Tonight I’d like to cover a blues legend who began making music at the age of 12 using a simple one-string instrument (‘diddley bow’ or ‘jitterbug’) strung up on a shack wall. As a teen he was playing at local dances under the names “Cleanhead” and “Joe Willie James“. He had a big influence on Eric Clapton * and many other Rock artists.
January 27, 1918 – May 24, 1963
Some of Elmore’s recordings
|1951||Dust My Broom **||Elmore James (with Sunny Boy Williamson)||Trumpet 146|
|1952||I Believe||Elmore James||Meteor 5001|
|1953||Hawaiian Boogie||Elmore James & The Broom Dusters||Flair FL124|
|1953||Can’t Stop Lovin’||Elmore James & The Broom Dusters||Flair FL131|
|1954||Standing At The Crossroads||Elmo James & His Broomdusters||Flair FL217|
|1957||It Hurts Me Too||Elmo James & His Broom Dusters||Chief 7004||Apr 12/57|
|1960||Madison Blues||Elmore James||Chess Unissued||Apr 14/60|
|1960||Fine Little Mama||Elmo James||Fire 166|
|1960||Rollin’ And Tumblin’||Elmo James & His Broom Dusters||Fire 1024|
|1960||Done Somebody Wrong||Elmo James||Fire 1031||May 24/60|
|1960||Elmo’s Shuffle (Take 5)||Elmore James & The Broom Dusters||CD: Blues After Hours||From original production tapes|
|1961||Look On Yonder Wall||Elmore James||Fire 504|
|1961||Shake Your Moneymaker||Elmore James||Fire 504|
|1961||Stranger Blues||Elmore James||Fire 1503|
|1962||The Sky Is Crying||Elmo James & His Broom Dusters||Fire 1016|
|1964||Dust My Broom||Elmore James||LP: The Sky Is Crying|
|1965||My Bleeding Heart||Elmo James||Enjoy 2015|
|1965||Pickin’ The Blues
||Elmore James||Enjoy 2015|
|1965||Dust My Broom||Elmore James||Enjoy 34579|
Born Elmore Brooks January 27, 1918 in Richland, Holmes County, Mississippi, he called himself Elmore James, taking “James” from the name of a man who moved in with his very young mother. Elmore had been born out of wedlock.
When he was 12, he started playing music on a home made single string instrument – called a “diddley bow”. He began singing the blues, busking on sidewalks, performing at fish fries and in jook joints. He appeared with iconic players such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Robert Johnson. He was strongly influenced by Johnson, who died in 1928.
Unfortunately, there are no recordings of Elmore’s work between 1929 and 1950. Consequently, many people regard him as a “postwar” musician.
Elmore James is recognized as the King of the Slide Guitar. He established the sounds of rural Mississippi Delta Blues. He also experimented with and came up with some innovative answers to the electric amplified guitar. He is noted for his use of loud amplification and a stirring voice.
His style was to deliver raw, gut wrenching vocals, and this approach had a lot of influence on the ultimate evolution of rock and roll music of the 1950s.
Elmore’s recording career began in 1951 for Lillian McMurry’s Trumpet Records. Over the next 12 years he made up for lost time by also recording with other labels, including Modern, Chess, Chief, Fire, Fury, and Enjoy… over 100 songs.
** One of his signature songs, “Dust My Broom” was a surprise R&B hit in 1952 and turned James into a star. His backing musicians were known as the Broom Dusters. There has been some debate over whether Elmore originated this piece, or whether he “adopted” it from a 1936 recording of Robert Johnson called “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”. You be the judge:
Robert Johnson – I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom
(Robert Johnson and his songs are discussed in our previous post: Robert Johnson.)
He went on to record other hits such as “I Believe“, “It Hurts Me Too“, “The Sky Is Crying“(credited to Elmo James and His Broom Dusters), “My Bleeding Heart“, “Stranger Blues“, “Look on Yonder Wall“, “Done Somebody Wrong“, and “Shake Your Moneymaker“, all of which are among the most famous of blues recordings.
Alcohol addiction lead to his demise. It started when, at an early age, he developed a very strong liking for moonshine liquor and his alcoholism progressed significantly throughout his career. Eventually, he died after having 3 heart attacks. He was buried in the Newport Baptist Church Cemetery, Ebenezer, Holmes County, Mississippi.
Little Richard in a recent interview said of Elmore: “There was just a few people doing real rock back when I was first starting out. Little Richard and Elmore James are the only two I know.”
* Eric Clapton’s cover of Rollin’ And Tumblin’