RIP BIG JOE DUSKIN, PAUL SEBRON & MARK CHENAULT
Greater Cincinnati and the rest of the world lost three very special people: BIG JOE DUSKIN (1921-2007) PAUL SEBRON a.k.a. MR. PIG (1953-2007) MARK CHENAULT some words from Ricky... These guys are three of the most unique characters I have ever known- to lose three good friends in a month is too much... Big Joe Duskin had a profound effect on me (as I will tell below)- I met Paul Sebron (Mr. Pig) about six years ago, referred to him to provide entertainment for a monthly crawfish boil he was organizing. Once it got going, I was with him for over four years, even playing at the wedding to his dear wife Chris, who carries on the business on W. Elder St. next to Findlay Market. His crawfish boils were legendary- Paul was responsible for bringing people from such varied backgrounds together over his food- the unifying factor. Plus he always sang after dinner- good blues he wrote (like "My Baby's Eveready") or improvised on the spot, plus his version of "Sweet Home Chicago", complete with a dissertation on Chicago neighborhoods, landmarks and his years in the windy city...the best was when he invited people to come up & "testify"- share a good story they had, or to give thanks (mostly about the food!)...Paul left this earth way too soon, and is a man that is dearly missed. Shortly upon moving back to Cincinnati in '79, I met Mark Chenault when he was working the door at a local club called Shipley's- he was someone I could talk to about free jazz, punk rock, blues, funk, soul, whatever- a real music (and life) enthusiast. About ten years later Mark worked the door at the Legendary Cory's blues club, where I played with probably my biggest musical mentor, the late Big Ed Thompson. Whenever Mark was in the house, I knew I had some ears to play to, and he always made me play good...Mark spent his own time in a variety of bands, but I think his main gig was that of an ambassador, spreading his energy & love to all- even though he is gone, he left lots of it here with his friends & loved ones.
I first met Big Joe Duskin in ’82, before I ever started to mess around with boogie woogie- that didn’t matter to Joe, he just knew I played piano, and that made us friends. Through the time I’ve known him he has always been very supportive of me, and of so many musicians. His playing and singing was loved by blues enthusiasts and fellow piano players all over the world- I can’t tell you how many times, upon encountering the European leaders in blues & boogie in my travels, their first words to me were “how’s Big Joe?” I treasure the times we played together, the many phone calls, running errands and especially meaningful were the times visiting Joe during his last year, when he was bedridden- I’d come in, turn on his keyboard and go at it, and Joe would lay in bed and sing his head off, improvising blues I’d never heard from him before. Because I loved Joe, it was inevitable that aspects of his style made their way into my playing- his album “Cincinnati Stomp” was a template for me to study boogie woogie, and I learned the title track to perform as homage to him. When he played a blues, he was on “Joe time”- the lazy tremolos, the space in his playing all added up to me. The message in his style also came as words of advice he gave one day- he said “Rick, take it from an old pro: don’t work so hard! Take your time, talk to the people- they like that.” I knew exactly what he was talking about, but I said “Joe, you have a commanding presence, a big booming voice, you’re a great storyteller...I’m just a little white guy- what am I supposed to do? If I start talking away, they’d just tell me to shut up & play!” And he laughed, which is something I really miss- his chuckling, and the sound of his laughter will always resound in my mind. Big Joe’s love of food is legendary- it mattered as much to him how you were fed at a gig as any other aspect of the show. If I called to relate tales of my travels, he’d always ask “how’d they feed you?” After Joe played a prestigious concert at Music Hall in Cincinnati, I called to see how things went- he said “Rick, it was so nice- they had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas...”-nothing was said of the performance! Once when visiting Joe in the hospital, he asked if I would go downstairs to the Burger King and get him a cheeseburger & french fries. When I asked if didn’t they have him on a particular diet, he said “hell with them- I’m going home tomorrow”. So I indulged him, and you would have thought he was eating the finest meal of his life...food was a big pleasure for Big Joe. His compromised health in the last years of his life did nothing to dampen his hope and spirit. Joe’s performance at his 84th birthday party was a perfect example of the transference of love from his fans right back at them- it was the last time he was truly on fire, playing and singing until he had nothing left to give. To see him hold court at the Arches Stage at the annual Cincy Blues Fest was always beautiful- his appreciation for the other pianists and their appreciation for him always resulted in a truly inspired and joyous set. I feel truly blessed to have had Joe as a friend and inspiration to me. Years ago, after he was in the hospital on a regular basis, I wondered when the day would come that Joe would leave this earth, and that day arrived- May 6th, 2007. Yet his spirit is alive and strong, in myself and every other musician he’s played with and encouraged. Whenever I play, especially now, I offer it up for him... God bless Big Joe Duskin.