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Hallmarks of Dupree’s Style
For 35 years, Cornell Dupree made his name in recording studios on the strength of his ability to lay down tracks combining rock-solid rhythm with perfect fills. Whether soloing or comping, Dupree’s right utilized a unique hybrid picking style where a downstroke often alternated with upstroke brushes of the picking-hand fingers. Check out Aretha Franklin’s version of the Carole King tune “Oh No Not My Baby” from her 1970 album Spirit in the Dark (it’s on YouTube)—you can hear how much of Jimi Hendrix’s rhythm style is essentially “Dupree on 10”—no surprise given how the players evolved together, often discussing mutual influences like Curtis Mayfield and Albert King.
“He can make a guitar talk,” is a phrase that has been applied to a number of players through the years, including Dupree. Though he primarily played rhythm guitar on the hits, on his own records—or sessions where a solo or melody was called for—he displayed a vocal-like tone and phrasing. That he supported so many great singers of the era is probably not a coincidence.
Below are two figures that illustrate the quintessential Cornell Dupree stylings.
Fig. 1 echoes the type of parallel fourths that grace Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia.” They’re over a G chord here, but they can be employed over Cmaj7 and D major chords, as well. In the last measure, we use a little slight-of-hand by only striking the D on beat one and the A on beat two and sliding into the final double stop.
Fig. 2 illustrates the types of parallel-sixth fills Dupree liked to play in both R&B and country tunes. In the first measure we stay within the diatonic scale except for the Eb on the “and” of beat three. This chromatic move sets up the implied G7 sound (F and D) to give it a bluesy feel.
Watch Cornell play with Stuff's Richard Tee and bassist Will Lee in this 1992 video: