Continuing his look at the great slide players Harrison Marsh turns his attention to the influential style of The King Of Slide Guitar.
Harrison Marsh looks at the instantly recognisable slide playing of Elmore James.
It’s hard to overestimate Elmore James’s influence on slide guitar. Starting as sideman for Sonny Boy Williamson II and influenced by Robert Johnson and Tampa Red, The Mississippi born guitarist had his first hit in 1952 with Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom. The slide intro would go on to become one of the most recognisable blues phrases of all time. James was among the first Delta bluesmen to ‘go electric’, using an acoustic with two De Armond pickups that he fitted while working in an electrical shop. This instrument coupled with Elmore’s distinctive style. created the famous biting guitar sound that complemented his raw blues vocals. His backing band, featuring drums and a horn section, became known as the Broom Dusters and started out playing in Chicago sharing stages with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. The ‘King of the slide guitar’ as he became known, was self-taught from a young age, though spent a short time playing with Robert Johnson who no doubt influenced him. Songs such as Dust My Broom show how energetic his playing was, with interplay between vocals and slide guitar breaks that has been emulated ever since. Songs such as The Sky Is Crying and Shake Your Money Maker bridge the gap between blues and R&B and have been covered by numerous players including Peter Green, Albert King and SRV. Hendrix, the Stones and Allman Brothers have all stated James as an influence, and in the playing of Fleetwood Mac’s Jeremy Spencer it’s more than obvious. Commonly using open D tuning and fingerstyle, James’s riffs and solos tend to centre around one fret position: the 12th fret over the I chord, the 5th fret over the IV chord, and the 7th fret over the V chord, with phrasing relentlessly coming back to these chord shapes. Having played extensively throughout the 50s, recording with many different labels and producing a string of hits, Elmore James died aged 45 in Chicago in 1963, shortly before he was due to tour Europe. Although he never saw his influence on electric blues, most slide players since must cite him, directly or indirectly, as an influence.
songs like the sky is crying and shake your money maker have been covered by players including peter green, albert king and srv
NEXT MONTH Harrison looks at the slide style of Stones and Mayall guitarist Mick Taylor
Elmore James: a huge influence as player, singer and songwriter