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Recommendations from Rainey and guitarist Eric Gale—who would later become Dupree’s bandmate in the jazz-funk band Stuff—brought Dupree a steady stream of session work in New York. More fortuitously, Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, who had first met Dupree at a live recording date at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in 1965, was soon using the guitarist on sessions in New York, Miami, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the liner notes to Dupree’s 1994 solo album, Bop ’n’ Blues’, Wexler described what made him so valuable in the studio: “It was our practice to use three or even more guitarists on a record session. Time and again what we would get into was a hellacious mess as the three guitarists got in each other’s way,’’ said Wexler. “So when 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.’’
Dupree’s big breakthrough came in 1969, with a session he did for another Atlantic producer, Arif Mardin, in 1969. He backed Brook Benton on the Tony Joe White tune “Rainy Night in Georgia,” and the flowing, parallel-fourth double-stops and sliding-sixth fills he’d played on the hit had his phone ringing off the hook.
By 1971, videos show that Dupree had started playing a Fender Telecaster to help him cut through dense live and recorded mixes. The pickguard had been removed, and the screw holes had been filled with large metal bolts that gave it a studded appearance. It also had a Gretsch-style DeArmond pickup between the neck and bridge pickups. An additional control plate under the original appears to have held an extra knob and switch, no doubt to control the middle pickup.
Dupree eventually collaborated with Yamaha and began playing a Tele-style instrument that was marketed as the Cornell Dupree model. And with a humbucker in the neck position, a single-coil-sized blade humbucker in the middle, and a Tele-style bridge pickup it was a versatile machine. Toward the end of his career, Dupree was seen primarily with Yamaha Pacifica Tele-style instruments.
The ’70s and ’80s saw two decades of constant session work with some of the biggest names in the business including Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Donny Hathaway, and Mariah Carey. But he wasn’t just playing for commercially successful vocalists. He also tracked sessions with heavyweight jazz artists such as David “Fathead” Newman, Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann, Grover Washington Jr., Billy Cobham, and Sonny Stitt. And his rock and pop gigs included stints with Joe Cocker, Ian Hunter, and Carly Simon.