Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy Birthday : Elmore James

On January 27th back in 1918, Elmore James was born in Richland Mississippi.

From inauspicious beginnings, he went on to become one of the most influential blues guitarists of the 20th century. Legend has it that his family was so poor that Elmore had to improvise homemade instruments made of broomwires nailed to the frontporch.

James whiled away his early years playing on the Mississippi itinerent musician circuit alongside contemporaries like Howlin' Wolf, and Robert Johnson, before joining the military in WWII. After serving in the navy, where he was stationed in Guam, he came back to central Mississippi and resumed playing the juke joints, including a stint as sideman for the second Sonny Boy Williamson. Eventually a small label in Jackson owned by a lady named Lillian McMurry called Trumpet Records gave Elmore a chance to record. On August 5, 1951 he went into her furniture store at 309 Farrish St, played an old Robert Johnson tune he remembered called "Dust My Broom". Rumor has it that James was frightened of being electrocuted by the recording equipment's microphone that Mrs McMurry led him to believe it was only a rehearsal. Elmore was supposedly so angry at the deception that he refused to record anything more for her, but this event changed the course of his life when it became a surprise regional R&B hit. By 1952 it was in the top ten on the national charts.

Elmore James - Dust My Broom

The success of Dust My Broom led to more opportunities including more money for his favorite moonshine liquor, plus lots of touring with his band the Broomdusters and more recording contracts. Another Mississippi musician named Ike Turner soon hooked Elmore up with the Bihari Brothers' based on the West Coast. Elmore recorded another minor juke joint hit in 1952 called "I Believe" for the Bihari's Meteor label.
They then issued many sides under the Flair imprint. Elmore also recorded in the later 50's for Chicago's Chess Records, as well as Vee-Jay. Perhaps his best known work was done in the early 60's for Harlem based Fire records, including the stand out track "The Sky Is Crying".

Elmore James - The Sky Is Crying

Despite his fame, very few pictures of Elmore James seem to have survived, and no film clips that I know of.

Here's one hot number from a 1960 session for Chess

Elmore James - I Can't Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby)

Elmore was born with a heartt condition, and died of a heart attack at the age of 45 in Chicago in 1963 and is buried in Durant Mississippi.

He was specifically cited by many famed Brit rock n rollers as their top electric guitarist of choice, including kudos from Brian Jones & Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac's Jeremy Spencer and Eric Clapton. His wailing bottleneck slide style, gruff vocals and the general feel of his music was very influential for rockers like Robbie Roberston, Jimi Hendrix, as well as Stevie Ray Vaughn who often played sweltering versions of James' classic "The Sky Is Crying" in his sets. Other bands you may have heard of doing his music include Albert King, George Thorogood, The Allman Brothers and even Ike & Tina.

Elmore James - Standing At The Crossroads

pssst... if ya digging the Chicago blues

check out my post on Willie Dixon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Accept no immitations. Elmore is THE MAN.