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Elmore James Profile

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Elmore James' The Sky Is Crying

Elmore James' The Sky Is Crying

Photo courtesy Price Grabber

Elmore James Profile:

Born: January 27, 1918 in Richland MS

Died: May 24, 1963 in Chicago IL

Elmore James remains, perhaps, the most important slide guitarist to break out of the blues. James' distorted, ramshackle, highly-amped sound would not only make believers out of contemporaries like Hound Dog Taylor, Homesick James, and J.B. Hutto, it would also influence a generation of blues-rock guitarists like Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, and even indirectly impact heavy metal music.

King of the Slide Guitar

Elmore James was destined to play the blues ... as a young man in Mississippi, he would play "slide guitar" with an instrument made of a lard can and broom handle. As a teenager, he performed in local juke joints with legends Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf. Forming his first band in the late-1930s, James toured with Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) until the beginning of World War II. The guitarist spent three years with the Navy, stationed in Guam.

Discharged from the military, James landed in Memphis, often playing clubs with his cousin, guitarist Homesick James. A popular live performer, James achieved his unique tone by rebuilding his amplifiers for a louder, distorted sound. James continued his relationship with Williamson, frequently appearing as a guest on the harmonica player's popular King Biscuit Time radio program on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas.

Dust My Broom

James didn't show much interest in a recording career when fate stepped in and took control. Accompanying Williamson to a session in 1951, James performed what would become his signature song, "Dust My Broom," while Lillian McMurray of Trumpet Records was secretly recording the singer. Trumpet released the song and it became a hit, rising into the Top 10 on the R&B charts.

During the 1950s, James and his band the Broomdusters, made a splash on the Chicago blues scene. In demand as both a live performer and a recording artist, James would record singles for a number of labels, including Fire, Chess, and Meteor. Elmore James songs like "Madison Blues" and "The Sky Is Crying" would become blues standards. James would continue to move back and forth between Chicago and Mississippi until his untimely death from a heart attack in 1963.

Recommended Albums: The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James features material James recorded circa 1951-1961 and includes guest performances from Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Turner, and Willie Dixon.

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