Elmore James Biography

Elmore Brooks, 27 January 1918, Richland, Mississippi, USA, d. 23 May 1963, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Although his recording career spanned 10 years, Elmore James is chiefly recalled for his debut release, 1951’s ‘Dust My Broom’. This impassioned, exciting performance, based on a virulent composition by country blues singer Robert Johnson, was marked by the artist’s unfettered vocals and his searing electric slide guitar. James’ formative years were spent in Mississippi juke joints where he befriended Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson), a regular performer on the US radio station KFFA’s King Biscuit Time show. Elmore accompanied Miller for several years, and through his influence secured his initial recording contract with the Trumpet label in 1951. ‘Dust My Broom’, released under the Elmo James moniker, became the surprise R&B hit of the year, reaching the Top 10 and led to several offers from different record labels. James then moved to Chicago where he formed the first of several groups bearing the name ‘the Broomdusters’. He recorded for the Modern Records subsidiaries Flair and Meteor, and a number of other labels owned by the Bihari Brothers, in addition to a one-off recording for Chess Records and a number of important sessions for Fire Records. These recordings included different variations on his initial success - ‘I Believe’ (another Top 10 hit), ‘Dust My Blues’, ‘The Sky Is Crying’ - as well as a series of compositions that proved equally influential. ‘Bleeding Heart’ and ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’ were later adopted, respectively, by Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac, while the guitarist’s distinctive ‘bottleneck’ style resurfaced in countless British blues bands. James’ style was accurately copied by Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac, and the band often had ‘Elmore James’ segments in their act during the late 60s. Another James devotee was Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, whose early stage name of Elmo Lewis, and bottleneck guitar work paid tribute to James. John Mayall’s ‘Mr. James’ was a thoughtful tribute to this significant performer who sadly did not live to enjoy such acclaim. In May 1963, James suffered a fatal heart attack at the home of his cousin, Homesick James, who, along with J.B. Hutto, then assumed the late musician’s mantle. He was elected to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992 in the ‘early influence’ category.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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