Despite being dubbed the “King of the Slide Guitar,” Elmore James is one of the unsung heroes of modern electric blues music. Born in 1918 in Richland, Mississippi, and a contemporary of Robert Johnson, Elmore recorded a version of Johnson’s “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and his staccato riff is an essential blues lick, one that has had a profound influence on generations of blues guitarists. He moved from the Magnolia State to Chicago, where he and his band the Broom Dusters shared bills with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Just as he was entering one of the seminal periods for Chicago blues, he died of a heart attack in 1963 at the age of 45. But his slashing guitar and his raw, searing vocals forever left a deep imprint on American music. (Listen to our Elmore James playlist below.)
Now, to celebrate what would be James’s 100th birthday on January 26, a host of artists contribute to Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore James, a record of James covers. Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne share contrasting harmonies before giving way to a scintillating groove on the title track. Beginning with a burly grunt, Tom Jones blows the doors off with a roaring “Done Somebody Wrong.” Others include Keb’ Mo, Jamey Johnson, Rodney Crowell, and Warren Haynes, who along with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, rips through the highlight “Mean Mistreatin’ Momma.” “Elmore was that bridge between Robert Johnson and Duane Allman,” says Haynes. “His slide guitar style and especially his sound was something no one had ever heard before. When you couple that dirty, nasty sound with his voice, which was equally intense, the result is something that was part of the foundation of rock and roll.”
Get a dose of James’s legend with the Garden & Gun album premiere of Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore James here.