True Grit

A while ago, a friend sent me this fantastic footage on YouTube of organist Brother Jack McDuff at the Antibes Festival in France in 1964. At the time, Jack McDuff’s quartet consisted of tenor saxophonist Red Holloway, guitarist George Benson and drummer Joe Dukes. (Read the recent review of The Soulful Drums Of Joe Dukes here)

The popular organists of the sixties, like Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff were both true entertainers and true musicians. They entertained but not with cheap tricks. If you played with cats like that, you had to have game. In his autobiography, George Benson tells a number of exciting and insightful stories about his time with McDuff.

Benson joined McDuff in 1963. It was his first break. Benson was still basically an r&b guitarist, dreaming of the high standard of his predecessors in McDuff’s group, Grant Green, Eddie Diehl and Kenny Burrell, but as McDuff would soon acknowledge, a ‘baaaaaad’ picker. Benson slowly but surely developed into a jazz player, absorbing the music of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers on the road, who traveled the same circuit. Plenty time to learn, because McDuff’s quartet was playing nightly for two years time around the East Coast and Mid-West.

By 1964, the group fired on all cylinders. McDuff and Joe Dukes were excellent teachers but tough customers. McDuff regularly shouted obscenities to Benson on stage, ‘if he had just the right (or wrong) amount of booze or weed.’ Joe Dukes, ‘such a magnificent drummer that there were times I thought he was one of the greatest things that ever happened to mankind’ was especially hard on the 19-year old prodigy, who alledgedly picked up too many girls for the taste of the envious drummer.

“Finally, after a particularly nasty rant, I snapped: ‘If y’all don’t lay off, I’m gonna take y’all outside and beat y’all old men up! I’m nineteen years old! Y’all can’t take me! We’re going out in the alley, right now! McDuff and Dukes just stared at me for a second, then they both pulled out switchblades. But that didn’t stop me: “I don’t care! Y’all don’t scare me! Bring your switchblades into the alley! I’ll beat y’all up anyhow!” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed: nobody went into the alley, and nobody got beaten up. But it got them off my back.”

“In retrospect, I’m glad they stayed on my back; granted, their methods were barbaric, but for the most part, it was about making me a better musician so we’d be a better band.”

Nice story. Great music.

Joe Dukes - Soulful Drums

Joe Dukes The Soulful Drums Of Joe Dukes (Prestige 1964)

Joe Dukes is one of the quintessential organ combo drummers in the history of jazz. A master of the greasy, syncopated backbeat, Dukes was a precursor to many of today’s top-notch drummers like Steve Jordan, who owe debt to Dukes when they get down to the nitty-gritty of jazz funk drumming.

Joe Dukes - Soulful Drums


Joe Dukes (drums), Brother Jack McDuff (organ), Red Holloway (tenor saxophone), George Benson (drums)


on May 14, 1964 in NYC


as PR 7324 in 1964

Track listing

Side A
Soulful Drums
Two Bass Hit
Greasy Drums
Side B
Moohah The DJ
Moanin’ Bench
My Three Sons

Dukes was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He spent the major part of his career in organist Jack McDuff’s quartet. It included the new brilliant kid on the block George Benson and smoky tenorist Red Holloway and is, arguably, McDuff’s hottest group of all time. Prestige boss Bob Weinstock was equally impressed. Weinstock and McDuff agreed on granting each member a leadership date. Red Holloway’s Cookin’ Together and George Benson’s The New Boss Guitar were followed by The Soulful Drums Of Joe Dukes. It’s the only album of Joe Dukes as a leader. There are no known recordings involving Dukes after 1970. Dukes passed away in 1992.

Dukes isn’t involved in an ego trip but instead limits himself to solo’s backed by the band. When displayed in basic, slow blues riffs like Soulful Drums and Moohah The DJ, these solo’s are more gutsy than suave and have a good groove. There’s a great moment at about three minutes into Soulful Drums, (listen here) when the quartet veirs into double time like a wild bunch of libertine torpedos.

