehadbeenpracticing,becauseCurtispromptlysenthimatickettoNewYork.On
October1,1962,DupreeandErmaarrivedinManhattan,leavingtheirtwochildreninthecareof
Dupreesmotherandgrandfather.Thedayafterhisfirstplaneride,theTexasguitarmanwas
onstagewithKingCurtisandtheKingpinsandlearningtherestoftherepertoireonstage.The
DupreeslivedwithCurtis,andtheKingpinsplayedweekendsatSmallsParadiseinHarlem.
Athisfirstrecordingsession,DupreesharedguitardutieswiththesameBillyButlerwhosesolohe
haddiligentlylearnedandwhohewouldreplaceinCurtisperformingband.SwitchingtoaGibson
ES335,DupreewouldsitwithCurtis,whoplayedaGuildStarfire,andthetwowouldworkoutlicks
andarrangementsfortheband.Eventually,thesidemanexchangedhisGibsonforaGuildlikehis
boss.

From1962to1966,DupreeworkedwithCurtisbackingsoulstarsoftheday.Ona1963tour
supportingSamCooke,DupreeendeduponthesingersLiveattheHarlemSquareClub,1963
album.ThesetoursoftenfeaturedCookeandotherartistslikeFatsDominoandtheIsleyBrothers.
DupreewouldtradelicksandsongswithCookesguitaristCliftonWhiteandRoyMontrealfromFats
Dominosgroup.HealsoworkedonstringbendingwiththeIsleyBrothersguitaristJamesMarshall
Hendrix.
HendrixlefttheIsleysin1964andbouncedaroundtheChitlinCircuitwithotherR&Bactsforabit
beforeCurtissawhimplayingwithLittleRichardandaddedhimtotheKingpins.Playingalongside
Cornell,Hendrixhelpedfilloutthesoundofthethenkeyboardlessband.TheshowyHendrixfell
naturallyintothesoloingslot,leavingDupreetocoverrhythm.Aswithmanyofhisearlygigs,
however,Hendrixsdeafeningvolume,flashydress,andpunctualityissuesledtohisdismissalfrom
Curtisgroup.By1965,whentheKingpinsopenedfortheBeatlesinCanada,LosAngeles,Chicago,
andthefamousSheaStadiumgig,Hendrixwasgone.

ThisATCOpromoshotshowsDupreewithsaxophonistKingCurtisandJamesMarshall
Hendrix(playingarighthandedFenderJazzmasterupsidedownatfarright)ataMay5,1966,
recordreleasepartyforPercySledge.
PhotobyWilliamPoPsieRandolph
Meanwhile,Dupreekeptbuildinghisresume.Thatsameyear,hejoinedanotherlegendarysession
guitarist,SteveCropperofBookerT.&theMGs,inthestudiotobackWilsonPickettonhisfirsthit,

IntheMidnightHour.Atthatpoint,DupreewasplayingaStandelthinlineequippedwith
humbuckersthroughablackfaceFenderTwinReverb.NeitherhenorCurtiswerehappywithhow
Cornellsguitarfitinthemix,buthehadyettodiscovertheinstrumentwithwhichhewouldcometo
beidentified.
HavingearnedenoughtobuyahouseandacarinTexas,DupreeleftKingCurtisbandandmoved
backin1966.BassistChuckRainey,whomhehadmetwhileintheKingpins,hadalsolefttheband
buthadstayedinNewYorkandwasgettingalotofsessionwork.RaineyconvincedDupreetoreturn
toTheBigApplein1968,whereherejoinedCurtisandstartedplayingsessionsforotherartists.
InSessions
RecommendationsfromRaineyandguitaristEricGalewhowouldlaterbecomeDupreesbandmate
inthejazzfunkbandStuffbroughtDupreeasteadystreamofsessionworkinNewYork.More
fortuitously,AtlanticRecordsproducerJerryWexler,whohadfirstmetDupreeataliverecordingdate
atHarlemsApolloTheaterin1965,wassoonusingtheguitaristonsessionsinNewYork,Miami,and
MuscleShoals,Alabama.InthelinernotestoDuprees1994soloalbum,BopnBlues,Wexler
describedwhatmadehimsovaluableinthestudio:Itwasourpracticetousethreeorevenmore
guitaristsonarecordsession.Timeandagainwhatwewouldgetintowasahellaciousmessasthe
threeguitaristsgotineachothersway,saidWexler.SowhenDupree,theprideofFortWorth,
cametoourrescue,itwasbyebyetomultipleguitaristsbecausemiraculously,itseemedtome
onemanplayingrhythmandleadatthesametimetooktheplaceofthree.

