Boyd Lee Dunlop was born in 1926 in Winston Salem, NC. Music brought him to Buffalo, NY as a child. His family followed his aunt who had taken a job as a violinist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Dunlop’s first piano was found outside his house on the corner, discarded with only half the keys working. As Dunlop remembers, “I asked my mother if I could bring it into the house. She refused but arranged for a friend to build a shed for it outside. I thought it would be easy for me to play. If I could see the notes, I could play. What can I say, a year later we bought a piano, and here I am.”
Dunlop gave his younger brother, Frankie, his first drum lesson. “We used the thin wood from the back of a chair as our sticks.” Younger brother Frankie went on to find fame as a drummer, playing with Thelonious Monk and recording nearly one hundred sides during his career.
Boyd Lee Dunlop’s trajectory followed a different course. Until now he could be found only on one record, a blowsy rhythm and blues session from the late 50’s by Big Jay McNeely. For years Dunlop worked in Buffalo’s steel mills and rail yards, yet his calling was the piano and he played in the clubs around Buffalo, including the storied Colored Musicians Club.
And so, for nearly eighty years, Dunlop has been a live musician. Then, at age eight-five, He stepped into a recording studio in Buffalo, NY, with Sabu Adeyola on bass and Virgil Day on drums and, finally, recorded an album of his own.
Boyd’s Blues was born of a chance encounter between Dunlop and photographer Brendan Bannon. As Bannon explains it: “I went to Delaware Nursing Home to speak to a doctor about a photography project. In the chair next to me, just back from a walk, sat Boyd Lee. ‘You here to
see someone?’ he asked. ‘I think I’m here to see everyone.’ ‘You a doctor?’ ‘Photographer.’ ‘Yeah? I'm a musician.’”
Bannon started recording Dunlop on the broken-down, out-of-tune piano in the nursing home. Hearing himself play, Dunlop told Bannon that he’d like to make a record. After hearing some of these first recordings, producer Allen Farmelo flew into town and the record was made in one day-long session on a snowy winter day.
After the session Dunlop said “I waited my whole life for this day and I was gonna do it if it killed me,”
Now it’s Dunlop’s turn to be heard.
When you hear Dunlop play, you know there’s a lot to his story, and a lot of it is missing. And that great mystery comes out in the music presented here, and forces us to wonder about all those notes that Dunlop played, live, unrecorded, over eighty years. But, to everyone’s good fortune, his passion and inventiveness are finally captured on Boyd’s Blues, and these notes will continue to ring out, over and over, as many times as we play this record.
A smidgen of Art Tatum here, and a dash of Bud Powell there, hints of Jaki Byard sprinkled on top, sometimes in the space of one song. But where Tatum and Powell often spearheaded their songs with lightning fills and the elaborate technical prowess youth will cling to, Dunlop lays back in a pocket of blues, deftly knowing when to slow the pace, shifting from standards, to improvised embellishment, to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and into his own distinctive phrases, without waking the stream.
This is Dunlop’s hand tuned to the bible of sound. It swings with a divine cadence. These songs are part of Boyd Lee Dunlop like they were always there with him. Like they will always be with him. This is the sound of long marinated dreams, and the noise that follows is a beautiful noise. Let it wash over you.
- Hank Cherry
PIANO – BOYD LEE DUNLOP
BASS – SABU ADEYOLA
DRUMS – VIRGIL DAY
Executive Producer and Photographer, Brendan Bannon
Produced by Allen Farmelo
Engineered by Jim Calabrese at Sound Scape, Buffalo, NY
Mixed by Allen Farmelo at The Farm, NYC
Mastered By Jessica Thompson at The Magic Shop, NYC
Design by Betsy Frazer of FRAZER/MONTAGUE DESIGN
Boyd's Mellow Blues (07:41)
Boyd's Bowed Blues (03:32)
Boyd's Swinging Blues (04:51)
Boyd's Solo Flight (05:04)
Boyd's Place (05:44)
St. James Infirmary Blues (07:34)
Boyd's "Funky " Blues (06:02)
Boyd's Epic Journey (13:34)
Boyd's End of the Day Blues (04:46)