Elmore James – King of the Slide Guitar – Master of the Blues!

When I was fourteen, in 1964,  my mate Dick Brunning introduced me to the blues. Heaven knows what a young lad like Dick, living in the Surrey Delta, was doing getting into the Blues. But Dick was absolutely one-tracked. Unlike everybody else who was into the Beatles, Mersey and Beat, Dick was into Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.

Somehow he had found a little record shop in Aldershot or Croydon which seemed to stock some blues. I remember going there once to spend his hard-earned cash. The Everly Brothers had just released Ferris Wheel which I was quite taken with. Dick wasn’t interested. He had his eyes on a John Lee Hooker EP. Pretty good taste.

Going round his place I was subjected to a relentless onslaught of Lightnin’ Hopkins – Lightnin’ Strikes on Ember. It took me quite a while to get my ear tuned in. But it started with that amplified guitar and then I got into the voice. It was the start. Next he sold me on Howlin’ Wolf – Moaning In The Moonlight.

Well that was it. I was hooked.

My big discovery was Elmore James. From the first moment I heard that chiming slide guitar I was completely smitten.

Back then Blues albums were hard to get hold of. You could search around for years without turning anything up. When you did find one it was a cause of great excitement.

The first album I managed to get hold of was the Best of. Is was a blaster that knocked me out.

I remember driving past Dobells on Charing Cross Road late one night and seeing two Elmore James albums in the window. I had to go back the next day to buy them.

They were brilliant.

It seems strange now. I can buy anything at the press of a button and must have every track that Elmore ever cut but you can never replicate the excitement of discovering a rare album or the discovery of those two albums in Dobells. in Charing Cross Road. It sticks in the mind over the course of a lifetime.

For me nobody comes near to Elmore. He has it all – that superb slide guitar, the anguished vocals and great poetry – ‘The Sky is Crying – look at the tears roll down the street’.  I never tire of the man.

What a great shame that he died of a heart attack before he ever got to perform before a white audience. He was due to come across on a Blues review to Europe but went and died. I would have got to see him. A tragedy.

I visited the site of his electrical store in Canton where he learnt to electrify his guitar to create that special sound. The radio store had been demolished but I found the place on the derelict street and stood there and had a little moment. In my head I could imagine Elmore as a young man working on that guitar of his.


19 thoughts on “Elmore James – King of the Slide Guitar – Master of the Blues!

  1. There were speciality shops, but you needed to know where they were. There was mail order, which is how most people got these import records. It’s all come around full circle again with Amazon and Discogs and a list of others. I have records delivered every week and I’m buying just as many vinyl LPs today as I was in the 70s.

    1. I have a problem with the wife. She keeps telling me that I have more music than I could ever play in a few lifetimes. She is right. My room bulges.

  2. As a related aside, Fleetwood Mac as known to indulge themselves with doing Elmore James covers, their Danny Kirwin died recently. Superb player and ruined by drugs, alcohol and depression and ended up living on the streets and homeless hostels for some time in late 70s into 80s. Not too dissimilar a story to Peter Green’s although he ended up in metal hospitals rather then homeless hostels and still alive still playing.

    On my deck now: Fleetwood Mac – Shrine `69

    1. Now you’re talking! I used to love that Peter Green Fleetwood Mac and managed to get to see them a lot. Jeremy Spencer’s Elmore covers were brilliant and Shrine is a great live album that really captures them at their best. What a band. Elmore would have been proud.

      1. I would have to give the 3CD box simply titled “Boston” as really capturing them at their best. It’s also a far superior recording than Shrine. This covers their entire gambit with hard rock playing that easily surpasses pretty much anybody else from the era. The fused cohesion of these three guitars has never been heard again since. The Who, Led Zeppelin and The Stones can all put their equipment back in the box for this particular night. As a live album it’s just a fraction below Humble Pie’s “Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore” – the best live album ever by anybody.

      2. Eric – Yes I have Boston too and I love it. It is one of my favourite live recordings though Shrine is equally as brilliant even if the sound quality is not quite as good. I think the performance had more energy.

      3. I’m now wondering if you have maybe confused albums.
        Shrine didn’t have a quarter of the energy of Boston. I don’t know what you’re listening to, is it mp3?
        What label is your copy on?

  3. My copy is on CD and I think it’s on Ryko. I’ll dig it out and give it another blast. I’m in the mood. I’ll also dig out my Boston and give that a whirl I haven’t played them in a long time.

    1. Yes, Shrine is on Ryko – there’s only one version. But that wasn’t my question, I was asking on the Boston one.

      1. Know it well and have talked about it in years past over at Discogs, who I list for and do entry corrections and stuff. The best place to buy second hand records and CDs.
        That’s a good version from original tapes as there’s about twenty on a whole bunch of crumby labels and Snapper first issued in 1999 and again 2003 as an HDCD, meaning it was mastered to the best of the technology at the time. It’s still missing the third set as it’s only 2-discs.
        It’s since been redone as a 3-disc on the Madfish label, a label owned by Snapper – who own and publish loads of music.
        Play this versus Shrine and don’t look back.

      2. People who buy records/cds at retail prices care. They care a lot actually. I think if you actually knew what you’re talking about on this perhaps you’d express a different opinion. You’ve said that you don’t care. Perhaps you’re therefore unawares of what’s going on in Discogs, Eil.com, 45Cat and a whole wide variety of highly informative and trusted trading sites with contributions from highly knowledgeable people who give up their time for the cause of building knowledge bases. Authenticity is really BIG business these days and it would be the height of stupidity to undermine that.
        When most people look at a sales based website for used records, they are bombarded with multiple versions. Knowing which version to select gives the buyer the maximum spending power with their money. What’s to criticise?
        For people that go no further than Amazon and eBay, they’re never going to learn anything.

      3. I listen to something. If I like it I buy it and listen to it. I don’t have the time to get geekie and silly about it. I’m not interested in the collectability and my ears are good enough for me. I don’t need to go hi-fi. I leave that to others. I was brought up on music from an old tinny trannie and Dansette and I loved it just as much. My system is no great shakes and I don’t get pissed off over minor things.
        BTW – the West Coast guitars sound just fine to me. Out of tune?? Not to my ears. Shame if it spoils your enjoyment. The guitar sound that Barry Melton created was highly original. I loved it. I was just talking to him a month or two ago when he played in Hull.
        I don’t need to learn anything thanks. I lived through and have my own experiences. You can reinvent history if you like. Doesn’t bother me.

  4. The personal connections you make really bring this piece alive. Elmore was electric blues personified. I’d enjoy him on any format, even the scratchy transistor on a Spanish beach where I first heard ‘Dust My Broom’ …

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