Dupreesbigbreakthroughcamein1969,withasessionhedidforanotherAtlanticproducer,Arif
Mardin,in1969.HebackedBrookBentonontheTonyJoeWhitetuneRainyNightinGeorgia,and
theflowing,parallelfourthdoublestopsandslidingsixthfillshedplayedonthehithadhisphone
ringingoffthehook.
By1971,videosshowthatDupreehadstartedplayingaFenderTelecastertohelphimcutthrough
denseliveandrecordedmixes.Thepickguardhadbeenremoved,andthescrewholeshadbeen
filledwithlargemetalboltsthatgaveitastuddedappearance.ItalsohadaGretschstyleDeArmond
pickupbetweentheneckandbridgepickups.Anadditionalcontrolplateundertheoriginalappearsto
haveheldanextraknobandswitch,nodoubttocontrolthemiddlepickup.
DupreeeventuallycollaboratedwithYamahaandbeganplayingaTelestyleinstrumentthatwas
marketedastheCornellDupreemodel.Andwithahumbuckerintheneckposition,asinglecoil
sizedbladehumbuckerinthemiddle,andaTelestylebridgepickupitwasaversatilemachine.
Towardtheendofhiscareer,DupreewasseenprimarilywithYamahaPacificaTelestyle
instruments.
The70sand80ssawtwodecadesofconstantsessionworkwithsomeofthebiggestnamesinthe
businessincludingArethaFranklin,BarbraStreisand,DonnyHathaway,andMariahCarey.Buthe

wasntjustplayingforcommerciallysuccessfulvocalists.Healsotrackedsessionswithheavyweight
jazzartistssuchasDavidFatheadNewman,LesMcCann,EddieHarris,HerbieMann,Grover
WashingtonJr.,BillyCobham,andSonnyStitt.AndhisrockandpopgigsincludedstintswithJoe
Cocker,IanHunter,andCarlySimon.

WillLeerecallsthesortofinventivenessandspontaneitythatledtoDupreesfirstcallstatus.Ican
remembermyfirstCornellexperiencevividly,saysthelegendarybassist.ItwasonDonCovays
OvertimeMansession.Whatwasastoundingwasthateverytakewouldstartwithhimplayinga
completelydifferent,amazingguitarintro.Isaidtohim,Thatwasgreatbutwhydidyouchangeit
fromtheonebefore?Hesaid,BecauseIhavenoideawhatIplayed.
TheSoloYears
By1973,DupreesstarhadrisenenoughforAtlantictoofferhimasolorecorddeal.Hisdebut,
Teasin,isrifewithsoulfulbluesexcursionsandsignatureDupreedoublestops.Throughthe70s,
DupreealsoplayedlivegigsaroundNewYorkCitywithlongtimefriendandbassistGordonEdwards
grouptheEncyclopediaofSoul.EdwardsechoesWexlersassessmentofDupreesabilitytocover
multiplechairs.Pianoswereroughinthosedays,mostofthetimehalfthekeysweregoneandif
theywerenttheywereoutoftune.WithCornell,Icouldfirethepianoplayerbecauseheplayed

chordsandmelodyatthesametime,saysthebassist.
TheEncyclopediaofSoulevolvedintoasessionplayersupergroupcalledStuffthatconsistedof
Dupree,EricGale,pianistRichardTee,anddrummersSteveGaddand/orChrisParker.Aregulargig
ataManhattanclubcalledMikellsallowedthememberstokeepbusyinthestudiosduringtheday.
Weplayedonstagejustlikeweplayedbehindtheartists,saysEdwards.Ifwelaiddownagroove
inbarone,bybar955wewerestillplayingthatsamegroove.

