Authentic and fabulous Monica Dupont talks about her extraordinary career, Summer of Love and Blues

"Blues is a natural resource and what it needs to grow and thrive is energy and innovation. Leave the roots, but water the plant and it will grow new branches." 

Monica Dupont: Life Like A Fairy Tale

Legendary Blues singer/guitar player/songwriter, Monica Dupont started recording in 1961 at age 13. Her exceptional, original songs showcase her powerful, unique vocal style & the production is brilliant. Monica has had an extraordinary career. Her Blues years alone, found her leading bands including Johnny Heartsman, Luther Tucker, Mel Brown, Troyce Key, J.J. Malone, Tom McFarland, Johnny Nitro, California Slim and many others. She opened for Jimmy Witherspoon and Bill Graham given her a lifetime free pass to the Fillmore Auditorium.

Monica after a 25 year absence from music released the album "Life Goes On" (2008) with original songs showcase her powerful, unique vocal style and she is backed by an all star band. (Photo by Gary Novak)

She got to meet and become friends with Howlin’ Wolf and his band, Buddy Guy, A.C. Reed, Albert King, James Cotton, Booker T & the MGs, Paul Butterfield band, and J.B Hutto. She used to stay at Carlos Santana’s house, when he had just started The Santana Blues Band and jammed with him. Her best friend dated Elvin Bishop and she spent many evenings as the third wheel, taking taxis between the Fillmore and The Avalon Ballroom with them. She even went to Hollywood as guest of the Electric Flag when they recorded “A Long Time Comin”. Bugsy Maugh, called her, "Sunshine", Mike Bloomfield "Brigitte Bardot Jr." and best of all, Eric Clapton "The Big German".

    She married Bard Dupont in 1971 (bass player of The Great Society) and she continued to record and started her performing career with him at famous San Francisco club, “The Coffee Gallery”. The 1983 San Francisco Blues Festival, featuring Blues royalty, Willie Dixon, Albert King, Irma & Rufus Thomas and Monica. Monica moved to Hollywood and went on to be a seasoned Television writer and show host. She wrote screenplays, sitcoms, a miniseries about Ann Boleyn, 2 Milo King mysteries, a novel, “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve” a book of Art+Beat poetry, “Don’t Let That Whiskey Drink Your Dog” and then “Windows”, which sold exclusively at prestigious places like, The L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art and San Francisco’s City Lights book store. She can also be seen as “the blond”, doing small walk-on parts in about a dozen major motion pictures, like Naked Gun, Tequila Sunrise, Wired, Sunset Beat etc. She inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as Great Blues Musician and appointed Ambassador to Northern California.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Monica, you have had an extraordinary career, really I don't know where to begin ...

Before we start, if it's ok, I would like to say something about my days at the Fillmore Auditorium. I was a young, 19 year old recently divorced very straight housewife. The whole Hippie subculture was foreign to me when my friend took me to meet Bill Graham at a small local club called "The Matrix" before the Fillmore existed. I met Bill again at the Fillmore and later The Carousel ballroom and he called me "Sunshine" (I was one of many girls called that in San Francisco). I'm German, so we spoke some German to each other and I was close friends with his good friend, Diane. He soon noticed that I had no personal agenda there; I didn't sleep with performers or do drugs. I was a musician starting out, not a groupie and he liked that, so he asked me for a favor. He would bring in out of town bands who were lost in San Francisco so he said I would always get in for free if I showed them around. I agreed and the first time I tried to get in without paying, I explained it to somebody who then went and asked Bill. Well, he came and got me, took me in his office, tore off the corner of a brown paper bag and wrote with a green crayon "LET HER IN"- this was my pass. The important thing to note here is I got to hang out with almost every musician that played there and I had NO IDEA WHO ANYBODY WAS, as I had not been part of the local music scene and didn't listen to rock, so I treated everybody the same. I went to Booker T's hotel room and hung out with Duck Dunn. My friend Gordon Kinnearly managed James Cotton and took me to their motel to spend the day with Cotton, Luther Tucker and Francis Clay. I helped my new friends AC Reed (Jimmy Reed's brother), Buddy Guy and Jack Myers settle into "The Civic Center Motel". Several months later when they came back I happened to mention to AC that my guitar payment was overdue, so he told Buddy and Buddy actually paid it for me as a favor! My friend David Brown was Carlos Santana's bass player and Roommate and I hung out and stayed over at their house a lot. My best friend's boyfriend was Elvin Bishop, so I was always the "third wheel" on their dates. I met and showed all these folks around, a lot of them stayed at my house even, BUT I had no idea who they were except that they were my friends. Bill even asked me to show "Cream" around and Clapton called me Ginger. Bill said "No, her name is Sunshine". I was not aware that "ginger" is what the Brit's called redheads. When I said something to Bill in German, Eric said, "So, Ginger, you're German are you....?" and I said, "My name is NOT Ginger, but yes, I am German". He backed up and looked up at me in my high heeled boots (I'm 6 feet tall anyway) and said "Alright then, I shall call you the Big German", which he did. My friend Buddy Miles took me to hang out with Hendrix, who gave me a present that I still have! Janis Joplin, Dino Valente and I spent a New Year's Eve together drinking Champagne. For 4 years I met everybody that played at Bill's and treated them like regular people and became their friend because I was blissfully ignorant of their fame. I was blessed to be able to induct Bill Graham into the Blues Hall of Fame recently.

