Keeping the blues alive and well

Blues article: Elmore James

Anyone who steps in the blues music scene is sure to stumble on the great classic ”Dust my broom” but who was Elmore James really and what inspired him to write this song?

Elmore James: Remembering a blues slide guitar legend


Elmore Brooks (A.k.A Elmore James) was born on January 27, 1918, Richland, Mississippi, U.S. into a sharecropping family. His mother, Leola Brooks, was just 15 years old and worked under the scorching sun as a field hand, on one of the many cotton plantations that peppered the state. His father is thought to be Joe Willie James from whom Elmore took his surname. What is known is that Joe took on the youngster as his own and brought him up with Leola whilst working as a sharecropper, moving from one plantation to another when the need for steady work demanded.

James started playing with a ‘diddley bow’, a single string guitar attached to a wall to produce notes by adjusting the length of the strings (just like a guitar). By his teens, he was performing at local clubs and dances under the name Cleanhead.

When Mr. James was in his twenties he was already touring along the Mississippi Delta with Robert Johnson, the principal influence on his music, in the late 1930s. He then performed in the South with Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex, or Aleck, “Rice” Miller) before becoming a mainstay of Chicago blues in the 1950s.It was Johnson that inspired James to specialise in bottleneck, or slide, blues. By 1939, Elmore was experimenting further, performing with a full band at a time when most of the Delta bluesmen were solo performers. In this respect, Elmore James was one of the pioneers of what became known as the Chicago sound so brilliantly realised by the likes of Muddy Waters.


As a young cat, mister James started playing guitar in his teens and started touring with Robert Johnson along the Mississippi Delta in the late 1930s. He then went further South with the second Sonny Boy WIlliamson befor becoming a household name of chicago blues in the 1950s. He recorded several versions of his 1952 hit “Dust My Broom” and repeated that song’s opening guitar chorus on many later recordings. Characteristically, his singing was harsh, including shouted phrases, and his vivid slide guitar replies featured heavy amplifier reverberation. His most-praised work began in 1958 and included the slow blues songs “The Sky Is Crying” (1959) and “It Hurts Me Too” (1965). Numerous rock musicians, including the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, adopted his hard-driving style and often recorded his songs. James was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.


When Mr. Elmore James was in his twenties he toured with the likes of Robert Johnson and second Sonny Boy Williamson. This certainly can be heard in his lyricism and intensity of his guitar playing and vocals. Especially the local performances of Robert Johnson inspired Elmore James to develop his own voice on the guitar. In fact, it was the song ”I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” that became one of the most iconic and popular songs of Elmore James. Using his own unique guitar style and voice he covered this song and named it ”Dust My Broom”.


Elmore James’ impact on the world of music cannot be overstated. His powerful vocals, coupled with his electrifying slide guitar playing, left an indelible imprint on the blues genre. His influence extended far beyond his lifetime, inspiring countless musicians and shaping the development of blues and rock music.

With his unique slide guitar techniques and soul-stirring performances, Elmore James bridged the gap between blues and rock ‘n’ roll. His music served as a wellspring of inspiration for future generations of artists, including the likes of the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, who revered James and even adopted the moniker “Elmo Lewis”. His powerful and emotive sound continues to captivate music enthusiasts, ensuring his legacy lives on.

Elmore James’ impact on slide guitar playing cannot be overstated. His innovative use of the slide created a distinct and vibrant sound that has influenced countless guitarists across various genres. From his masterful control of dynamics to his expressive phrasing, James’ slide guitar became a hallmark of the blues genre.

In conclusion, Elmore James stands as an enduring figure in the history of blues music. His mastery of the slide guitar, impassioned vocals, and electrifying performances have left an indelible mark on the genre. From his breakthrough hits to his influence on future generations, Elmore James will forever be remembered as the unrivaled King of Slide Guitar.

While he passed away on May 24, 1963, Chicago, Illinois at the age of 45 we must remember that a lot of music we hear nowadays is inspired and will be inspired in the future by this titan of the blues music history. We, the Lonesomefools, propose that we now take a moment and appreciate this legend and honour him by spending some time listening to his records.

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