If you don’t like my potatoes/Please don’t dig up my vine–Elmore James
You don’t hear a lot of blues growing up in a white, Baptist church. Since it was rated R, I didn’t see The Blues Brothers1 either, which at least served as a gateway drug to the good stuff. Consequently I arrived late to the party.
Elmore James has always been my man. When you imagine what modern electric guitar sounds like, whether you know it or not, you hear James and Jimi Hendrix. James produced a sound decades ahead of his time. On an acoustic Kay guitar no less.
Trained to repair radios, James customized, built, and tweaked his own pickups and amps for his signature sound. Backed by his smokin’ band the Broomdusters, those that heard him live thought he could blow away even the great Muddy Waters with his revered guitarist Jimmy Rogers.2 While people credit Chicago with the blues going electric, James and Waters came out of the Mississippi Delta blues tradition, and James knew Robert Johnson personally. So in reality all blues starts in the Delta.
James doesn’t have the growl of Howlin’ Wolf or the sexual heat of Waters, but his voice can express a plaintive regret that never feels like an affectation. His songs contain a hint of apology for something you will never understand. Perhaps that contained the draw for me; no matter your level of desire or feelings of joy, in the blues of Elmore James and the Baptist tradition, things will always end in, “I’m Sorry.”