Elmore James was born Elmore Brooks in Richland, Holmes County, Mississippi on the 27th of January, 1918.
Elmore learned the basics of blues and slide guitar plying at the age of 12 on a single string instrument strung against a shack wall called a “Jitterbug” or “Diddley Bow”. Elmore began his musical career in his teens playing at local dances under such names as Joe Willie James and Cleanhead.
During the second world war, Elmore joined the US Navy and served during the invasion of Guam. After being discharged from the Navy Elmore returned to Mississippi and started work in his adopted brothers electrical shop in Canton.
It’s here that Elmore developed his unique and signature electric slide guitar sound, utilising spare parts from around the workshop and devising an uncommon placement of two D’Armond guitar pickups.
In 1951 Elmore began a career as a recording artist for Trumpet Records, first as a side man then debuting as a session leader with his 1952 R&B surprise hit “Dust My Broom”. A year later after leaving Trumpet Records and signing with the Bihari Brothers, Elmore experienced another hit with his song “I Believe”.
In 1954 Elmore played guitar on Joe Turner’s hit “TV Mama” which made the top ten on the R&B charts. In 1959 Elmore began recording for Fire Records, it’s here that he went on to pen some of his most iconic songs including the blues standard “The Sky Is Crying”.
Elmore James was known as “The King of Slide Guitar”.
Techniques And Musical Concepts They Popularised
Elmore was known for playing a vast variety of blues and was also known to fuse them different guitar playing styles. He played a traditional acoustic guitar with pickups and overdrive, helping him achieve his full, trademark tone.
Elmore spent most of his career playing in open tuning, preferably open E with the strings tuned from lowest to highest; E B E G# B E and open D with the strings tuned from lowest to highest; D A D F# A D.
Notable Rock Guitar Players They Influenced
Elmore’s distinct slide guitar style influenced a plethora of rock guitar greats.
Some of the most notable rock guitarists who were influenced by Elmore’s playing where: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Jeremy Spencer, Frank Zappa, George Thorogood just to name a few.
Keith Richard‘s was quoted as saying that when he met Brian Jones, Brian was calling himself “Elmo Lewis” paying homage to Elmore James.
Jimi Hendrix also payed homage to Elmore with a stage name. Earlier in Jimi’s career Jimi called himself “Maurice James” and “Jimmy James” as tribute to Elmore James.
Jimi has also appeared in photographs holding a record jacket of Elmore James songs. In 1969, at the Royal Albert Hall, Jimi performed a cover of Elmore’s iconic blues song “Bleeding Heart”, Jimi also covered “Bleeding Heart” during the 1969 – 1970 new years eve concert at the Fillmore East with The Band of Gypsys.
Another of Elmore’s iconic blues standard’s “The Sky Is Crying” has been covered by many guitar greats. Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan are among the fellow blues men who payed homage to Elmore by covering “The Sky Is Crying”. While blues rock legend George Thorogood recorded a cover for the album “Move It On Over” and Eric Clapton recorded a cover for his album “There’s One In Every Crowd”.
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