100 Greatest Guitarists

30

Elmore James

elmore james
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Mississippi-born singer-guitarist Elmore James had one immortal lick: the staccato-and-downhill slide riff in his 1951 adaptation of Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom." "But it was a great lick," says slide guitarist Derek Trucks. "There was something unleashed in his playing, that acoustic guitar with the electric pickup. When he's singing, you hear his voice through the electric pickup." James also scored with sizzling variations of that lick in "Shake Your Moneymaker" and "Stranger Blues," which became blues-boom standards following his death in 1963. James' tone inspired a generation of guitarists: "I practiced 12 hours a day, every day, until my fingers were bleeding, trying to get the same sound as Elmore James got," Robbie Robertson said. "Then somebody told me that he plays with a slide." Trucks particularly loves James' solo in a 1960 version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'": "It's real simple, but every note is in the right spot – funky and nasty. Say 'Play that Elmore lick,' and everybody knows what to do."

Key Tracks: "Dust My Broom," "The Sky Is Crying"

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