The Elmore James Story by Alan Balfour Marking the 20th Anniversary of his death

Posted: January 8, 2012 in Alan Balfour, Elmore James, Post War Blues

[Credits Photography: Jacques Demètre.
These photos on  the cover of Soul Bag was the first time that this photo had ever been seen and those on the back pages was the first printing in colour]

Author: Alan Balfour

Source: Soul Bag 94 (May-June 1983, pps 6-11, 19-21).  Reprinted in Jefferson 74 (Spring 1986 pps 3-6)
Kindly sent to me by Alan

For a discography, see: (compiled by Stefan Wirz)


“Sixty five years ago, Elmore James was born in Richland, Mississippi, the illegitimate son of fifteen year old Leola Brooks. Twenty years ago he died in Chicago. Of his forty five years of life, only the last twelve brought him any measure of repute in his chosen profession of bluesman. His greatest acclamation was to come posthumously, from middle class whites who were culturally so far removed from Elmore’s world that any astonishment he might have felt when interviewed by two Frenchman in 1959 would surely have been as nothing, had he been able to experience the international adulation he received when it was too late for him to benefit.

Officialdom was not greatly concerned to document the childhood of rural black Americans of that era, and it is only thanks to some assiduous and painstaking research by Gayle Dean Wardlow and the late Mike Leadbitter that we know that Elmore James’s birth took place on January 27, 1918. Local rumour hinted that his father was a farmhand named Joe Willie James, who set up home with Leola Brooks shortly after the birth. Various “cousins” have recalled that the family moved along Mississippi’s 5l Highway from plantation to plantation – Lexington, Goodman, Durant, Pickens – seeking work. There is no reason to suppose that Elmore James’s early life was much different from that of his contemporaries, so from early childhood into adolescence he was probably working from sunup to sundown crop picking –  in the fields. Crucially, however, a distant cousin recalls that the boy was always passionately interested in making music, first with a broom wire strung on the shack – later picking out tunes on a home made – hyphen instrument that comprised a lard can with three strings. “



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s