I remember the first time I really noticed slide guitar. I am sure I had heard it prior I just never noticed it. This particular day I was in a buddy’s backyard. His older brother was quite a music fan and he was playing records; loud enough for the neighbourhood to enjoy. I remember stopping suddenly, from whatever I was doing, and saying “What the?” It was, I found out, George Thorogood. He was playing Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”
I still remember the effect that that thunderous slide had on me to this day. I had to have more of that. I did soon. I had my own copy and I wore the grooves off that record in short order. Even now, I still can’t get enough slide guitar. I think unlike most guitar styles there is something more basic and visceral about slide guitar. It’s not about technique per se. Although there are some great technical slide players out there. The best slide playing is all about feeling and it seems to be able to pull that feeling right out of you as well.
Now, George Thorogood is a great slide guitarist and a lot of fun but I thought I would go beyond him, back to his influence. Today, I get to write about my favourite blues musician of all time. Elmore James. He was the slide guitar player that everyone else wanted to be. Thorogood, Hound Dog Taylor, JB Hutto and pretty much any slide player that followed all wanted to be able to play like him. He made Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom” his own and his version is a rite of passage for anyone who picks up a slide guitar.
Elmore James was a triple threat really. His slide playing ability, his voice and his electronics background. His playing ability made him the most influential slide guitarist of the postwar period, without doubt. James’ power, technique and attack made sure he left a huge wake behind him. His influence is still felt today. His voice was under appreciated but few blues singers had a voice that could stand with his; it had a power, a warmth, and a sorrow that showed at times as his voice would break, sounding like he could fall apart at any second. His secret weapon though was his ability to get new sounds out of his amplifier. He was a radio repairman. This gave him the skills needed to alter his equipment to get that raw over driven sound that made his music so powerful.
In 1992 he made it into into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although James never really played rock and roll the future or that music could be seen in his sound. He was admired and covered by such rock bands as the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, Foghat and the Yardbirds.
Item #6 on my list of great and accessible blues has to include “The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James”. This compilation is a perfect introduction to Elmore’s music, and an essential piece for any blues collection. It showcases the breadth of his career which was tragically short. He even abandons his slide and plays a single-string solo line on Sunnyland. Many of the titles will sound familiar as so many were covered by other artists. “Dust My Broom”, “The Sky Is Crying” and “Shake Your Moneymaker” have become blues standards. This record shows why he was the key slide player between the delta and where slide guitar is today.
1 Dust My Broom (James) 2:45
2 The Sun Is Shining (James) 2:44
3 Hawaiian Boogie (James) 2:19
4 Sho’ Nuff I Do (James) 2:54
5 Please Find My Baby (James) 3:07
6 TV Mama (Turner) 2:48
7 My Best Friend (James) 3:21
8 Madison Blues (James) 2:24
9 Cry for Me Baby (James) 2:46
10 The Sky Is Crying (James) 2:48
11 Sunnyland (James, Rosa) 3:16
12 I Can’t Hold Out (James) 2:15
13 Look on Yonder Wall (James) 2:27
14 I Need You (James, Sehorn) 3:32
15 Done Somebody Wrong (James) 2:21
16 Shake Your Moneymaker (James) 2:33
17 The 12 Year Old Boy (London) 3:05
18 It Hurts Me Too (London) 3:04
19 Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Robinson) 2:34
20 Something Inside Me (James, Sehorn) 5:03
21 Standing at the Crossroads James, Josea 2:59