Born 27th January 1918 Died 24th May 1963
Born in Richland, Holmes County, Mississippi, the illegitimate son of a teenage farmhand, his father may have been Joe James who moved in with his mother Leola Brooks. In his early teens Elmore taught himself the rudiments of guitar using a self-made instrument and started appearing at local dances. In the mid thirties the family moved to Belzoni, here James teamed up with his adopted cousin and began appearing more regularly at gigs.
By the late thirties James had moved to Greenville, Mississippi and had met up with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Millar), Robert Lockwood, Robert Johnson’s unofficial stepson and Robert Johnson. It was a tune that Johnson had written ‘I Believe I’ll dust My Broom’ that was to become one of Jame’s most recognised early recordings ‘Dust My Broom’. By the end of the thirties Johnson was dead but his music was to continue to influence James’ musical development. Elmore moved out of the area and took up a job with his stepbrother in his radio shop, continuing to play gigs after work often with Sonny Boy Williamson, occasionally on his King Biscuit Time radio broadcasts.
Between 1943 and 1945 James enlisted in the US Navy and took part in the invasion of Guam, on his discharge James returned to central Mississippi, to his old life of performing and working in the radio shop. It was while he was working in his stepbrothers shop that he devised a very personal guitar sound using two D’Armond pick ups and parts from the shop. The relationship with Sonny Boy paid of when they were recording a Williamson session for Trumpet records and as an add on to the session, only one track was laid down, ‘Dust My Broom’ but it was enough as it became a substantial R&B hit. James was persuaded by Joe Bihari of Modern records to relocate to Chicago and he very quickly became a major attraction on the Chicago blues scene, with his individual electric slide style and raucous vocals.
His style of merging blues with the modern electric guitar was to become not only the blueprint not only for the emerging rock and roll musicains, but for the blues guitarists of the 60’s such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Brian Jones, John Mayall and Peter Green. For the rest of the fifites James continued to have hits including ‘It Hurts Me Too’, and ‘The Sky Is Crying’, however during this whole period he only laid down about twenty tracks. Two heart attacks in the fifties kept the schedule at a sensible pace, however following his second attack in 1959 James when into a hectic schedule for the last four years of his life turning out hits like ‘Rollin and Tumblin’, ‘Crossroads’, ‘Bleeding Heart’, ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’ and another reworking of ‘Dust My Broom’. Elmore succumbed to his fourth heart attack in May 1963.