||This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. (August 2010)|
|Birth name||Elmore Brooks|
January 27, 1918|
Richland, Holmes County, Mississippi, United States
|Died||May 24, 1963
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Elmore James (January 27, 1918 – May 24, 1963) was an American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, band leader. He was known as "the King of the Slide Guitar" and had a unique guitar style, noted for his use of loud amplification and his stirring voice.
James was born Elmore Brooks in the old Richland community in Holmes County, Mississippi (not to be confused with two other locations of the same name in Mississippi). He was the illegitimate son of 15-year-old Leola Brooks, a field hand. His father was probably Joe Willie "Frost" James, who moved in with Leola, and so Elmore took this as his name. His parents adopted an orphaned boy at some point named Robert Holston.
Elmore 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. His first marriage, circa 1942, was to Minnie Mae (maiden name unknown? and whom he apparently never divorced). He subsequently married twice more, to Georgianna Crump in 1947 and to a woman called Janice circa 1954. (Another reported marriage of Elmore to a Josephine Harris has been found to be a mistaken record of a different Elmore James.)
James (like many other musicians) was strongly influenced by Robert Johnson, as well as by Kokomo Arnold and Tampa Red. James recorded several of Tampa's songs, and even inherited from his band two of his famous "Broomdusters", "Little" Johnny Jones (piano) and Odie Payne (drums). There is a dispute as to whether Robert Johnson or Elmore wrote James' trademark song, "Dust My Broom".
During World War II James joined the United States Navy, was promoted to coxswain and took part in the invasion of Guam against the Japanese. Upon his discharge, James returned to central Mississippi and eventually settled in Canton with his adopted brother Robert Holston; it was at this time he learned that he had a serious heart condition. Working in Robert's electrical shop, he devised his unique electric sound, using parts from the shop and an unusual placement of two D'Armond pickups. He began recording with Trumpet Records in nearby Jackson in January 1951, first as sideman to the second Sonny Boy Williamson and also to their mutual friend Wille Love and possibly others, then debuting as a session leader in August with "Dust My Broom". It was a surprise R&B hit in 1952 and turned James into a star. He then broke his recording contract with Trumpet Records to sign up with the Bihari Brothers through their "scout" Ike Turner (who played guitar and piano on a couple of his early Bihari recordings). His "I Believe" was another hit a year later. During the 1950s he recorded for the Bihari brothers' Flair Records, Meteor Records and Modern Records labels, as well as for Chess Records and Mel London's Chief Records (his "It Hurts Me Too" was later a hit when he re-recorded it for Enjoy Records). His backing musicians were known as the Broomdusters. In 1959 he began recording for Bobby Robinson's Fire Records label. These include "The Sky Is Crying" (credited to Elmo James and His Broomdusters), "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.
An important side to Elmore's character was his lifelong taste for, and manufacture of, moonshine whiskey, to which he was introduced at an early age. Alcohol killed his band-mates/friends Willie Love & Johnny Jones at an early age. His regular rhythm guitarist Homesick James maintained his longevity was due to his not partaking of the heavy drinking sessions after - and often during - gigs, a refusal that was unpopular with the rest of the band. Elmore was also reportedly an extremely fast driver and loved hunting with guns and dogs down in Mississippi, whence he would head off for protracted periods.
James died of his third heart attack in Chicago in 1963, just prior to a tour of Europe with that year's American Folk Blues Festival. He was buried in the Newport Baptist Church Cemetery in Ebenezer, Mississippi.
James played a wide variety of "blues" (which often crossed over into other styles of music) similar to that of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and some of B. B. King's work, but distinguished by his guitar's unique tone coming from a modified, hollow body traditional acoustic guitar, which sounded like an amped up version of the "more modern" solid body guitars. He most often played using a slide, but on several recordings he plays without. His voice and style were as instantly recognisable as King's, Muddy's and Wolf's and until he fell afoul of the Chicago union, he and his 'Broomdusters' were as popular in the Chicago clubs as any of these musicians' bands. James could be reportedly 'difficult' (drinking on the job, not paying out cash, abandoning musicians, double booking etc.) There are few photos of James performing, those taken (some at the following occasion, and some at a packed club with stylishly dressed couples dancing closely) by George Adins, and no other detailed descriptions or any live recordings.
Muddy Waters took the Belgian blues fan George Adins to see James play in Chicago in 1959, Adins recalled,
Elmore will always remain the most exciting, dramatic blues singer and guitarist that I've ever had a chance to see perform in the flesh. On our way we listened to him on the radio as Big Bill Hill ... was broadcasting direct from that place. I was burning to see Elmore James and before we even pushed open the door of the club, we could hear Elmore's violent guitar sound. Although the place was overcrowded, we managed to find a seat close to the bandstand and the blues came falling down on me as it had never done before. Watching Elmore sing and play, backed by a solid blues band (Homesick James, J.T. Brown, Boyd Atkins and Sam Cassell) made me feel real fine. Wearing thick glasses, Elmore's face always had an expressive and dramatic look, especially when he was real gone on the slow blues. Singing with a strong and rough voice, he really didn't need a mike. On such slow blues as "I'm Worried - "Make My Dreams Come True" - "It Hurts Me", his voice reached a climax and created a tension that was unmistakably the down and out blues. Notwithstanding that raw voice, Elmore sang his blues with a particular feeling, an emotion and depth that showed his country background. His singing was... fed, reinforced by his own guitar accompaniment which was as rough, violent and expressive as was his voice. Using the bottleneck technique most of the time, Elmore really let his guitar sound as I had never heard a guitar sound before. You just couldn't sit still! You had to move...
Adins also witnessed James at 'Alex Club' in West Side Chicago where...
...he always played for a dance audience and he made the people jump. "Bobby's Rock" was at that time one of the favourite numbers with the crowd and Elmore used to play [it] for fifteen minutes and more. You just couldn't stand that hysteric sound coming down on you. The place was rocking, swinging!
The nearest we have to a recording of a 'live' set by James is his last recorded session by Bobby Robinson, in New York City in 1963 shortly before James death. This session features several takes of "Hand In Hand" which was abandoned and James then played a 'live' set.
His best known song is the blues standard "Dust My Broom" (also known as "Dust My Blues"). The song gave its name to James's band, The Broomdusters. The song's opening slide guitar riff is one of the best-known sounds in all of blues. It is essentially the same riff that appeared in the recording of the same song by Robert Johnson, but James played the riff with electric slide guitar. It was even transformed into a doo-wop chorus on Jesse Stone's "Down in the Alley", recorded by The Clovers and Elvis Presley. Stone transcribed the riff as: "Changety changety changety changety chang chang!"
Many electric slide guitar players will admit to the influence of James' style. He was also a major influence on such successful blues guitarists as Homesick James, John Littlejohn, Hound Dog Taylor, J. B. Hutto and many others. He also influenced many rock guitarists such as The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones (Keith Richards wrote in his book that at the time he met Brian Jones, Brian called himself Elmo Lewis, and that he wanted to be Elmore James), and Fleetwood Mac's Jeremy Spencer. John Mayall included the song, "Mr. James," on his 1969 "Looking Back" album as a dedication to James. His songs "Done Somebody Wrong" and "One Way Out" were often covered by The Allman Brothers Band, who were influenced by James. James was also covered by blues-rock band Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble many times in concert. The most famous of these covers is one that came by an indirect route - James' fellow bluesman Albert King recorded a cover of "The Sky Is Crying", and Stevie Ray Vaughan copied King's version of the song. That song was also covered by George Thorogood on his second album, Move It On Over and by Eric Clapton on his album There's One in Every Crowd.
The most famous guitarist who admired James was Jimi Hendrix. Early in his career Hendrix styled himself variously as 'Maurice James' and subsequently as 'Jimmy James.' This, according to former bandmate and recording partner Lonnie Youngblood, was a tribute to Elmore James. There is a photo of Hendrix (that can be seen in the sleeve of his :blues album) in London wearing his iconic military jacket and holding Elmore James's UK LP The Best Of Elmore James. (Hendrix was frequently photographed throughout his performing career holding LP covers of musicians that influenced him.) He performed James' "Bleeding Heart" during the Experience's Royal Albert Hall concert in 1969, and also with the Band of Gypsys at their New Year's concerts at the Fillmore East in 1969/70 as well as recording two different versions of it in the studio.
James is mentioned in The Beatles' song "For You Blue": while John Lennon plays the slide guitar (James' trademark), George Harrison says, "Elmore James got nothin' on this, baby." Other artists influenced by Elmore James include Frank Zappa and Jeffrey Evans of the band 68 Comeback.
