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Elmore James 10 Best Albums

Updated on April 27, 2011

Elmore James was an exceptional blues musician renowned for his slide guitar playing. He was born, Elmore Brooks, on 27th January 1918 in Holmes County, Mississippi as an illegitimate child to a 15 year old mother. He adopted the surname James from his stepfather who had moved in with his mother some time after his birth.

Elmore James died on 24th May 1963 from his third heart attack which was probably brought on by his rampant alcoholism and his addiction to moonshine whiskey. His early and untimely death was just prior to a European tour and the real boom in blues music that occurred during the 60's in England and for this reason he never quite achieved the fame and recognition of some of his contempories.

Elmore James' sound however is distinctive and has almost become synonymous with Blues Slide guitar.

Some Essential Reading about Elmore James


Full transcriptions and lessons to 11 classic tunes, including: Dust My Broom * The Sky Is Crying * Early One Morning


1. The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James

Where better place to start than this retrospective of Elmore James from 1993. The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James includes most of the essential Elmore James tracks. There is of course the incomparable track, Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom", which became Elmore James signature tune and is probably near the top of most peoples slide guitar tunes. Also included are "The Sky is Crying" and "Shake Your Moneymaker" which will be familiar to any fans of the original Fleetwood Mac, themselves huge fans of James.

All of the tracks have been cleaned up by remastering and the sound is very good for such early recordings and all in all this is one of the very best Blues compilations around.

2. Blues After Hours

Blues After Hours was Elmore James debut album and has now been digitally remastered and re-released. This shows Elmore James at his most primal with some screaming slide guitar and trademark raw vocals. The standout tracks on this album include "Happy Home" and "Blues Before Sunrise". This re-release also comes with an extra 8 tracks which were recorded around the same time as the original tracks and have now been made available.

If you want to hear how Elmore James started and why he was so highly regarded by his peers this is the place to start. Just try to ignore the rather tacky looking cover.

3. Shake Your Moneymaker: The Best of the Fire Sessions

Shake Your Moneymaker: The Best of the Fire Sessions is a compilation of 16 tracks recorded between 1959 and 1961 at various studios specially for Bobby Robinson's Fire Records. The record contains some absolute gems "The Sky Is Crying," "Done Somebody Wrong," and "Shake Your Moneymaker," and of course "Dust My Broom".

The sound quality on this recording again is excellent and this gives you a great peek into a period in time when Elmore James was at his peak and really cutting it.

4. King of the Slide Guitar

King of the Slide Guitar is a major retrospective of Elmore James work from 2005 and includes a massive 64 tracks on 3 CD's and a beautifully detailed 24 page booklet. This album includes the complete Trumpet, Chief & Fire Sessions all in one place. There should be more than enough here for anyone.

The record covers the early 60's and includes many re-recordings of Elmore James earlier songs for the new labels as well as including many alternate takes on songs in addition to plenty of out takes. The sheer breadth of this compilation may be a bit too much for some to take in one sitting but this is essential listening for fans of slide guitar.

5. The Classic Early Recordings: 51-56

The Classic Early Recordings: 51-56 is another huge retrospective and again stretches over a 3CD set, this time encompassing some 71 tracks from Elmore James earliest recording sessions and covering the period from 1951 to 1956 with his recordings for the Trumpet, Meteor, Flair and Modern labels.

This is compilation is simply the best of James' early '50s work and gives you a completely different feel to the other box set mentioned above. This showcases a raw talent that is just starting to hit his straps.

6. Dust My Broom

Dust My Broom is a solid cross section of Elmore James early 60s output for Bobby Robinson's Fire label and includes the wonderful "Shake Your Moneymaker", the classic "The Sky Is Crying," and of course another yet another remake of the title track, Dust My Broom. The sound quality on this recording isn't quite as good as on the "Shake Your Moneymaker" CD, but it is OK and quite possibly more authentic. The Dust My Broom CD is also important in finding out and experiencing what the originals sounded like.

7. Definitive Elmore James

The Definitive Elmore James CD is the latest Elmore James release and is a beautifully produced 2CD boxed set that covers most of the areas that you would expect.

This retrospective is slightly shorter than some of the other compilations that are around as it contains only 41 tracks but the overall feel is probably a bit tighter for that.

10. Whose Muddy Shoes

Whose Muddy Shoes is a re-release of the 1969 Chess album made up of some mid-50's tracks recorded by Elmore James and John Brim. On this record you get 6 tracks each from James and Brim and then also another 3 tracks by both artists. James provides the obligatory "Dust My Broom" along with the lesser known track "Toolbox Blues,".

Together the two artists provide great versions of both "Sun is Shining" and "Stormy Monday". Realistically Brim sadly rather pales next to the forthright talent of James but the Elmore James tracks on this are worth the price of admission on their own.

8. Rollin' & Tumblin'

Rollin' & Tumblin' is another compilation of Elmore James tunes which this time features thirty six tracks packed with all the essentials such as 'Dust My Broom', 'The Sky Is Crying', 'Baby Please Set A Date' and 'It Hurts Me Too'.

However there are also enough other undiscovered gems on here to really make this release interesting, not least is the rather curiously titled "Elmore's Contribution to Jazz".

9. The Final Sessions: New York 1963

The Final Sessions: New York 1963 as a collection is historically interesting as it is the last recording sessions carried out by Elmore James and it includes every complete master from his last 2 sessions for Bobby Robinson's Fire/Fury Label in February 1963. This was just 3 months before Elmore James died at the age of 45. As you listen you can tell that his body is starting to give way as his voice is much rougher but bluesier however his guitar playing is still absolutely top notch.

Which of these do you consider to be Elmore James Best Album?

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    • subbuteoz profile image

      subbuteoz 8 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Yeah he's a much under-rated talent in my opinion, give Shake Your Moneymaker a spin it's pretty cool.

    • gwinto500 profile image

      gwinto500 8 years ago

      Despite being familiar with Dust My Broom and The Sky is Crying Elmore James is someone I passed over to listen to others like BB King and Buddy Guy. I never realised he had released so many recordings. Nice hub! Incidently I all ways just assumed he wrote Dust My Broom.