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Feature Thu Mar 01 2007

Ghost Kings Alive and Kicking in Chicago

When asked to describe his music, David "Chainsaw" Dupont offers an old Southern saying to explain the inexplicable. "We just shimmy up the tree a little without going too much out on a limb — you can't pinpoint the feelings," he says over the phone, right before he's about to perform with his band at Lee's Unleaded Blues nightclub, 7401 S. South Chicago. The 50-year-old lifelong bluesman tells me that Lee's is a "the real thing — one of the best juke joints in Chicago." In his opinion, most of what claims to be blues in Chicago is really not. "Most guys cover blues songs," he notes. "Very few people are doing original work." Doing original work is Dupont's specialty.

You might have heard of alt-country, welcome to the land of alt-blues — distinctly rooted in the three-chord patterns of the blues (unlike the 12-bar style you're likely to hear in the blues tourist circuit), mixed up with other strains of music. It all depends on the current moment for Dupont, who incorporates the various children of the blues — rock, R&B, jazz, rockabilly and soul into his music. "What we do, it's a hybrid of different styles of blues," notes Dupont. His new album, The Ghost Kings of Beale Street, due to release March 8th, is influenced, in part, by the sound of Memphis blues — plenty of horns that gives it a rockabilly punch, as well as some jazz and R&B — a blues-rock-soul interpretation.

03012007_chainsaw1.jpgRecorded at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, where ghosts like Elvis, Jerry Lee and Johnny made their mark, this is Dupont's third album in a blues trilogy, highlighting the blues in three American cities — Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis. Lake Street Lullaby (2003), is Chicago-style blues, with the melancholy, catatonic, five-note scale style indigenous to the Windy City covering the theme of disappointment; Bourbon Street Breakdown (2005), which is straight-up New Orleans blues — delving into the theme of addiction, with the Caribbean-sounding influence of that region; and the Memphis-style blues — rock and R&B — on Ghost Kings is about redemption. "It's a very personal record," says Steve Pasek, Dupont's manager and the producer of the trilogy series, who also co-wrote some of the lyrics on Ghost Kings. "It's hopeful, it's about the renewal of faith." The transition from disappointment to renewal is partly the autobiographical story of Dupont.

Born in Macomb, Mississippi, David Dupont — nicknamed Chainsaw because a guitar is like an ax. And as he explains, "It takes a long time to chop down a tree with an ax." — grew up on the Mississippi Delta — the cradle of the blues. His mother, a piano teacher taught by Fats Domino, gave him a guitar for his 5th birthday — a gift that sparked off the first inspiration to follow his life's calling.

"What makes my music authentic is the experience of living the life of a blues man," explains Dupont. Working the cotton fields, for one. Growing up in a juke joint is another. Being surrounded by musicians is another factor that shaped the particular blues pedigree of Dupont. At the age of 6 and 7 Dupont used to watch the Sausage Brothers — Bob and Sun Sausage, guests at his mother's juke joint — perform. "I would sit at their feet and watch them play — they were an inspiration to me." Dupont started performing at age 15, right after he moved to Chicago after his mother died in a car accident, taking a job his older brother Johnny got for him. In Chicago Dupont found plenty of opportunity — "here you could play every night of the week if you wanted to." He also formed a cover band called the Drifting Soul. Shortly thereafter he dropped out of high school to play music full time.

03012007_chainsaw3.jpg

The next chapter of Dupont's life takes place in New Orleans, Memphis and Houston, as Dupont wandered from city to city, from gig to gig. Another life-transcending inspiration came in the form of Stevie Ray Vaughn, whom Dupont met in New Orleans in 1983. At the time, Dupont was homeless, at a low point in his life. Vaughn gave him the opportunity to jam with him, and thus began Dupont's true blues career — colored by the influence of Vaughn's superior skills in electric blues guitar. When Vaughn died Dupont was deeply saddened. "I didn't feel like playing, but I felt the spirit — from his death — to keep going, to not give up."

He ended up back up North in Evanston in the mid-'80s and has been based here ever since. Another milestone for Dupont was touring as a guitarist with Chicago blues legend Junior Wells in the '90s.

The album Ghost Kings is passionate and soulful, with heartfelt lyrics that celebrate the experience of the blues life — the ubiquitous presence of women, of course, among other things. "Women give you the blues," says Dupont, with an easy laugh. On the track, "When it's Sweet-Slow Blues" Dupont sings about the mystery of women, dedicated to wife No. 3 (to whom he's been married for 13 years), or was it wife No. 2? "I sat up all night wondering baby / trying to figure out how you feel/ I sat up all night long, baby / trying to figure out how you feel / But after all these years of lovin' you, darlin, I should have known your sweet love was real."

When listening to Ghost Kings, it's not only the lyrics that grab you, but the killer guitar sound of Dupont — Chainsaw is an apt name — that lends the music a sound wholly unexpected from the sad stuff one typically associates with the blues. This is blues on fire — the combination of blues meshed with rock-n-roll — à la Stevie Ray Vaughn — that makes this music so appealing. "The album is interesting for people who think they don't like the blues because it doesn't sound like what most people think the blues is," observes Pasek.

50 years old and still going strong, Chainsaw Dupont's alt-blues is rich with the musical influences of the three American blues cities — Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis, and seamlessly blends in other sounds that are very much a part of the blues tapestry. "I try to take blues to another level — I try to raise the bar, instead of the same old thing over and over. Like Muddy Waters, I'm trying to be an innovator."

The kickoff CD release party for The Ghost Kings of Beale Street takes place at 8:30pm on March 8th at Fitzgerald's, 6615 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Berwyn. 708-788-2118. For the full calendar listing of CD-release party dates, check the website, ChainsawDupont.com.

[mp3]: Chainsaw Dupont, "Five Foot Two" live

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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