In a lifetime that spanned over 80 years and a recording career that spanned nearly 50 of those years, the great New Orleans blueman Champion Jack Dupree made a lot of records. On his best form Jack had few equals, whether doing barrelhouse blues and ragtime, or just trying to keep abreast of current trends in R&B. Regular trips to the UK during the late 50s and early 1960s seemed to galvanize Jack into producing some of the best work of his career, his albums for UK Decca proving to be especially noteworthy thanks to the production work of Decca staff producer and Dupree fan Mike Vernon and the musicians he employed to back Jack (among them John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Keef Hartley and a youngster from up Grimsby way called Tony McPhee, whom Vernon rechristened "TS").
As well as working for Decca, Vernon also ran his fledgling Purdah and Blue Horizon labels, releasing recordings that he made which had not enough commercial appeal for Decca to want to release themselves. Vernon would often instigate sessions that paired unlikely musical bedfellows in unique situations, such as longtime Howling Wolf associate Hubert Sumlin and renowned blues writer Neil Slaven in a guitar duet. While recording Dupree in his traditional surroundings, it also occurred to Mike that a session featuring just his voice and suitably sympathetic guitar accompaniment might appeal to the ever growing UK blues fanbase. Noting that Jack Dupree and Tony McPhee enjoyed a mutual empathy, he booked some time at a small studio in North London in early 1967 and let the pair run though enough largely improvised repertoire to fill a whole album, with a few extra tracks for possible singles or an EP.
As good as the results were, Mike could find no takers for the project. For many years, the tape of what was recorded on that spring day in 1967 sat on a shelf in its producer's tape library. Mike had pulled two tracks for a limited edition, contemporaneous Blue Horizon 45 that those of you who own one of the 99 pressed copies probably still treasure. When he was compiling the Blue Horizon boxed set for Sony/Columbia around a decade ago, Mike slipped a further tantalizing track onto one of the CDs. But for the world at large, the complete Dupree & McPhee session has been little more than a listing in Blues Records for the best part of nearly four decades, and a hugely interesting musical experiment that virtually no one, outside of those who were present at the session, has ever heard until now.
When Ace was buying a selection of tapes from Mike, he asked us if we'd be interested in buying this unique '67 session, warning us that there wasn't really enough to make up a full-price CD, but assuring us that what there was, was very good indeed with both participants in top form throughout. Mike was right on all counts. There are only 17 tracks, but all are really great.
Unless someone can tell me differently, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that these tracks represent the only recordings of Champion Jack Dupree which feature him backed by just a solo guitar accompaniment. And what accompaniment Tony McPhee provides throughout! His stellar and beautifully-recorded picking on this session serves as a reminder of just why, at this time in particular, he was usually regarded as the equal of the Claptons and the Greens of the world, and often as their superior. Tony McPhee was always totally sensitive to the requirements of Jack Dupree, who regarded the younger man as being better than any of his Amercan peers and who worked with him whenver the opportunity arose. How well the two men complemented each other is apparent from the very first note of music here to the very last.
Jack Dupree moved to England not too long after this session was committed to tape, spending almost two decades living in Halifax, Yorkshire before moving to mainland Europe to live out his final years. During that time both he and Tony became musical icons; Dupree as one of the elder statesmen of classic blues and McPhee via his work with various line-ups of the Groundhogs that have continued to this day. Whatever else both men achieved (and in Tony's case, continue to achieve) in their recording careers, few of their susbsequent sessions remain as refreshing and satisfying as the music they made in North London on that day in 1967.