Elmore James - Guitar Heroes A-Z

Elmore James (1918-1963) was a Chicago-based blues player best known for his electric slide work. His most famous song, “Dust My Broom,” was actually written and played previously by Delta blues great Robert Johnson, but James recast the tune’s signature lick from conventional fretted playing to slide, and recycled it many times in his other compositions.

James’ explosive assault on the strings turned “Dust My Broom” into a gritty, edgy, and blistering song, making it music for an urban setting—more suited to James’ bustling post-war Chicago than Johnson’s sleepy pre-war Delta. His opening slide lick is the first lick you need to learn if you’re going to don a metal or glass tube on your finger. James performed “Dust My Broom”—which is very similar to the lick shown here—in open D tuning (D, A, D, F#, A, D, low to high). You can play this either lap style (holding the slide/bar while the guitar lies face-up in your lap) or normally (holding the guitar in the traditional way while wearing the slide on the 3rd or 4th finger). Start from a place below the target fret (the 12th), and slide up quickly after you strike the strings. This will give you the on-the-beat feel you need to convey the drive of the figure, while allowing for a dramatic and pleasing slide ascent.

Once you’re at the 12th fret, it’s not as if your slide hand can just coast. James simultaneously applied slide vibrato to the strings while strumming repeated eighth-note triplets with the picking hand. It’s not a particularly difficult move, but it does require true left/right-hand independence. James’s vibrato never got too wide; that is, the up- and down-string distance he moved the slide was never that great. It was just enough to be felt as extra intensity seeping in between the strums.