Pianist, singer, and songwriter Big Joe Duskin got his start playing piano in church, accompanying his father's sermons with gospel hymns. He began playing piano at age seven, but the sounds of bluesmen passing through Cincinnati, OH, caught his ear and his imagination, and his life changed. Duskin was born February 10, 1921, in Birmingham, AL, the third youngest of 11 children. His father was a preacher who found steady work on the railroad and moved the family to Cincinnati. Duskin grew up not far from the Union Terminal train station where his father reported to work. Cincinnati, situated as it is on the Ohio River, was a bustling place in the 1930s and '40s, owing to plentiful jobs on the riverboats and the railroads.
As a teenager he became enamored with blues, and loved the recordings and live shows of people like Memphis Slim, Roosevelt Sykes, and Pete Johnson. His father, Rev. Perry Duskin, would catch his son playing "the Devil's music" on the piano from time to time and made young Joe promise to stop playing blues and boogie-woogie, at least while the elder Duskin was alive and kicking. Young Joe made that pact with his father as a teenager, knowing his father was then nearing 80, but Rev. Duskin lived to be 105, so young Joe wound up working as a police officer and a postal worker as opposed to a full-time bluesman.
Although he'd carved something of a reputation out locally on the strength of his live shows, Duskin didn't record for any labels until the late '70s. In the early '70s, at the prompting of a young blues historian, Steven C. Tracy, Duskin began playing piano again at festivals around the U.S. and Europe. His first recording, Cincinnati Stomp, was released in 1978 on Arhoolie Records. He recorded several other albums for European labels in the 1980s and '90s, but Big Joe Jumps Again! (2004) was only the second time Duskin recorded for a U.S. label. In the 1990s, he continued touring and performing with enthusiasm and played at the prestigious New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the Chicago Blues Festival.
Duskin passed away May 6, 2007, but his music and ideals remain alive through the Big Joe Duskin Music Education Foundation, based in Ohio. Duskin's recordings include the aforementioned Cincinnati Stomp, reissued on compact disc by Arhoolie; 1988's Don't Mess with the Boogie Man on Special Delivery Records; 1994's Blues Rendezvous on Back to Blues; 1997's Live at Dollar Bill's Saloon on Mirage Records; 1998's Down the Road a Piece on Wolf Records; and Live at Quai du Blues, released by the Austerlitz label in 2004.
Duskin's final recording would be the aforementioned Big Joe Jumps Again!, released by the Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records label in 2004, the same year the Mayor of Cincinnati declared July 31 to be "Big Joe Duskin Day" and the pianist was presented with a key to the city. The album, recorded in Cincinnati's Monfort Heights United Methodist Church, was his first studio recording in 16 years. Big Joe Jumps Again! is a superb recording that features the talents of some veteran sidemen, including Philip Paul on drums, bassist Ed Conley, and rock guitarist Peter Frampton, who moved to Cincinnati to be closer to his wife's family. Both the bassist and drummer were longtime King Records session musicians, and drummer Paul accompanied Wynonie Harris on "Good Rockin' Tonight," which some historians claim was the first rock record. ~ Richard Skelly
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