There is never a time when you're listening to one of his records that you feel -- no matter how familiar the structure -- that he's phoning it in just to grab a quick session check. Elmore James always gave it everything he had, everything he could emotionally invest in a number. This commitment of spirit is something that shows up time and again when listening to multiple takes from his session masters. The sheer repetitiveness of the recording process would dim almost anyone's creative fires, but Elmore always seemed to give it percent every time the red light went on.
Few blues singers had a voice that could compete with James'; it was loud, forceful, prone to "catch" or break up in the high registers, almost sounding on the verge of hysteria at certain moments. Evidently the times back in the mid-'30s when Elmore had first-hand absorption of Robert Johnson as a playing companion had a deep influence on him, not only in his choice of material, but also in his presentation of it.
Backing the twin torrents of Elmore's guitar and voice was one of the greatest -- and earliest -- Chicago blues bands. Brown on tenor sax and Elmore's cousin, Homesick James on rhythm guitar. This talented nucleus was often augmented by a second saxophone on occasion while the drumming stool changed frequently. But this was the band that could go toe to toe in a battle of the blues against the bands of Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf and always hold their own, if not walk with the show.
Utilizing a stomping beat, Elmore's slashing guitar, Jones' two-fisted piano delivery, Homesick's rudimentary boogie bass rhythm and Brown's braying nanny-goat sax leads, the Broomdusters were as loud and powerful and popular as any blues band the Windy City had to offer.
But as urban as their sound was, it all had roots in Elmore's hometown of Canton, MS. He was born there on January 27, , the illegitimate son of Leola Brooks and later given the surname of his stepfather, Joe Willie James. He adapted to music at an early age, learning to play bottleneck on a homemade instrument fashioned out of a broom handle and a lard can.
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Original 78 record label. April Gunter Hotel , San Antonio, Texas. Elmore James credited. Lillian McMurry.
Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" portion of re-recording. Problems playing this file? See media help. MBW work: 04edbe-fdbcedb.
The next session, in March, was a hastily organised affair, recorded at the Club Bizarre! He had acquired both a manager, Otis Ealey, and another wife, Janice, but his relationship with the former lasted much longer than that with Janice, who got the treatment accorded to earlier wives — desertion.
Davis led his own band, and dabbled in production, working mainly on the West Coast and with big band singers. A few months later came a session in New Orleans. On one title a vocal group was brought in, with very unfortunate results. Record sales for Elmore were by now in the doldrums, and a session in Chicago the following January turned out to be his last for the Biharis.
The whole day only produced two titles; one song required twenty two takes, mostly false starts. Brown and usually his cousin Homesick James Williamson on bass guitar. Despite all these setbacks, he was still a big enough name on the Chicago music scene to be signed by Mel London for his new enterprise, Chief Records.
Of the two sessions resulting, the first produced five superb numbers, the Broom Dusters being augmented by the guitars of Eddie Taylor, Homesick James and Wayne Bennett, all, reputedly, playing through one amplifier, while on the second Wayne Bennett took the lead guitar role. The settled life suited him no more than before, though, and he returned north to Chicago in search of his band. Here, Carolina born Bobby Robinson located Elmore and recorded him for his New York based Fire label, setting up a session in Chicago towards the end of This produced a version of an instrumental which Elmore had been featuring in the West Side clubs.
Through his long association with the Chess family, Bobby Robinson procured a session for Elmore in April Of the four titles known from this date, only two were issued at the time. Elmore did not stay with Chess, but returned to the Bobby Robinson stable when The Sky Is Crying broke nationally, recording a vast amount of material for him in and , mainly in New York, and usually with local brass and saxophone session men among them baritone player Paul Williams of Hucklebuck fame , providing a sympathetic accompaniment.
At the other extreme, Robinson experimented with a backing consisting only of a rhythm section — piano, bass guitar and drums.
On a couple of numbers, he even dropped the piano. Only a few titles from the quantities of material taped by Bobby Robinson were ever issued as singles, and then mostly posthumously. Disillusioned, tired and sick, he returned to Jackson in , to live in semi-retirement.
Arriving on 19th May, he was back, playing in the clubs with Homesick that same evening, only to die on 24th May following a third heart attack.
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