Elmore James Marker
Backstory and Context
Elmore James embodied the changes that came to the blues style of music as it became more mainstream. Elmore James was known as the original slide guitar master and innovator. As a hit blues musician in Chicago in 1940s and 50s Elmore James changed the way blues was heard and influenced numerous musicians across the globe.
Born Elmore Brooks on January 27, 1918, in Richland, he first played a one-string guitar, and locals recalled that he soon constructed a multi-stringed instrument with a lard can. It soon became obvious that a music career was in his future. He began playing with Robert Johnson before joining the Navy in 1943. Before that James lived on various farms in Holmes and Humphreys Counties before serving from 1943 to 1945 in the Navy. He returned to Mississippi as a decorated veteran. When he returned home He decided to pursue his career in music once again. James, who learned more about electronically amplifying his guitar while working at Holston's radio repair shop in Canton, Ohio, played on radio shows in Belzoni and Helena, Arkansas. He made his debut recording in 1951 for Jackson's Trumpet label. James’ record, "Dust My Broom," a tune recorded by Robert Johnson in 1936, soared up the charts to number one very quickly. After "Dust My Broom" became a national R&B hit, James began touring and moved frequently between Mississippi and Chicago. He recorded for Meteor, Modern, Chess, Fire, and other record labels over the next decade, scoring hits with “I Believe,” “The Sky is Crying” and “It Hurts Me Too.”
Elmore James’ style can be traced back to his days when he played with Robert Johnson. His slide guitar technique was better than Johnsons and he could also play bass. So he became the backup guitar player and bassist for Robert Johnson and his band. James soon became known as a slide guitar master and began to get recognition from multiple record labels. But when he joined the navy that put a hold on his future popularity. James eventually made his way to Chicago where he became one of the most popular musicians at the time. Numerous world famous blues musicians have been influenced by Elmore James. Many of them cover his songs still to this day. The list of artists influenced by James includes names such as Eric Clapton, Warren Haynes, Derrick Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr. and many more. James’s music even influenced world famous rock and roll bands such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and others. All of these musicians have covered and are still covering many of James’ songs today. Elmore James certainly has left his mark on music history and is still doing so today.
James, who had a longstanding coronary condition from birth, died of a heart attack on May 24, 1963. He passed away at the Chicago home of fellow musician “Homesick James” Williamson. Following a wake in Chicago, James’ body was sent home to Mississippi for burial. After his death the music world mourned the loss of one of the most influential musicians of the time. James single handedly defined a style of guitar playing. His unique style, while was virtually unknown at the time, has now become very common in blues today. Not only are his songs covered by modern artists. You can hear the original songs being played over loudspeakers in blues clubs across the world. Elmore James’ popularity really increased after his death. All the musicians that he influenced began to dedicate songs to him and playing his songs in their shows. Thus introducing Elmore James to the world.
In closing, Elmore James was the man who created his own style of guitar playing and in the process changed the way blues was heard forever. James’ music is still being heard today across the world. Showing how his popularity and influence on other musicians was so powerful when he was at the height of his popularity. Elmore James is revered as one of the most influential blues greats of his generation.
Of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall. Elmore James. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Accessed December 01, 2017. https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/elmore-james.