Guitarist Cornell Dupree dies

Was talented session player in jazz, R&B

Guitarist Cornell Dupree, one of the most prolific and talented session players in R&B and jazz, died May 8 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dupree was 68 and had recently been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Known as “Mr. 2500” (for the number of recording sessions on which he reputedly played) and “Uncle Funky,” Dupree established himself as a studio star at Atlantic Records in the ’60s. Over the years he cut freelance dates with Miles Davis, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Herbie Mann, James Brown and Jimmy Smith, to name just a handful of his most notable employers.

Born in Fort Worth, Dupree was initially an alto saxophonist but was inspired to pick up the guitar as a teen after seeing a local concert by Johnny “Guitar” Watson. A blues player, he branched into R&B at 19 when he joined saxophonist King Curtis’ band the Kingpins, where he played alongside the pre-stardom Jimi Hendrix.

With Curtis, Dupree became part of the nucleus of Atlantic’s New York house band, which included keyboardist Richard Tee and drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. He can be heard on Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” the celebrated “Live at the Fillmore West” albums recorded in 1971 by Curtis and Aretha Franklin and sets by such ’70s Atlantic stars as Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack. He was a member of Franklin’s touring band from 1967-76.

In 1976, Dupree became a founding member of the jazz-funk instrumental unit Stuff, which also included Tee and (in a later incarnation) drummer Steve Gadd. The unit cut half a dozen albums for Warner Bros. The guitarist later played with Gadd in a spinoff band, the Gadd Gang.

Beginning with “Teasin'” in 1974, he released 10 solo albums under his own name; his 1988 set “Coast to Coast” received a Grammy nomination. Some of his jazz-flavored work found him playing alongside such former Atlantic labelmates as David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford. An album he cut for Austin’s Dialtone Records is awaiting release.

He published an instructional book, “Rhythm & Blues Guitar,” in 2000.

Dupree’s survivors include wife Erma.

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