AsnapshotofDupreeatasessioninthe1970s.PhotocourtesyofGordonEdwards
ThebandwassignedbyWarnerBrothersandreleasedsixrecordsforthelabel.Thoughit
occasionallysoundedliketheywerevampinguntilthesingerentered,musiciansappreciatedthe
recordsasamasterclassinsoulfulbandinteraction.Weneversteppedoneachotherstoes,
recallsEdwards.Itwaslikeapoliteconversation.In2008,aDVDofa1976Montreuxgigwas
released,offeringacloseuplookatthismonstergroovemachinetothosewhomissedthemintheir
heyday.
Stuffsbreakupin1982coincidedwithadipinNewYorksessionwork,whichpromptedamoveto
BeverlyHills.TheLosAngelessceneprovedhardtocrack,butDupreeeventuallylandedagig
backingBonnieRaitt,aswellasachancetocutthethemetoTheCosbyShow.Withmorework
comingfromNewYorkthanLosAngeles,Dupreemovedbackin1985,wherehediddateswithjazz
musiciansincludingHankCrawfordandMichaelFranks,andvocalistLouRawls.


Dupreepicksanearly60sGuildStarfireIIIwithtwoDeArmondsinglecoilsandaBigsbyB6tremolo
ashesharesthemicwithKingCurtisata1966recordreleasepartyforPercySledge.Photoby
WilliamPoPsieRandolph
Inthelatterpartofhiscareer,Dupreefocusedonliveperformancewithvariousgroups.Liveworkin
EuropeandJapankepthimbusythrough2010,andheplayedhislastgigatNewYorksIridiumclub
onSeptember26th,2010,atwhichtimehewassufferingfromchronicemphysema.Dupreedecided
toreturnoncemoretoTexastoworkonhislastsolorecord,butoncehewastherehishealth
steadilydeterioratedandhediedMay8,2011,attheageof68.
MusicalImmortality
CornellDupreesnamemayneverspreadmuchfartherthanaselectcadreofmusiciansandliner
noteaficionados,butthereisnodoubthiscombinationofLoneStargritandBigApplesophistication
willcontinuetobewidelyenjoyedasthehitrecordshehelpedmakeareplayedinwhateverform
inperpetuity.
HallmarksofDupreesStyle
For35years,CornellDupreemadehisnameinrecordingstudiosonthestrengthofhisabilitytolay
downtrackscombiningrocksolidrhythmwithperfectfills.Whethersoloingorcomping,Duprees
rightutilizedauniquehybridpickingstylewhereadownstrokeoftenalternatedwithupstrokebrushes
ofthepickinghandfingers.CheckoutArethaFranklinsversionoftheCaroleKingtuneOhNoNot
MyBabyfromher1970albumSpiritintheDark(itsonYouTube)youcanhearhowmuchofJimi
HendrixsrhythmstyleisessentiallyDupreeon10nosurprisegivenhowtheplayersevolved
together,oftendiscussingmutualinfluenceslikeCurtisMayfieldandAlbertKing.

Hecanmakeaguitartalk,isaphrasethathasbeenappliedtoanumberofplayersthroughthe
years,includingDupree.Thoughheprimarilyplayedrhythmguitaronthehits,onhisownrecords
orsessionswhereasoloormelodywascalledforhedisplayedavocalliketoneandphrasing.That
hesupportedsomanygreatsingersoftheeraisprobablynotacoincidence.
BelowaretwofiguresthatillustratethequintessentialCornellDupreestylings.
Fig.1echoesthetypeofparallelfourthsthatgraceBrookBentonsRainyNightinGeorgia.Theyre
overaGchordhere,buttheycanbeemployedoverCmaj7andDmajorchords,aswell.Inthelast
measure,weusealittleslightofhandbyonlystrikingtheDonbeatoneandtheAonbeattwoand
slidingintothefinaldoublestop.

Fig.2illustratesthetypesofparallelsixthfillsDupreelikedtoplayinbothR&Bandcountrytunes.In
thefirstmeasurewestaywithinthediatonicscaleexceptfortheEbontheandofbeatthree.This
chromaticmovesetsuptheimpliedG7sound(FandD)togiveitabluesyfeel.

WatchCornellplaywithStuff'sRichardTeeandbassistWillLeeinthis1992video: