Elmore James

 

King of The Delta Blues Guitar

 

 

Elmore James is one of the most important artists in the history and development of the Blues. With his slide guitar, his metallic voice and thumbing bass line, Elmore James embodied the essence of Chicago Blues in the heydays of Blues music in the 1950’s. His version of Dust My Broom has remained one of the most enduring Blues classics of all times. I remember when I heard the opening triplets of Dust My Broom in England, I nearly fell off my chair. You just cannot forget his high-pitched voice, his singing slide guitar. Elmore James had cut so many classics such as The Sky Is Crying, It Hurts Me Too, Something Inside Of Me, Shake Your Moneymaker. He simply was one of the most influential Blues player and singer of all times. During the British Blues Boom, every from Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Stan Webb copied and drew inspiration from the man. Hardly any Blues guitar has not at one stage or another copied his slide guitar. Dust My Broom is one of the most copied tunes of all times. Like Robert Johnson, Elmore borrowed a lot of music from other musicians. He simply re-worked the stuff he borrowed and turn it into his own.

There is nothing subtle about the music of Elmore James, it is sheer energy and power. Even when he was singing slow Blues like “The Sky Is Crying” and “Something Inside Of Me’, you can feel upfront an almost primative and primeval energy. Elmore James was a Delta Bluesman caught in the modern electric age of electric guitars and amplifiers and he simply drew on his Delta roots and vented his music in an electric setting. You will hear a lot of Elmore James’ music is simple variation on a single theme. Whet he did was he changed the words to, say, Dust My Broom, played the same melody with new words and he had a new song. But if you can sing and play like Elmore James, you really don’t need a whole bag of tricks and Elmore had the Ace of Spade.

Not a lot was known about Elmore James. He was supposed to have played with Robert Johnson at one time. I believe this is credible as he obviously copied Robert Johnson’s words and guitar riffs on Dust My Broom. The story goes that Elmore was a very shy man and they recorded him and his band playing Dust My Broom without his knowledge. Dust My Broom became Elmore James’ first hit on the R&B charts in early 1952. Elmore James died of a heart attack in 1963.

The Capricon Box of Elmore James is really a fantastic collection of the man’s music. The sound quality was much better than the other Elmore James released hitherto. To me, Muddy Waters and Elmore James are the most important Blues giants in Chicago Blues music. If you cannot find the Capricon box, any CD bearing the name of the man is worth getting.

Elmore James often tune his guitar to open E or open D tuning.
With open E tuning the tuning of the strings as as follows (starting with the first bass string) :-
E, B, E, G#, B, E.

With open D tuning, you tune it one step down from open E tuning (again starting with the first bass string) :-
D, A, D, F#, A, D.

For years people wondered what electric guitar he used to get that nasty slide guitar sound. It surprised most people when the first pictures of Elmore James came to light. Elmore James was using an acoustic guitar with a pick-up inserted in the sound hole. Incredible.

 

Elmore James with his acoustic guitar