Happy Birthday Elmore James!
Been playing Elmore James all day. A friend on another site just reminded me, today would have Been Elmore James’ 95th Birthday.. There are few greater figures in the world of blues than him.I first heard of Elmore James from reading liner notes and record labels. Paul had covered “Look Over Yonder’s Wall” and “Shake Your Money Maker” on his first album. I went out and bought “The Sky Is Cryin” on Sphere(I still have the album) and I was hooked. I had heard about Robert Johnson and even had the Columbia”King of The Delta Blues Singers” LP, but that was kind of weird and hard to get comfortable with. Elmore, while not as intricate as Robert, had it all . That stinging ELECTRIC guitar and a powerful voice. For a fifteen year old kid from Larchmont, NY it was a revelation.
Elmore was born January 27, 1918 in Richland, Miss. and first learned to play a “diddley bow” by the mid ’30s his family had moved to the Belzoni area. It was there that Elmore met Robert Johnson and Rice (Sonny Boy Williamson II) Miller. Robert’s “Dust my Broom” lick (Johnson got the lyrics from Kokomo Arnold’s 1934 “Sagefield Woman Blues”) became Elmore’s signature. After a stint in the Navy, Elmore started gigging with Rice Miller and Willie Love around Memphis in the late ’40s and did his first sessions backing Sonny Boy on “Eyesight to the Blind” in 1951. Later that year Elmore recorded “Dust My Broom” for the first time. The song was an immediate success. He next recorded for the Bihari bros Modern/ Flair label. His band , the “Broomdusters” , featuring the piano of Johnny Jones and the sax of J. T. Brown, created a fusion of country blues and urban swing that tore it up. B.B. King said his note bending and vibrato were attempts to cop Elmore’s style. Elmore was prolific in this period , also working for Meteor and Chess.
In 1957 he recorded a Tampa Red tune, “It Hurts Me Too”on Chief Records with Wayne Bennett, Homesick James and Eddie Taylor on guitars(all playing through the same amp). While Elmore’s sound was ELECTRIC, he usually played a Kay acoustic guitar which he outfitted with pickups and homebrew wiring . So much for Hi-Tech!
In 1960 Elmore releases “The Sky Is Crying”(covered by Albert King , among others) on Fire. There’s something about this session and the later Fire/Enjoy sessions that clicked . These are among his best recordings(actually there is NO bad Elmore James record!). Songs from this period include “Done Somebody Wrong”(no Greg Allman didn’t write it!) and “Bleeding Heart” (covered by Jimi Hendrix). The Capricorn reisssue of the complete Fire-Enjoy sessions is a great place to start your Elmore collection.Put that box in open D, crank it up and go for the twelfth fret! As Elmore said,”Yessss…!!!”. This is the s***t! Don’t take my word, ask B.B.King, Eric Clapton, Homesick James, J.B. Hutto, John Mayall or Geroge Thorogood. Or listen to the Allmans, Butterfield, Fleetwood Mac and a list too long to mention…
Blues is a big part of America’s musical heritage, Elmore was and still is one of the giants.