The Sky is Crying

Elmore James

album cover

A Shadow History of Rock Guitar

When a long-gone blues legend is name-checked by rockers as an influence, the connection can sometimes be vague or hard to discern. That's not the case with Elmore James (1918–1963): Put on this high-revving collection, and the connections become impossible to ignore. That's because James's recorded legacy amounts to a shadow history of rock guitar. His rich tone (he was among the first bluesmen to understand the visceral bite of the electric guitar) and expressive command of the bottleneck slide hit just about everybody who followed. James is a primary source for the incendiary boogie of the Allman Brothers (see p. 16), and the harrowing leads of Stevie Ray Vaughan (see p. 826), not to mention Eric Clapton's crying solos circa Derek and the Dominos (see p. 219) and the rowdy '80s work of George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

For most of his life, James was known for his 1951 hit recording of "Dust My Broom," his update of the Robert Johnson tune. As he bounced around to different labels, the guitarist and singer was encouraged to record thinly veiled knockoffs. He did this willingly at first, but soon enough began to emphasize his own writing, exploring beyond hot-stepping boogie. This collection, which gathers important singles made between 1951 and 1961 for such small regional labels as Trumpet, Flair, and Chief, features most of his enduring originals—including campy struts shot full of excitable guitar ("Sunny Land"), and driving shuffles like "I Can't Hold Out" that you can imagine romping forever in a club.

In fact that's what James often did: After serving in the Navy during World War II, he moved to Chicago and put together his high-intensity band, the Broomdusters, with pianist Johnny Jones. A cohesive unit, this group jolts familiar Delta riffs with reckless abandon. Like the rockers who would later copy them, these guys aren't just broomdusters, they're thrillseekers.

Genre: Blues
Released: 1998, Rhino
Key Tracks: "The Sky Is Crying," "Please Find My Baby," "I Can't Hold Out," "Shake Your Moneymaker"
Catalog Choice: Original Folk Blues
Next Stop: Willie Dixon: I Am the Blues
After That: J. B. Hutto: Hawk Squat
Book Page: 388

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#1 from Yamaha Fairings - 09/23/2008 2:54

Is there any other player from the delta like Elmore James?? I definitely doubt it. Top Ten.

#2 from Robert Ardura, Richmond, VA - 05/11/2012 12:22

Elmore James is the greatest slide guitar player ever. There really is no arguing it. You can pretty much trace Electric Slide Guitar playing all the way back to him.

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