Elmore James!

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.

Elmore James

January 27, 1918 – May 24, 1963

Some of Elmore’s recordings

Year Tune Artist Label Date
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’



2 responses to “Elmore James!

  1. Pingback: Anatomy of a Song #3 | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"


    At all my Teenage Dances to get the crowded hall moving I would play “SHAKE YOUR MONEY MAKER” AND THEY WOULD POUND THE BOARDS ON THE DANCE FLOOR. I LOVED HIS STYLE AND WILD GUIATAR.


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