The highlights of the album concern Dukes’ usual business of effective, hi-voltage group support. Dukes goes charmingly berserk on the uptempo, Afro-Cuban-ish My Three Sons. (Does tune scribler McDuff refer to His Three Beloved Bandmembers?) Everything a funky organ combo needs is laid out by Dukes: a ‘pocket’ of a rock solid hi-hat and bass kick as a touchstone for the organist and group; announcements of new solo’s and choruses and different tune sections by a variation of effective fills and turnarounds; and an inspired amount of pushing and pulling of the soloists. The great thing about Joe Dukes is that he not only displays elemental organ jazz drumming, but adds alluring extras like (Art Blakey-like) single-stroke rolls. Clearly, the man had jazz drum history running through his blood. In My Three Sons, George Benson’s quicksilver runs are crazy! At the start of his career, Benson is eager as a fox on the loose, trying to meaningfully incorporate all his fast-fingered blues chops in a jazz context.

Good organ jazz drumming usually suggests big band experience. I’m not sure if Dukes had played in big bands, but certainly Joe Dukes’ voicings and explosive style, locked in with McDuff’s big sound, bring forth a big band atmosphere with Dizzy Gillespie’s classic Two Bass Hit. Another highlight, Two Bass Hit’s stew pot boils over, while Benson and McDuff subsequently contribute cracklin’ and sharp-as-a-tack solo’s. Greasy Drums (listen here) is a fine groove jam. Moanin’ Bench is pure, slow-dragging gospel-soul, a Ray Charles-Atlantic-era type of thing. Brother McDuff sermonizes with obvious authority.

Joe Dukes’ art of organ jazz drumming can be found on numerous McDuff albums. Live! (Prestige, 1963) and Hot Barbecue (Prestige, 1965) are essential. Dukes also recorded with Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Lonnie Smith. Smith’s Live At Club Mozambique (Blue Note, 1970/1995) is another album on which Dukes is particularly stunning. Note on the liner notes of The Soulful Drums: isn’t it a bit weird that, on an album dedicated to the group’s drummer, most of the back cover info deals with the career history of Brother Jack McDuff? Assumingly, listeners would’ve liked to hear more about the relatively unknown Joe Dukes. I would’ve liked to have more biographical info!

That said, praised be Weinstock for providing us with Dukes’ delicious, greasy organ jazz goody.


“Brother” Jack McDuff Hot Barbecue (Prestige 1964)

I once saw Hot Barbecue, the 1965 album of popular organist “Brother” Jack McDuff, recommended as perfectly suitable as background music for a BBQ party. It wasn’t a joke. I thought it was hilarious.



“Brother Jack McDuff (organ), George Benson (guitar), Red Holloway (tenor sax), Joe Dukes (drums)


October 19, 1965


as PR 7422 in 1965

Track listing

Side A:
Hot Barbecue
The Party’s Over
Briar Patch
Hippy Dip
Side B:
601 ½ North Popular
Cry Me A River
The Three Day Thang

Admittedly, Hot Barbecue is a party record. Try standing still in front of the grill. Virtually impossible. And that’s cool; indeed, the so-called BBQ-factor, or should we say danceability, is a profound aspect of jazz. On closer inspection, moreover, one cannot help but stumble upon a related, underlying level of profound meaning of the soul jazz McDuff brings: the fact that it is part of, and creates, a communal experience.

Something of a ‘working class hero of soul jazz’, Jack McDuff was always specifically intent on entertaining audience and listeners. Deeply rooted in both secular entertainment (profanity included) and church morals – that peculiar mix that lies at the heart of black culture – McDuff was the kind of guy who is firmly part of the community; as the record cover shows, tastin’ that spicey ribs just like fellows on the ball. His exciting live performances were ‘gefundenes fressen’ for folks to let their hair down after a tough working day and as such dealt with the connection between music and everyday life, between artist and community. His records often touched a nerve. And consequently sold really well.

Hot Barbecue swings all the way through. After the kickstart of the uplifting, riotious title track, that’s quite a feat. The group gets into the groove with a rollicking drum pattern that tastefully combinates snare and toms and an organ and guitar rhythm accent on the second and fourth bar. Sandwiched between the recurring, contagious theme that is topped off with happy, unpolished and joyful shouts of the group – “Hot Barbecue Today!” – are short and swift solo’s by McDuff, Benson and Holloway.

Not easy to top. Yet the set of concise soul jazz outings that follow maintain the same excitement; burners resplendent with affective themes, stop choruses and ‘screaming’ organ fills by McDuff such as 601 ½ North Popular, The Three Day Thang and Briar Patch alternate with the medium-tempo, frisky ditty Hippy Dip. McDuff also transforms two standards into soul jazz staples utilising a cleaner, sharp organ sound – The Party’s Over and Cry Me A River. The latter is the ‘churchiest’ of the set. Through McDuff’s carefully crafted storytelling the tension grows and the high spirits of a congregation are invoked.

