Available January 26
Elmore James: Electrifying, and Good-to-Go
Passionate music followers have been known to trade thoughts on times, places, and musical line-ups they can only fantasize being there to catch. An easy nominee might for one of those would be Sylvio’s bar on Chicago’s West Lake Street in the 1950s and early ‘60s, where Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf traded off as headliners, occasionally shared bills. In those cases, the management definitely wanted an act strong enough to sandwich between those fierce competitors and their enormously skilled and exciting bands to keep both the musical heat and customers in place, and for that, the choice would often be house regulars Elmore James and His Broomdusters. Elmore’s slashing slide guitar and explosive vocal attack were famous in themselves, and had produced the hit “Dust My Broom,” that gave his band its name.
That celebrated song, and its lasting riff, had been taught to Elmore by legend-to-be Robert Johnson, but Johnson’s own record was long out of circulation when James’ electrified version became a hit in 1952, and remained so until 1970; the hundreds of blues revival and rock versions heard since were picked up directly from Elmore, though he didn’t live to know it, having died from a heart attack at age 45, in 1963
The style of guitar and vocal attack stuck because Elmore’s turns on older blues, and songs he came up with himself, were flat out electrifying in all senses of the term. As rock ‘n roll gave way to harder rock, his vocal and instrumental example became all the more a model, for all the more performers. He’d played with a full band (horns sometimes, electric always) as early as 1939, when that was an utterly novel way to present intense, personal Delta blues numbers; his songs and arrangements were built to work in hot band situations. When you hear country traditionalist Jamey Johnson’s take on the now standard blues “It Hurts Me Too,” you can be sure it’s Elmore James’ sturdy and adaptable song being saluted—though history shows that Elmore had adapted it from Tampa Red’s “When Things Go Wrong With You.’ Elmore’s music sticks, instructs, and sets a pace.
That’s evident throughout this salute album— which puts such often-revisited James numbers as “Shake Your Moneymaker,” “Look on Yonder Wall,” and “Person to Person” alongside songs known mainly by James aficionados, gets them into the hands of masterful interpreters from out of the blues, soul, country, pop and Americana arenas, as far-ranging as Tom Jones, Rodney Crowell, Keb Mo, Deborah Bonham of the rocking Bonham family, and sisters Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer. The set reveals something fresh in the process: Elmore James contributed more than riffs and intensity to American music, he left a body of memorable, adaptable songs that can be renewed again and again in surprising ways. They’re that sturdy—and no less electrifying for it.
Elmore James was one of the first bluesman I heard that completely floored me upon my very first listen. I had to brace myself for what I was hearing. I was completely taken aback.
The sheer power and intent of his vocal, lyrics and guitar playing/sound, hit me in the gut like no other. The opening riff and snare drum whack of "Dust My Broom" is what got me and it still blows me away every time I hear it. Every song that Elmore has recorded has that intent. Every song I listen to of Elmore's always kills me. He is and will always be, my favorite.
I met Tom Siering about 4 years ago. I was a sideman/drummer working on an album that featured his songwriting. We struck up a friendship back then and now our relationship has grown into a musical partnership. When one of the projects we were working on got delayed, Tom asked, "What are we going to do now?" and in passing I mentioned Elmore. I let Tom know that no one had really done a tribute record to him. I didn't want to make the kind of tribute record where artists send in tracks. I wanted to have a core band that backed all of the artists so that a consistent and cohesive album could be achieved. Elmore, is what they would call today, the 'Triple Threat". He could write, sing and play. My intention with this record was to find artists who could help highlight all three of those areas that he excelled at. Not just one. I mentioned a few artists we could ask and Tom suggested donating all proceeds to charity. Without Tom Siering by my side in support of this project and the recipient charities, none of this would have been possible. His love and passion for the music and respect for the musicians and artists involved easily lifted this album to the level that Elmore's music rightfully deserves.
My hope is that this record reminds people to not forget about Elmore when discussing the great bluesmen of our time as well as benefits the charities involved.
-Marco Giovino, drummer/producer
From my perspective, this record is about shining a light on Elmore for new generations. Elmore influenced so many players and is known and revered by a wide array of musicians but he has never received his due by a mainstream audience. We hope to change that a little.
Elmore died when I was quite young and obviously I never met him. But somehow I think he would proud of the charities (Edible Schoolyard NYC and Musicares) that we have selected as the recipients of the profits generated here. Nutritional issues for the young are particularly insidious in impoverished communities and Elmore knew everything about being a struggling musician.
I would like to thank all the artists involved for their work and generosity in this project. I hope this album is an affirmation that music helps heal and bind our society. Special thanks to Marco. This record would have been nothing without him.
My best regards,
Tom Siering, executive producer
This album is dedicated to the memories of Mike Siering, Michael St. Peter and Elmore.
Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James is produced by Sylvan Songs Records.