Elmore James may never get his full due. But every rock and/or R&B fan who wants to know where the good stuff comes from needs to have at least one Elmore James disc in the house. Rhino makes it easy with The Very Best of Elmore James, the latest in their continuing Blues Masters series. James' signature tune may be "Dust My Broom," a three-minute exercise in frustration propelled by a searing staccato slide riff undercutting James' anguished vocals: "Woke up this mornin,' I believe I'll dust my broom/I quit the best gal I'm lovin', now my friends can get my room."
"Dust My Broom" rates as one of the more immediately identifiable riffs in the blues repertoire. The version here dates from November 1951, a raw, railing slice of wax issued on the Trumpet label, which peaked at No. 9 on the R&B charts. Things proceed in chronological order and, as the tunes blast by, it becomes evident that James had more to contribute to the catalog than "Broom." Songs including "It Hurts Me, Too," "The Sky Is Crying," "Madison Blues," "I Can't Hold Out," "Standing at the Crossroads," "Done Somebody Wrong" and "Shake Your Moneymaker" have all become R&B standards, covered by artists ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Eric Clapton. James' sidemen on these sessions include some of Chicago's best: Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Ike Turner, Homesick James, Willie Dixon and Fred Below. Bill Cahl's notes provide insightful perspective and, as he points out, James had been struggling in the early '60s, but was primed for a comeback when he succumbed to a heart attack in May 1963. Way too soon to hang up the broom.