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.