The Grateful Dead, John Primer (Blue Steel CD), Billy Gibbons and Eric Clapton are other notable artists to have recorded Elmore James covers. Clapton also recorded a song with Jimmy Page called "Tribute to Elmore" that first appeared on the 1968 compilation album Blues Anytime Vol. 1. On the 1974 record Second Album, Roy Buchanan included an instrumental song he wrote titled "Tribute to Elmore James," which begins with James' classic slide guitar riff, and uses his soloing style throughout.
James's older cousin "Homesick" James Williamson, a regular companion from an early age, played with James in the Broomdusters from 1957 on.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2013)|
James recorded in an era when few blues artists recorded albums. The only LP released in his lifetime was a 1960 budget compilation of old singles - Blues After Hours (Crown 5168)
- 1951 "Dust My Broom" b/w "Catfish Blues" [by Bobo Thomas, no Elmore] (Trumpet 146 )
- 1952 "I Believe" b/w "I Held My Baby Last Night" (Meteor 5000)
- 1953 "Baby, What's Wrong" b/w "Sinful Women" (Meteor 5003)
- 1953 "Early In The Morning" b/w "Hawaiian Boogie" (Flair 1011)
- 1953 "Country Boogie" b/w "She Just Won't Do Right" (Checker 777)
- 1953 "Can't Stop Lovin" b/w "Make A Little Love" (Flair 1014)
- 1953 "Please Find My Baby" b/w "Strange Kinda' Feeling" (Flair 1022)
- 1954 "Hand In Hand" b/w "Make My Dreams Come True" (Flair 1031)
- 1954 "Sho Nuff I Do" b/w "1839 Blues" (Flair 1039)
- 1954 "Dark And Dreary" b/w "Rock My Baby Right" (Flair 1048 )
- 1954 "Sunny Land" b/w "Standing At The Crossroads" (Flair 1057)
- 1955 "Late Hours At Midnight" b/w "The Way You Treat Me" (Flair 1062)
- 1955 "Happy Home" b/w "No Love In My Heart" (Flair 1069)
- 1955 "Dust My Blues" b/w "I Was A Fool" (Flair 1074)
- 1955 "I Believe My Time Ain't Long" b/w "I Wish I Was A Catfish" (Ace 508 [re-release of Trumpet 146])
- 1955 "Blues Before Sunrise" b/w "Good Bye" (Flair 1079)
- 1956 "Wild About You" b/w "Long Tall Woman" (Modern 983)
- 1957 "The 12 Year Old Boy" b/w "Coming Home" (Chief 7001 & Vee Jay 249)
- 1957 "It Hurts Me Too" b/w "Elmore's Contribution To Jazz" (Chief 7004)
- 1957 "Elmore's Contribution To Jazz" b/w "It Hurts Me Too" (Vee Jay 259)
- 1957 "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me Where You Go" (Chief 7006 & Vee Jay 269)
- 1959 "Make My Dreams Come True" [re-release of Flair 1031 'B'side] b/w "Bobby's Rock" (Fire 1011)
- 1960 "Dust My Blues" [re-release of Flair 1074] b/w "Happy Home" [re-release of Flair 1069] (Kent 331)
- 1960 "The Sky is Crying" b/w "Held My Baby Last Night" (Fire 1016)
- 1960 "I Can't Hold Out" b/w "The Sun is Shining" (Chess 1756)
- 1960 "Rollin' And Tumblin'" b/w "I'm Worried" (Fire 1024)
- 1960 "Knocking At Your Door" b/w "Calling All Blues" [by Earl Hooker/Junior Wells] (Chief 7020)
- 1960 "Done Somebody Wrong" b/w "Fine Little Mama" (Fire 1031)
- 1961 "Look On Yonder Wall" b/w "Shake Your Moneymaker" (Fire 504)
- 1962 "Stranger Blues" b/w "Anna Lee" (Fire 1503)
- 1962/3? "The Sky is Crying b/w Held My Baby Last Night [re-release of Fire 1016] (Down Home 775/6)
- 1964 "Dust My Blues" b/w "Happy Home" [re-release of Kent 331] (Kent 394)
- 1964 "Dust My Blues" b/w "Happy Home" [re-release of Kent 394] (Sue 335)
- 1965 "Bleeding Heart" b/w "It Hurts Me Too" (Enjoy 2015 [1st pressing])
- 1965 "It Hurts Me Too" b/w "Pickin' The Blues" (Enjoy 2015 [2nd pressing])