"When I played the Blues clubs, I was not only a woman, I was white, in clubs with all black audiences and I never really thought about race or the fact that I was a woman, as I was respected." (Photo: Troyce Key, Monica and Red Archibald, 1977)

How do you describe Monica Dupont sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I'm simple and very eclectic musically. I truly believe that Blues exists in every type of music, as Blues is your basic song and everything else is laid on that framework. When I was still performing I used to incorporate many exotic flavors on that foundation and belief. I would do things like use a funk bass player or a European "Free jazz" guitarist or an African drummer and yet be singing and playing traditional Blues. So, something like "Reconsider baby" or "Messin' with the Kid" would have new energy, but still be within the Blues genre. It also gave me a wider audience that discovered Blues for the first time. If it's music, or the sound of the rain, or a bird singing in a tree, I'll turn it into a Blues. I've jammed Blues along with Bach and Handel and Gamelon and Irish Folk songs!

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for songs most frequently?

I write about everything and anything. Every little dally occurrence becomes a song. I've written somewhere around 800 songs. I don't write about most ordinary song topics. I like to write about what other people overlook and if I hear a song I connect with, I often write a response to it. For instance, there's a song called "I remember you", so I wrote one called "I don't remember you", or to the song, "He'll have to go" - I wrote one called, "You don't have to go". Everything inspires me and I actually have to stop myself from writing constantly and remember to eat, sleep and just plain live!

"Every now and then you hear the simplicity of pure Blues and it makes me really happy. There is plenty of embellishment you can add to the Blues and have it remain pure." (Photo: Monica with  Bard Dupont and Johnny Nitro at the San Francisco Art Festival in 1975. The band was called 'Mr. and Mrs. Dupont')

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Blues has been with me and in me since I could first talk, so it's 9/10 of me. I don't take credit for the songs I write. They come from a higher power that blessed me by filling my head with music.

What was the reasons that made 60s San Francisco to be the center of the music explosion and social conquests?

There were many entire musical neighborhoods in San Francisco in the 1960s. So many that places like "The Musician's contact service" sprang up. There were dozens of small clubs, there were FM radio stations spreading new music and there was the whole Hippie movement. Combine that with the impetus of the "British invasion", which not only changed the direction of music, but showed local musicians that they could become bands and write their own music and it was synergy at it's most profound level. All of these things blended together with young, creative, talented people made it inevitable. Once Bill Graham started music at the Matrix and later the Fillmore, it overpowered the small folk clubs and made listening to live music a party instead of a "sit down" concert. It elevated the audience to an interactive position from their previous role as mere bystanders.

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Every gig was memorable, they were all special and unique, especially the 6 months with Mel Brown, joined by Johnny Hartsman and Bobby Forte' and Ron Wilson, the drummer who made "Wipeout" a hit with the Surfaris. As I mentioned, I'm eclectic, so I got the chance to play with a lot of famous musicians who were not Blues players, but they played Blues with me. Heck, I recorded "Checkin' out" with "Psychotic Pineapple" and would regularly hire people like rocker Fast Floyd and even had a bagpipe player playing Blues one night!

(Photo: Monica and Fast Floyd at Fillmore Auditorium's backstage 1977)

What’s the best jam you ever played in?

Actually, the best jams I ever had were not in public. When my great friend JB Hutto came to town, I once spent 4-5 hours just singing and playing guitar with him. When my friend, Taj Mahal was in town, he would come over to my house and we would just sit and jam. When Joe Williams and I spent an evening together, we sang A Capella and harmonized in his dressing room at the "Parisian Room" in Los Angeles, when Tim Buckley and I spent the day jamming in a back room at Marina Music was outstanding and when Ed King had just left the Strawberry Alarm Clock and was on his way to join Lynyrd Skynyrd, he stopped by my house on his way out of town and we jammed all night long. I even spent an evening sitting around a pool in Hollywood jamming with Spartacus R from the band Osibisa!

Which memories from your career make you smile?

