• SumoMe


On this day in 1918, a blues legend was born in Mississippi by the name of Elmore James. The illegitimate son of a 15 year old field hand, he grew up in impoverished Holmes County, Mississippi. He picked up the diddley bow (a one-stringed instrument often played in rural areas) at the age of 12, which he played on the wall of his shack. Eventually, he got his hands on a guitar as a teenager and played under the name “Cleanhead.”

James is often seen as a pupil of Robert Johnson, although they are better classified as colleagues because Johnson was only 7 years James’ senior. Nevertheless, James became a name unto his own by utilizing his gristly voice and hollowed-out guitar to create a fantastically loud and unforgettable sound. James was so popular, in fact, that he was mentioned by name in the Beatles’ song “For You Blue,” when Harrison sings, “Elmore James got nothin’ on this baby” over the sound of a slide guitar. Unfortunately, he never got to hear it, as the Beatles released that song in 1970, seven years after James’ death in 1963.

However, the best way to explain Elmore James is to let his art speak for himself. Below are some samples of his music, and I encourage you to listen to all of them in the shoes of someone listening 50 years ago. We tend to take this music for granted as always being there, but Elmore James was truly an innovator on the slide guitar.

Let me set the stage: in 1951, when James recorded his first album, he released it into a world where Perry Como, Mario Lanza, and Patti Page topped the charts. Then along comes this guy, one year later, with “Dust my Broom” which shot to the #9 slot on the U.S. charts and changed the game…

How are you going to wish a happy birthday to Elmore James? Which tune are you blasting? Let’s honor his memory in the comments below.