Big Joe Duskin (February 10, 1921 – May 6,
2007) was an American blues and boogie-woogie pianist. He is best known for
his debut album, Cincinnati Stomp (1978), and the tracks 'Well, Well Baby'
and 'I Met a Girl Named Martha'.
Born Joseph L. Duskin in Birmingham, Alabama, by the age of seven he had
started playing piano. He played in church, accompanying his preacher
father, the Rev. Perry Duskin. His family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and
Duskin was raised near to the Union Terminal train station where his father
worked. On his local radio station, WLW, Duskin heard his hero Fats Waller
play. He was also inspired to play in a boogie-woogie style by Pete
Johnson's, '627 Stomp'.
In his younger days Duskin performed in clubs in Cincinnati and across the
river in Newport, Kentucky. While serving in the US Army in World War II, he
continued to play and, in entertaining the US forces, met his idols Johnson,
Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis.
After his military service ended, Duskin's father made him promise to stop
playing while the elder Duskin was still alive. However, Rev. Duskin lived
to the age of 105, and Joe found alternative employment as a police officer
and a postal worker. Therefore Duskin, effectively in the middle of his
career, never played a keyboard for sixteen years.
With the encouragement of a blues historian, Steven C. Tracy, by the early
1970s Duskin had began playing the piano at festivals in the US and across
Europe. By 1978, and with the reputation for his concert playing now
growing, his first recording, Cincinnati Stomp, was released on Arhoolie
Records. The album contained Duskin's cover version of the track, 'Down the
Road a Piece'.
He subsequently toured both Austria and Germany, and in 1987 made his
inaugural visit to the UK. The same year his part in John Jeremy's film,
Boogie Woogie Special, recorded for The South Bank Show, increased Duskin's
profile. In 1988, accompanied by the guitar-playing Dave Peabody, Duskin
recorded his second album, Don't Mess with the Boogie Man. In the following
decade, Duskin performed at both the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
and the Chicago Blues Festival.
His touring in Europe continued before he recorded his final album at the
Quai du Blues in Neuilly, France. Several Duskin albums were issued on
European labels in the 1980s and 1990s. It was 2004 before Big Joe Jumps
Again! (Yellow Dog Records) became his second US-based release, and his
first studio recording for sixteen years. It featured Phillip Paul (drums),
Ed Conley (bass), and Peter Frampton on guitar.
Duskin was presented with a key to the city in 2004 by the Mayor of
Cincinnati. The following year he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship
by the Ohio Arts Council.
Suffering from the effects of diabetes, Duskin was on the eve of having legs
amputated, when he died in May 2007, at the age of 86. The Ohio based Big
Joe Duskin Music Education Foundation keeps his musical ideals alive by
producing in-school music presentations for public school children.