For bringing this kind of sizzling stuff, McDuff happily relied on a group of soulful sidemen. The tag of ‘new man in town’ that George Benson, heir to the precursor in McDuff’s band Benson’d been so in awe of, Grant Green, wore, was worn off by now. On Benson’s fifth release with McDuff, the guitarist shows that his development from the cocky rock&roll-player in 1963 to one that delivers quicksilver jazz phrasing, using glissandos, pull-offs and such guitar trickery for added pleasure, was fulfilled. To be sure, in Benson’s style there’s brittle r&b abound. A highlight of his juicy amalgam of r&b and jazz on Hot Barbecue is The Three-Day Thang.

Both tenorist Red Holloway and drummer Joe Dukes, reliable constituents of McDuff’s entourage in the mid-sixties, cook up a spicey dish. Dukes tackles 601 ½ North Popular and Briar Patch as if he’s supporting Bill Haley and he might as well be! Besides incorporating the flair of rock&roll it should be obvious Dukes is also a very tasteful and smart drummer. His charming and sharp-as-a-razor way of embellishing the theme of Hippy Dip is but one example of Joe Dukes’ unforgettable, soulful style.

Hot Barbecue is a showcase for the hottest group of McDuff’s career. It involves an exciting, ‘screaming’ organ. It also involves sophistication and a fun atmosphere. As such, it doesn’t leave much to be desired.

Red Holloway - Red Soul

Red Holloway Red Soul (Prestige 1965)

Imagine side A of Rubber Soul being performed by the genuine Fab Four and side B as a new project of McCartney & Harrison supported by Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine. That would be a whole different ball game, right? Interesting, to say the least! Incoherent but fruitful, no doubt. Red Holloway’s Red Soul is a jazz equivalent of the ‘alternative’ Rubber Soul.

Red Holloway - Red Soul


Red Holloway (tenor saxophone), Lonnie Smith (organ A1-5), George Benson (guitar), Chuck Rainey (electric bass A1-5), Paul Breslin (bass B1-4), Ray Lucas (drums A1-5), Frank Severino (drums B1-4)


December 1965 in NYC


as PR7473 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Making Tracks
Movin’ On
Good & Groovy
Get It Together
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
A Tear In My Heart
Eagle Jaws
I’m All Packed
The Regulars

It uses two differing line-ups and as a consequence lacks a unified atmosphere. It has to be said, however, that both groups deliver two solid ‘mini-albums’. The organ combo of side A concentrates on the blues, expertly so, and avoids dead end streets by adding some delicate touches to the compositions. Making Tracks, for example, makes use of a chromatic descent in the eleventh and twelfth bar, creating a welcome tension. There’s rhythmic variation as well, as the funky blues beat of Movin’ On and the break-filled theme of Good & Groovy demonstrate.

Red Holloway shows his capability to carry such tunes. He’d been sharpening his razors in Brother Jack McDuff’s group for two years and a half years prior to recording Red Soul; McDuff (and drummer Joe Dukes) really pushed sidemen such as Holloway to the groovy limit. On this occasion, the combo is not so fiery; it’s excellent, but their sound is thin. Its atmosphere is identical to Lonnie Smith’s debut album Finger Lickin’ Good, that had George Benson (who of course had also been with McDuff) aboard as well, who on Red Soul seemingly off the cuff hands out more than a handful of bluesy goodies.

Side B is jazz of a different band and nature; only Benson remained. Its sound and style is interchangeable to that of the late fifties. That doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment. It consists of uptempo, swinging tunes driven by Holloway’s hard-edged but fluent tenor, yet it’s the lone ballad, A Tear In My Heart, that is the session’s centrepiece. Bordering on a ‘cri de coeur’ played by a man accustomed to romantic bankruptcy, Holloway’s suave yet solid tenor work is heartfelt. Holloway was around as a freshman in the late fourties and it’s heartening to hear that musicians like him transported the beauty of swing to the next decades.

Both groups on Red Soul have a nice enough rapport. In the album’s liner notes Red Holloway put across his intention of showing two sides of the Holloway coin. It created a bit of a mixed bag, but one filled with satisfying efforts.

YouTube: Good And Groovy