Thursday, September 29, 2005


"Elmore James has got nothing on this baby"

Elmore James, Please Find My Baby.
Elmore James, Hawaiian Boogie.

A taste of Mr. James in his prime.

As a child, Elmore James, born in 1918 in Richland, Miss., hammered a strand of broom wire to a cabin wall and taught himself to play what he called "the diddley bow". By the 1930s, he was playing the Southern blues circuit, a journey in which he met Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson. For years, James was known throughout the South as the man who took Johnson's "Dust My Broom" and radicalized it--turning Johnson's original riff "into a heavily amplified banshee wail" (Robert Palmer). James finally recorded "Dust My Broom" in 1951, in his first-ever session.

By '53, he was churning out singles. "Please Find My Baby" is a rip-roaring masterpiece, whose vicious guitar sound would be aped for decades by everyone and their mother--Mike Bloomfield, Led Zeppelin, the Allmans, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc., etc. (Riffs from the actual James recording were dubbed onto Boyd Gilmore's 1952 "All in My Dreams", in a bit of ur-sampling.) James' guitar was recorded loud and raw under primitive conditions in a Jackson, Miss., juke joint--basically, a Modern Records talent scout hooked up a portable Magnacord tape recorder to the bar's PA system.

"Hawaiian Boogie", in which James' slide seems to be not so much imitating a Hawaiian guitar as remaking it in the slide's own image, stalls for a bit while we endure the fairly mediocre solo by tenor saxophonist J.T. Brown, but when James takes over for good, the track cooks.

"Hawaiian" is backed by Johnny Jones (p), Ransom Knowling (b), Odie Payne (d) and J.T. Brown (ts). Recorded in Chicago; released as Flair 1011 in June 1953. "Please Find" features Ike Turner on piano and an unknown rhythm section--it was released as Flair 1022 in December 1953. Both are on the amazing compilation The Sky is Crying.

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