As a kid, Elmore James taught himself to play guitar by stringing up a broom wire on the side of his house. Fitting, that a broom wire would be the origin of what some say is the most recognizable lick in the blues.
See, Elmore wasn’t content to stick to his acoustic roots. Fresh out of the Navy, he was working at his brother’s radio repair shop when he tinkered around with electronics. Enabled him to come up with some wild, distorted amplification unheard of back then. Pair that with his unmatched slide technique, some primal vocals, and you’ve got a legend on your hands.
Elmore laid the foundation for blues rock shredders. In the early ‘60s, another young guitar playing veteran took the stage name “Jimmy James” as a tribute to his idol Elmore James. Oh yeah, Jimi went back to his real name—Hendrix—but even as he gained his own fame, he made a point to be photographed with Elmore James LP’s so folks would know who he learned from.
Let’s learn a little something from Elmore too. Here’s the King of the Slide Guitar, Elmore James with his take on Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom.”
Guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader, Elmore James was born January 27, 1918, in Richland, Mississippi. Known as “the King of the Slide Guitar,” he’s praised for innovating amplification techniques.
Inspired by Robert Johnson and Kokomo Arnold, Elmore started off as a 12 year old, playing what’s known as a “Diddley Bo,” basically a string strung up on a wall. Soon enough he was honing his string-craft at local dances.
He joined the US Navy during World War II, participating in the invasion of Guam. Upon discharge, he returned to Mississippi to work in his brother’s radio repair shop. It was there that he was able to tinker with electronics to come up with new amplification techniques.
In 1951, he began to record for Trumpet records, playing on tracks for his friend Sonny Boy Williamson II. At the end of one session, he stepped forward to the mic, waxing his own version of the Robert Johnson classic “Dust My Broom.” It was a hit. Its opening bars, one of the most widely-known licks in the blues canon, established him as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Following this success, Elmore moved to Chicago where his sound was crucial to the development of Electric blues. From Jimi Hendrix to the Allman Brothers, to the Rolling Stones, his influence cannot be overstated.
Elmore James died of a heart condition in 1963.