What makes me smile the biggest is the night my friend Hubert Sumlin and I hung out and he was worried because I had bronchitis. So he took me to where Howlin' Wolf and Otis Fiske, his bandmates were and they all worried about me. Wolf made me drink water and take aspirin and made a place for me to lie down and he nursed me. I also smile when I think about my friends "The Electric Flag" inviting me to Los Angeles when they went to record "A Long Time Comin' " and I stayed at Peter Tork's house while he was still with the Monkees. I got to meet people like Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison. I was still sick, so Paul Butterfield's drummer, Philip Wilson made me go to the hospital and carried me up 2 flights of stairs when we got there, as the infection had turned into pneumonia and I was very weak. One gig, Johnny Heartsman and I showed up wearing exactly the same outfit - THAT was hilarious! We both had the same white jumpsuit and Frye boots and it was a total coincidence!

"Blues music is a story, a simple basic story and I think the transition to the Psychedelic era and beat poetry and folk music was just the story evolving, or becoming more electric, or the rhythm and pulse of it serving the spoken word." (Photo: Monica, Greg Williams, Steve Hayton and Artie Wafer, 1982)

Are there any memories from your friends you’d like to share with us?

Meeting and playing with JB Hutto was the best and Joe Williams and Charles Wright. I think the most important one was when Lester Young's nephew Jimmy Tolbert asked me to entertain at a party. It was a big room full of strangers and I had gotten Lee Freeman, from The Strawberry Alarm Clock to be a duo with me. We played for about an hour and a half and then the food was served. People came up and introduced themselves and were very complimentary. there was everybody there from Gene Ammons to Leonard Feather to Red Callender, Sweets Edison and many more jazz legends. I ended up spending the next day jamming with Eddie Beale, Louis Jordan's piano player! I also got to hang out with Otis Blackwell and his brother "Bumps", who managed Little Richard and I got to be friends with the great Al Bell.

What do you miss most nowadays from the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I miss ALL of the past, my days at the Fillmore and then 5 years later the beginning of my Blues career and ALL of that. As far as the future of music goes, I don't understand today's mores or directions, so I have no idea. My fears are that it will go further and further from the basic roots and be more and more mechanical and contrived. To me, nothing beats simplicity and soul.

"I'm simple and very eclectic musically. I truly believe that Blues exists in every type of music, as Blues is your basic song and everything else is laid on that framework." (Photo: Monica Jammin' with Warren Cushenberry)

What does to be a blueswoman in a “Man Man World” as James Brown says?

When I played the Blues clubs, I was not only a woman, I was white, in clubs with all black audiences and I never really thought about race or the fact that I was a woman, as I was respected. I was a professional, I carried my own equipment, I rode in the band van or car and shared motel rooms with the band. Early on, I dressed up and fixed my hair BUT I soon cut the hair off and wore jeans and boots and became one of the guys. Blues is a separate entity from commercial mainstream music and I was treated equally due to my musical skills and NOT discriminated against. If you could play, there was no problem in blues clubs.

What touched you (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

The one thing that touched me the most was a sound I heard from the band room at the Carousel ballroom. It was the best music I had ever heard. I made my way through the crowd on the dance floor and found myself about 5 feet away from the Staple Singers. Mavis had the crowd spellbound, quiet and respectful, which was unusual for the ordinarily noisy club. I was mesmerized by every note, every nuance. I have never seen or heard anything as powerful as Mavis, she actually glowed!

What are the lines that connect the Blues with Psychedelic era and continue to 60s Folk boom and Beat poetry?

Blues music is a story, a simple basic story and I think the transition to the Psychedelic era and beat poetry and folk music was just the story evolving, or becoming more electric, or the rhythm and pulse of it serving the spoken word. Peel away the layers and it's all comparable.

"My fears are that it will go further and further from the basic roots and be more and more mechanical and contrived. To me, nothing beats simplicity and soul." (Photos: Monica at 80s / Monica, Bard Dupont with producer Dick Hall 1970s)

How has the music and blues changed over the years? Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Again we're back to the basics. Every now and then you hear the simplicity of pure Blues and it makes me really happy. There is plenty of embellishment you can add to the Blues and have it remain pure. Too many people take away the roots. I wrote this a few years ago...

THE BLUES

Nothing can grow and survive without an influx of new energy. There aren't many wise old folks left to tell stories of generations past and valiant deeds. It needs to be done with our music, our Blues and if we are stuck at the Crossroads, all we will find is that same old hungry devil killing off our wildlife and natural resources. Blues is a natural resource and what it needs to grow and thrive is energy and innovation. Leave the roots, but water the plant and it will grow new branches. 

Monica Dupont 2009

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Honestly, I think I would have been really happy in 1920s Harlem with people like James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Paul Whiteman and Bessie Smith. I would have reveled in "Tin Pan Alley" and then the Algonquin Hotel round table with people like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woolcott. Also I would love to have met Ma Rainey, W.C. Handy, Charlie Patton, Bessie Smith and then later, people like Mississippi John Hurt and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I'm an old school kind of girl and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Monica Dupont - Modern Blues Records

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