Sunday, 27 January 2013
Elmore James born 27 January 1918
Elmore James (January 27, 1918 – May 24, 1963) was an American blues guitarist, singer, song writer and band leader. He was known as The King of the Slide Guitar and had a unique guitar style and stirring voice.
James was born Elmore Brooks in the old Richland community in Holmes County, Mississippi, (not to be confused with two other locations of the same name in Mississippi, one in Humphreys Co. & the other in Rankin Co. ). He was the illegitimate son of 15-year-old Leola Brooks, a field hand. His father was probably Joe Willie "Frost" James, who moved in with Leola and so Elmore took this as his name. His parents adopted an orphaned boy at some point - Robert Holston.
Elmore began making music at the age of 12 using a simple one-string instrument ('diddley bow' or 'jitterbug') strung up on a shack wall. As a teen he was playing at local dances under the names Cleanhead and Joe Willie James. His first marriage was to Minnie Mae in c.1942 (whom he apparently never divorced). He subsequently married twice, to Georgianna Crump in 1947 and to a woman called Janice in c.1954. (Another reported marriage of Elmore to a Josephine Harris has been found to be a mistaken record of a different Elmore James.)
Becoming a well-known musician in those days, with the
not-so-minor rewards of prestige, good free food, illicit free liquor, women's favours, the promise of escape from the hard plantation work, etc., must have been as attractive to Elmore as it was to the other musicians of that time and earlier, such as the 'second' Sonny Boy Williamson, with whom he played and the legendary Robert Johnson with whom he also possibly played. Although Robert Johnson was murdered in 1938, James (like many other musicians) was strongly influenced by him, and also by Kokomo Arnold and Tampa Red. Elmore recorded several of Tampa's songs, and even inherited from his band two of his famous 'Broomdusters', 'Little' Johnny Jones (piano) and Odie Payne (drums). There is a dispute as to whether Robert Johnson or Elmore wrote James's trademark song, "Dust My Broom".
An important side to Elmore's character which may have hastened his demise was his lifelong taste for, and manufacture of, moonshine whiskey, to which he was introduced at an early age. Alcohol definitely killed his band mates/friends Willie Love & Johnny Jones at a relatively early age, and probably others too. His regular rhythm guitarist Homesick James maintained his longevity was due to his not partaking of the heavy drinking sessions after - and often during - gigs, a refusal that was unpopular with the rest of the band. Elmore was also reportedly an extremely fast driver who also loved hunting with guns and dogs down in Mississippi, whence he would head off for protracted periods.
During World War II James joined the United States Navy, was promoted to coxswain and took part in the invasion of Guam. Upon his discharge Elmore returned to central Mississippi and eventually settled in Canton with his adopted brother Robert Holston. At this time he learned that he had a heart condition. Working in Roberts electrical shop he devised his unique electric sound, using parts from the shop and an unusual placement of two D'Armond pick ups. He began recording with Trumpet Records in nearby Jackson in January 1951, first as sideman to the second Sonny Boy Williamson and also to their mutual friend Wille Love and possibly others, then debuting as a session leader in August with "Dust My Broom". It was a surprise R&B hit in 1952 and turned James into a star. He then broke his contract with Trumpet records to sign up with the Bihari Brothers through Ike Turner (who played guitar & piano on a couple of his early recordings). His "I Believe" was another hit a year later. During the 1950s he recorded for the Bihari brothers' Flair Records, Meteor Records and Modern Records labels, as well as for Chess Records. His backing musicians were known as the Broomdusters. In 1959 he began recording what are perhaps his best sides for Bobby Robinson's Fire Records label. These include "The Sky Is Crying" (credited to Elmo James and His Broomdusters), "Stranger Blues", "Look On Yonder Wall", "Done Somebody Wrong", and "Shake Your Moneymaker", all of which are among the most famous of blues recordings.
Elmore James died of his third heart attack in Chicago in 1963, just prior to a tour of Europe with that year's 'American Folk Blues Festival.' (info from Wikipedia)