Elmore James, Part 2

In April of 1952, ‘Dust My Broom’ peaked at number nine on the R & B charts, yet James still did not have a follow-up record in stores.

Under contract with the Bihari brothers, James had returned to the studio in January of that year, recording eight titles with Ike Turner on piano (the names of the rhythm section and the tenor sax player have been lost to time).

The recordings are rough-edged, with James’ raw guitar and anguished vocal threatening to overwhelm the microphones, giving the numbers an electrifying intensity rarely heard before and seldom matched now.

Two of the session(s) best numbers, the slow blues ‘Hand in Hand’ and the storming swing number ‘Rock My Baby Right’ would remain in the can until 1954 when they were issued on the Bihari’s Flair label.


In November, James went to Chicago to cut another four tracks.  Backing James at the session were pianist Johnny Jones and Ransom Knowling and Odie Payne, on bass and drums, respectively, and J. T. Brown on tenor saxophone.

All four tracks from this session would see release, the first, a slight variation on ‘Dust My Broom’ titled ‘I Believe’.

Where Williamson’s harmonica gave the James’ first recording a distinctly country ambiance, and with James’ powering of the beat on the song seeming almost ill-mannered (he obviously did not know any better), Brown’s honking sax and Jones’ piano work, wash the new number behind it’s ears and dress it up in its Sunday’s best for a trip to the big city.

The song was paired with one of James’s finest slow blues, ‘I Held My Baby Last Night’ and released on the Bihari’s Meteor label.

‘Sinful Woman’, the B-side of James’ next release, is a good example of his unexplored influence.  James’ guitar playing on this song can be heard echoing through many of B.B. King’s early recordings (he too was recording for the Bihari’s at this time).

And one can also hear some of Chuck Berry’s favorite licks in James’ ‘Rock My Baby Right’.

With only a handful of sides in release, James was already having an impact on his contemporaries.

There are three live versions of Spencer performing ‘I Believe’ all captured during their first U.S. tour in the summer of ’68.  The first finds Paul Butterfield guesting on harmonica, harkening back to James’ original recording of the Johnson song.

We also have a number of recordings of Spencer exploring the possibilities of ‘I Held My Baby Last Night’, the earliest coming from the Marquee recordings, the last in Stockholm in 1969.

We’ll look into this further with the next installment.

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