“Say ‘Play that Elmore lick,’ and everybody knows what to do.”
– Derek Trucks –
Chigago slide guitar Elmore James
Elmore James (1918-1963), often described as the “king of the slide guitar.” James’ electric style built on the approach of Robert Johnson and later influenced many blues and rock guitarists.
When Elmore James started playing Guitar in his teens he had difficulties finding a stage name. So James used multiple names like Cleanhead and Joe Willie James. Eventually James used his fathers’ family name we all know him for Elmore James. Before he moved to Chicago Elmore James King of the Slide Guitar often performed in the Mississippi juke joint alongside famous Blues guys like Arthur Big Boy Crodrup, Bubby Rush, Sonny Boy Williamson and John ‘Big Moose’ Walker.
The influence of Elmore James is gigantic, his unique sound, and the rock ´n roll groove. That Chicago Slide Guitar sound developed Elmore in Robert´s Electric shop, where he worked after returning from WW II. He used parts from the shop in combination with his D´Armond pickups.
Dust My Broom
Politician and entrepreneur Charles Evers owned a number of clubs on the Southside of Chicago where he let Mississippians like BB King, Muddy Waters and Howlin´ Wolf perform. When Elmore James arrived in Chicago he got the opportunity to play in Evers Bluesclubs too. Clubs and therefor the musician where as popular as it gets in those days.
In 1951 James assisted Sonny Boy Williamson as a sideman. But when James started performing as a solo musician a year later, he would become a superstar with `Dust My Broom`. He and his ‘Broomdusters’ were as popular in the Chicago clubs as any of these musicians’ bands. But James was known as difficult, partly because of his alcoholic use during shows.
Hard Blues life
Like many other Blues musicians on this Blues Blog Elmore James had a tough life. He was addicted to whiskey, particularly Moonshine, which he began drinking at an early age and also distilled himself. His two bandmembers Willie Love and Johnny Jones died earlier because of alcohol and Elmore would have difficulties with it throughout his career.
James married three times, and fought during World War II. He was stationed in Guam, fighting the Japanese. During those days, a dysfunction of his heart was found.
After scoring multiple hits, he died in 1963 because of the effects of his third heart attack.
On his Wikipedia page a great story of George Adins, the Belgian Blues fan about Elmore James, he recalled.
George Adins over Elmore James
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…