- 1965 "My Bleeding Heart" b/w "One Way Out" (Sphere Sound 702)
- 1965 "It Hurts Me Too" b/w "Bleeding Heart" (Sue 383)
- 1965 "Bleeding Heart" b/w "Mean Mistreatin' Mama" (Enjoy 2020)
- 1965 "Knocking At Your Door" b/w "Calling All Blues" [re-release of Chief 7020] (Sue 392)
- 1965 "Look On Yonder Wall" b/w "Shake Your Moneymaker" (Enjoy 2022)
- 1965 "The Sky is Crying" [re-release] b/w "Standing At The Crossroads" [alt. take] (Flashback 15)
- 1965 "Standing At The Crossroads" b/w "Sunnyland" [re-release of Flair 1057] (Kent 433)
- 1965 "Everyday I Have The Blues" b/w "Dust My Broom" [# 4] (Enjoy 2027)
- 1965 "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me Where You Go" [re-release of Chief 7006] (U.S.A. 815)
- 1965/6? "Cry For Me Baby" b/w "Take Me Where You Go" [re-release of Chief 7006] (S&M 101)
- 1966 "Shake Your Money Maker" b/w "I Need You" (Sphere Sound 708)
- 1960 Blues After Hours (Crown 5168)
- 1965 The Best Of (Sue 918 [UK])
- 1965 The Sky is Crying (Sphere Sound 7002)
- 1965 Memorial Album (Sue 927 [UK])
- 1966 The Blues In My Heart, The Rhythm In My Soul (re-release of Blues After Hours) (United 716) and (Custom 2054)
- 1967 Original Folk Blues (Kent 5022)
- 1967 I Need You (Sphere Sound 7008)
- 1968 The Late Fantastically Great (another re-release of Blues After Hours)(Ember 3397 [UK])
- 1968 Tough (Chess recordings + tracks by John Brim) (Blue Horizon 7-63204 [UK])
- 1968 Something Inside of Me (Bell 104 [UK])
- 1969 The Legend Of Elmore James (Kent 9001)
- 1969 Elmore James (Bell 6037)
- 1969 Whose Muddy Shoes (+ tracks by John Brim) (Chess 1537)
- 1969 The Resurrection Of Elmore James (Kent 9010)
- 1969 To Know A Man double album (Blue Horizon 7-66230 [UK])
- Charly Blues Masterworks Volume 28: Standing at the Crossroad (1993)
- The Sky Is Crying: The History Of Elmore James (1993 - Rhino #R2 71190)
- Rollin' And Tumblin' (1999)
- The Very Best Of Elmore James (2000 - Rhino #R2 79803)
- Legends Of Blues, Pickin' The Blues ; The Greatest Hits (2002)
- King of the Slide Guitar: The Complete Trumpet, Chief and Fire Sessions (2005)
- A Proper Records Introduction to Elmore James: Slide Guitar Master (2006)
- The Final Sessions: New York - February 1963 (2006)
- The Best Of Elmore James (Great American Music)
- The Best Of Elmore James Volume 2 (2010 - Great American Music #CD-GA-215)
- Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 493–494. ISBN 978-1-84195-017-4.
- Franz, Steve. The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James, BlueSource Publications, 2003.
- "Meteor Records". Retrieved 2006-11-06.
- Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942-1988. Record Research, Inc. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-89820-068-3.
- Bromberg liner notes to the compilation The Legend Of Elmore James (Kent Records 9001).
- Dicaire, David. Blues singers. Retrieved 2013-06-02.
- Egan, Sean. The Making of "Are You Experienced", A Capella Books, 2002, p. 14.
- "Guitar Player Magazine, 1983". Home.online.no. 1984-01-09. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
- [dead link]
- "Elmore James – Blues After Hours". www.disogs.com. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- Illustrated Elmore James discography
- Discography at MusicBrainz
- Elmore James on Find-A-Grave
- Elmore James | Mount Zion Memorial Fund
- 1980 Blues Foundation Hall of Fame Inductee
- Review of The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James