SONG: Dust My Broom
ARTIST: Elmore James
Listen to it here:
While there is no solid origin story of where Dust My Broom came from, it was originally recorded by blues king Robert Johnson in 1936. While Johnson’s version employed the use of repeating triplets for a boogie pattern, Elmore James replaced them with his slide guitar style that became a signature of blues guitar to this day. There is some debate as to where the lyrics came from and what they actually mean, some arguing biblical origins and others claiming hoodoo.
It is possible that Elmore James learned the song from Robert Johnson directly and kept the melody and lyrics the same, but adding his own arrangement and trademarks to it. Elmore and his band of harmonica, bass and drums recorded it direct to disc, all huddled around one microphone. Released in 1952, it peaked at number 9 on the R&B charts. The song was not only inducted into the Blues and Grammy Halls of Fame, but in 2003 Elmore James’ recording was selected for preservation in the US Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
Elmore James was born Elmore Brooks on January 27, 1918 in Richland, Mississippi. Elmore’s mother was 15 when she had him and she moved in with Joe Willie James after Elmore’s birth, which is where Elmore took his surname. Elmore started playing music at 12 years old and soon began playing the local teen dances. Elmore formed a band and recorded some blues standards before he took off and joined the US Navy in World War II. Once discharged he returned to Mississippi where he worked in his brother’s electronics shop and began fiddling around with parts to perfect his sound. He soon signed a recording contract in 1951 and recorded a surprise hit with Dust My Broom which led to his back band being called the Broomduster.
Elmore continued to record through the 1950s and his music influenced future music superstars such as Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac. Aware that he had a serious heart condition, it was no surprise that Elmore was finally felled by a fatal heart attack in 1963.
Elmore James broke his original recording contract with Trumpet to sign with another label, thanks to their scout, the infamous Ike Turner.
Had I gone into this song blind, not knowing who the artist was, I would have put money on it being Robert Johnson. Elmore definitely has that Mississippi delta blues type of sound – loud slide guitar, louder voice. And what a voice! This guy had a lot of vocal power, which I really appreciate. When sometimes mentions the blues, this is not the type of blues that immediately comes to mind, but it should be because I like this type over the slower, gruffer B.B. King type of blues (sorry B.B.). Anyway, I really like Elmore’s slide guitar playing on here too – it makes me think it’s a duet between singer and guitar – they’re both wailing! Embarrassingly, I’m not very familiar with Elmore James or his work, but I’ll be listening to more after this.
This is raw – the most contemporary sounding blues we’ve heard so far! This is maybe the first iteration of slide guitar we’ve heard featured on this list, the piano is just getting abused, the singing is big and boisterous, and the guitar sounds years ahead of any guitar that we’ve had so far. Again, can’t wait until the bass features more heavily in songs, but wow this does not sound like 1952! I have to say, I’m not a huge blues aficionado, but you can clearly hear the direct line from this band’s sound through the next 70 years of blues. Sometimes to me the predictable nature of the blues can sound tired, along with the ambling tempo, but there is nothing tired or derivative in Elmore James’ band. Though this doesn’t turn me into a die-hard blues fan, it definitely gets huge amounts of respect for Elmore James and his band.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
LOVE this Ike and Tina version!
The Steven Seagal version! Totally kidding, I wouldn’t do that to you. This is the original Robert Johnson version:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: