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Cornell Dupree 1942-2011…

11 May , 2011,
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Cornell Dupree 1942-2011

Cornell Dupree certainly isn’t a name I’d just remember. That’s one of the things about being a session musician–everyone knows your work, no one knows your name.

At age 69, Cornell Dupree just kicked the bucket. He had a long career in the music business, and it doesn’t seem like he ever had to look for work. The rhythm-and-blues guitarist who played on so many recordings by artists like Aretha Franklin, Joe Cocker, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt and Mariah Carey, died May 8 at his home in Fort Worth. He had emphysema and was awaiting a lung transplant.

As a mainstay of New York recording studios, Cornell Dupree’s career spanned more than four decades and, by his estimation, nearly 2,500 albums.

Cornell Dupree–just the right notes in just the right places

It is reported that Cornell Dupree was one of those sessions guys who would play crucial notes, riffs and hooks at just the right times, giving the music his own mark, while not minding that he was being overshadowed by a main performer. Writer and guitarist Josh Alan Friedman called Mr. Dupree “the ultimate unshowoff.”

Some of his “prettiest” guitar lines colored one of the most melancholy — and sentimental — songs in rhythm and blues, Brook Benton’s 1970 recording of “Rainy Night in Georgia.”

It was Cornell Dupree’s guitar which engaged Aretha Franklin in a bluesy conversation on her 1967 recording of “Respect”. Dupree helped take saxophonist King Curtis to church on the 1964 recording of the gospel-flavored ballad “Soul Serenade” and later laid a rhythmic foundation for Mariah Carey’s 1991 hit “Emotions.”

“It was our practice to use three or even more guitarists on a record session,” said Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler in the liner notes to Dupree’s 1995 album, “Bop’n’Blues.”

“Time and again what we would get into was a hellacious mess as the three guitarists got in each other’s way,” said Wexler. “And so when Cornell Dupree, the pride of Fort Worth, came to our rescue, it was bye-bye to multiple guitarists because — miraculously, it seemed to me — one man playing rhythm and lead at the same time took the place of three.”

Cornell Luther Dupree was born in Fort Worth on December 19, 1942. When he was 14, Depree was inspired to learn guitar after seeing a performance by bluesman Johnny “Guitar” Watson and soon started sitting in with older R&B musicians. In 1961, he was recruited to New York by King Curtis.  Curtis, in-demand as a session player, brought Dupree into the highly competitive New York studio scene with his band the Kingpins.

Cornell Dupree–Busy Guy

After the success of Franklin’s “Respect,” Dupree often found himself in the studio 10 hours a day, six days a week. The Kingpins also backed Franklin on the road.

In the 1970s, he toured with the funk band Stuff, an all-star group that included drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Eric Gale and keyboardist Richard Tee. Though Stuff’s albums proved immensely popular in Japan and Europe, the online All Music Guide noted that the band — all studio musicians — sometimes sounded “as if they were waiting for the main soloist to show up.”

In later years, Cornell Dupree performed with the Soul Survivors, a group whose rotating personnel included such leading jazz lights as pianist Les McCann, organist Lonnie Smith and bassist Chuck Rainey.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Erma Kindles Dupree of Fort Worth; three children, James C. Dupree and Celestine Allan, both of Dallas, and Cornell L. Dupree III of Fort Worth; and nine grandchildren.

The guitarist recorded his 10th solo album in April even as he struggled with his illness. During a January performance in Austin, he had to be carried in a chair up a flight of stairs to the stage.

“I’m about a feeling,” Mr. Dupree once told the Houston Chronicle. “And playing the right thing at the right time.”

I didn’t even know Dupree’s name until he was already dead

So, I didn’t even know who Cornell Depree was until he had died. In many ways, that sucks. Like I imagine so many of us have, I’ve known Dupree’s work my entire life. I guess I wish I had known his name while he was alive.

I’m sorry for his friends, family and fans that Cornell Dupree died.

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Tell Us What YouThink

  • Tanya

    Do not be sorry… He left an undeniable carving in the music industry… seems to me he led a very fulfilling life. No one can ask for more than that.

  • June Millington

    a giant, a kind man and a mighty, mighty influence on me.
    June Millington