Known as the king of the slide guitar, Elmore James was one of the most influential guitarists in musical history. Born in 1918, the musician started making music at the age of 12 using a one-stringed instrument called a bow diddley. Inspired by Robert Johnson and Tampa Red, James pursued music until he joined the United States Navy during World War II.
Back home, a job in his brother’s electrical shop led him to design his own strong guitar sound by modifying his instrument with parts from the shop. In the early 1950s he began working with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Willie Love before acting as session leader on his track “Dust My Broom”, which became an unexpected hit.
The innovative musician released popular songs such as “Shake Your Moneymaker”, “My Bleeding Heart” and “Look on Yonder Wall”. James has influenced rock and roll greats from Chuck Berry to BB King to Frank Zappa. It’s hard to imagine what modern music would sound like if James had never picked up a guitar.
Jimi Hendrix is a musician on whom James had an indelible impact. Described as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Hendrix owes much of his success to James. The guitarist paid homage to James by calling himself Jimmy James early in his career while trying to emulate his sound.
In 1965, Hendrix recorded his first of many covers of the James track “Bleeding Heart”, originally released in 1961. His first attempt at a cover of the song was in collaboration with Curtis Knight and the Squires, with Hendrix on vocals and guitar. . In 1968 a live version was recorded in New York and later found on bootleg albums, including one titled bleeding heart.
Another live version was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall for a potential documentary which never materialized, although the recording can be found on the album Live. Several versions of the cover were recorded in the studio, showing Hendrix’s progression away from James’ signature blues sound, instead making the song much more upbeat.
But these weren’t the only instances where Hendrix paid tribute to James, who died of a heart attack in 1963. In 1966, Hendrix recorded a song called “Red House”, which became a staple of his live sets. It was one of the first songs he recorded with his band, the Experience, and followed a 12-bar blues structure. The track was first released in the UK on the album are you experiencedand a similar take was released in the United States two years later on the Shattering Blows album-compilation.
Hendrix claimed the song was inspired by the blues he played early in his career as a sideman. The song has drawn comparisons to Albert King’s “California Night,” which the guitarist performed with Curtis Knight and the Squires. However, another source of inspiration for Hendrix was James’ song “The Sky Is Crying”, a blues standard he recorded in 1959.
In ‘Red House’, Hendrix sings, “I got a bad feeling/My baby don’t live here no more.” It’s clear the musician pulled this line from “The Sky Is Crying,” where James sings, “I have a bad feeling my baby doesn’t love me anymore.” It looks like Hendrix decided to pay homage to his musical hero with a little lyrical nod, demonstrating just how strong James’ impact was on young Hendrix.
Listen to Hendrix’s song below:
The most popular