Elmore James (1918-1963) has been called "the most influential slide guitarist of the postwar period....Others may have had more technique....but Elmore had the sound and all the feeling." [1] His early death from heart failure prevented him from reaping the benefits of the mid to late 60s blues revival, when this music was rediscovered by a host of high profile artists such as Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall. He is most famous for his staccato slide riff on the Robert Johnson number Dust My Broom, of which the 1951 version is the most well-known, although he recorded it repeatedly up to the end of his life in a variety of styles.

A radio repairman by trade, he spent his free time customising his amps to produce a raw, distorted sound that was the genesis of heavy rock and metal from the late 60s onwards. Dust My Broom was secretly recorded at the end of a session where James backed Sonny Boy Williamson, and became a local R&B hit in 1951. This eventually led to his moving to Chicago where he recorded for several labels including the legendary Chess, and the outpouring of now classic material such as The Sky Is Crying. However, his career was repeatedly dogged by poor health and it was in Chicago that he suffered his final heart attack on May 24, 1963. His funeral was attended by over 400 stars of the blues genre, and he was later elected to both the Blues Foundation and Rock & Roll halls of fame.

Links To Peel

Elmore James - Stranger Blues

Elmore James - Stranger Blues

Possibly the original 45 that Peel heard on Wolfman Jack's show.

"I had been driving for some time and it must have been two or three a.m. as I started through the richly forested area of East Texas known as the Piney Woods. There was little traffic on the roads and, as the road rose and fell through the trees and past tiny towns that were often barely more than a handful of bedraggled shacks, the moon, which shone brilliantly directly in front of me, turned the concrete to silver. I was listening, I imagine, to Wolfman Jack from XERB, over the border in Mexico, and as I came over the top of the hill to see another tiny town below me, he played Elmore James' 'Stranger Blues.' "I'm a stranger here, just drove in your town," Elmore sang, and I knew that I would never forget the perfect conjunction of place, mood and music. Nor have I." (Peel describing one of the great musical moments of his life, in Texas c. 1960, from Margrave Of The Marshes, Corgi edition, p. 192.)

That Peel held James in the highest of regard is axiomatic, judging solely by the number of plays listed below. His playing is bound up within the fabric of Peel's life, from providing him with a soundtrack to an unforgettable point in time (Stranger Blues, the story of hearing he claimed to have told an infinite number of times) to an instantly identifiable and universally popular noise (Dust My Broom, one of the selections for the Peelenium 1951). In fact, "Dust My Broom" became practically the unofficial anthem of the British blues boom of the late 1960s, with most blues bands of the era including it in their sets. In particular, Fleetwood Mac's earliest, blues-based records and Top Gear sessions provide evidence of Elmore James's influence, with singer-guitarist Jeremy Spencer a skilful mimic of James's style. Grinderswitch's "Pickin' The Blues", the theme tune for Peel's BBC shows from the early 1970s on, was a cover version of an instrumental James had recorded more than a decade earlier.

Peel even claimed for many years to have seen Elmore James live, but admitted in early 2000 and in the pages of Margrave that this was untrue (and highly unlikely, since in the time period Peel was talking about, James would have been shuttling back and forth between Chicago and Mississippi). A posthumous release coupling 'The Sky Is Crying' with a version of Johnson's 'Crossroads' turned up in John Peel's Record Box.

Festive Fifty Entries

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John Peel's Record Box

  • The Sky Is Crying / Standing At The Crossroads (Flashback Records) 1965

Other Shows Played

(The list below was compiled only from the database of this site and Lorcan's Tracklistings Archive. Please add more information if known.)

  • 29 August 1979: Something Inside Of Me (single?) Bell (Peel's 40th birthday 40)
  • 24 September 1979: Quarter Past Nine (LP – Original Folk Blues / The Resurrection Of Elmore James) United
  • 26 September 1979: Early In The Morning (unknown release)
  • 17 April 1992: The Sky Is Crying (7 inch) Fire
  • 19 September 1992: Anna Lee (LP - Standing At The Crossroads) Charly
  • 26 September 1992: Stranger Blues (CD - Standing at the Crossroads) Charly
  • 24 October 1992: Standing At The Crossroads (CD-The Sky Is Crying: The History Of Elmore James) Rhino
  • 18 December 1992: Stranger Blues (JP: 'I think for once I'll not tell you the story about the first time that I heard that...)
  • 28 October 1995 (BFBS): (JP: 'Last weekend, we were sitting around, a bunch of us, in the evening with a couple of bottles of red wine, I think it was, chatting of this and that, discussing if there's one particular noise in all of popular music that always made you feel good, whenever you heard it, you immediately knew what it was, could immediately identify it and immediately made you feel, "Oh great! I'm glad somebody put this one on." Ultimately, I advanced the cause of the noise that you're about to hear: well, nobody disagreed with me.')
Dust My Broom' (the 1955 version, source unknown)
  • 05 April 1996: Dust My Broom (CD - King Of The Slide Guitar) Charly R&B
  • 05 January 2000: (JP: I always regret that I never went in to see the Velvet Underground, cos they must have time and away been at their absolute peak, and certainly at their most astonishing. I think I once told somebody that I had gone in to see them, but it wasn't true. It's like Andy Kershaw claims that I told him I'd been to see Elmore James playing, because it was possible he did play in Dallas when I lived in Dallas, but I didn't go and see him, but again, I really wish I had done.')

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