Elmore JamesOn 27/01/1918: Elmore James was born in Richland, Holmes County, Mississippi. His birth name was Elmore Brooks. He was the illegitimate son of Leola Brooks. His father was probably Joe Willie "Frost" James, who moved in with Leola and who Elmore took his surname from. At the age of 12, Elmore started using a one string instrument (diddley bow) on a shack wall. During his teens, James performed at dances under the names Cleanhead and Joe Willie James.
During World War II, James joined the US Navy and rose to the rank of coxswain. After he was discharged, he returned to Mississippi and settled in Canton with his adopted brother Robert Holston. There he worked in Holston's electrical shop. In the shop, he devised his own unique electric sound using parts from the shop and an unusual placement of two DeArmond pickups. James was found at the time to have a serious heart condition.
In 1951, James began recording with Trumpet Records starting as a sideman for Sonny Boy Williamson II. James also recorded for Willie Love and possibly others.
In 1952, his debut release as a session leader "Dust My Broom" was a surprise R&B hit. His backing musicians became known as the Broomdusters. James was influenced by Robert Johnson, Kokomo Arnold and Tampa Red. Two of Tampa Red's former band members would join the Broomdusters, "Little" Johnny Jones and Odie Payne.
James broke his contract with Trumpet Records and signed with Bihari Brothers through their scout Ike Turner.
During the 1950s, he recorded for the Bihari Brother's Flair Records, Meteor Records and Modern Records. He would also record for Chess Records and Chief Records.
In 1954, James played lead guitar on Joe Turner's top 10 R&B hit "TV Mama".
In 1959, he signed with Bobby Robinson's Fire Records. There he released songs such as "The Sky Is Crying", "My Bleeding Heart", "Stranger Blues", "Look on Yonder Wall", "Done Somebody Wrong", and "Shake Your Moneymaker".
On 24/05/1963, James died in Chicago, Illinois. He had been about to go on tour in Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival.
James has influenced many blues musicians, particularly slide guitar players such as Homesick James, John Littlejohn, Hound Dog Taylor, J. B. Hutto. The song "Dust My Broom" is considered a classic blues song and has been covered many times.