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17.09.2015
The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James was originally a masters' thesis project for author Steve Franz, and as he points out in the book's preface, he consulted over 300 recordings in addition to researching the artist through close to a combined 500 articles, books, liner notes, newspaper clippings, interviews, and more. In a recent review of this book by a respected critic, Steve Franz was perhaps unfairly taken to task for compiling over 300 pages that, in the end, seemingly offer very little in the way of newly uncovered information on Elmore James.
The picture that Franz paints of his chosen subject appears to be, for the most part, an honest one. If there is one recurring error that possesses this work, it's that the author goes overboard in trying to capture the essence of Elmore James through a rather extensive catalog of recordings.
But just to go O'Neal one better - if only to prove that being a founding editor of Living Blues magazine doesn't necessarily also make you the king of unlikely hypothetical scenarios - what if instead of one song, you could only have one minute? While most would agree that Elmore James is deserving of his place in the pantheon of blues immortals, many would also have a far different view of what their defining moment of recorded blues would be. Franz later shortchanges himself and his book by summarizing; At last, then, here is the real kicker about Elmore. By using statements like these, the author perhaps unintentionally managed to deflate his own work. There is a complete and detailed discography included that compiles each and every session Elmore took part in; those with Sonny Boy Williamson II, Junior Wells, Big Joe Turner, and others, as well as compiling all known research by Ray Topping, who has tirelessly worked on furthering the groundbreaking efforts initiated by Mike Leadbitter and Neil Slaven.
Elmore James, has, at times, been written off by some as a slide guitarist with little more than one credible lick in his pocket which is far from the total picture of the man or his enormous contributions. While The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James might not uncover any earth shattering finds, the fact that everything has been neatly gathered together, is without question, highly commendable.


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Elmore James might well have been an exceptional guitar player and highly convincing vocalist, in addition to, at times, being a superb songwriter, but as with nearly any figure in blues lore, he wasn't without faults, inconsistencies, or the more than occasional backhanded attempt to pocket more than his share of money.
If you wanted to know the secret that people like Elmore carry in their souls, then here it is: In spite of the fact that we might be alone in the universe, and in spite of the fact that we suffer, what the blues teaches us about life is that it is still possible to dance - it is still possible to boogie and be joyous - it is still possible to celebrate life. While Elmore James often seems to have danced and boogied on the edge of a canyon (and you definitely get that impression listening to his chaotic slide guitar and impassioned voice), Franz offers far more in the way of having gathered little known facts and secrets than his personal comments suggest.
Hutto, and Homesick James and also covers the "Myths and Folklore" that surround Elmore, in addition to an interesting question and answer section in the second appendix where Franz explains how he arrived at certain recording dates, personnel, and other events.
His story has been long overdue considering the early research of Marcel Chauvard, Jacque Demetre, George Adins, Yannick Bruynoghe, and other Europeans that began as far back as the late 1950's. While its list price of $34.95 is a bit expensive for a paperbound book, what is included will undoubtedly satisfy many who consider Elmore James an intriguing and important artist. The first question that should arise is whether or not that lengthy period of time was well-invested by Mr.
By thoroughly investigating everything he could locate on Elmore, Franz has managed to collect and collate decades of research and articles on the artist, many that haven't seen the light of day in years, and never before in complete form; that in itself is an accomplishment of major proportions. He had a tendency to double-back on signed recording contracts and overlap labels as he did with Trumpet, Flair, Fire, and Chess, and James frequently ran afoul of Local #208, the federation of union musicians in Chicago, for often mishandling his business ventures either by working with others who weren't current cardholders, skipping out with deposits for performances that he failed to fulfill, or recording for an imprint that wasn't listed as part of the union.


Unfortunately, James was never interviewed by today's standards, and when he was, it was well before his catalog of work was completed, but he has certainly been well-documented in countless books, magazines, and liners that accompany a minefield of releases that started as early as 1951. In closing, adding this book to your collection is far cheaper and easier than attempting to amass a complete collection of tattered magazines like Blues Unlimited, Living Blues, Juke Blues, or any other printed publication that ever uttered the name of Elmore James.
James was also a heavy drinker who seemed to have a certain level of contempt for his fans, berating them publicly at times, much to the dismay of others, including drummer Odie Payne, a longstanding member of The Broomdusters, Elmore's band.
Elmore James didn't just stand on the brink of the abyss and cry out into the void, he boogied on it - and because he has done this for us, we, in turn, will never have to fear it ourselves. In Robert Gordon's "Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters" (Little, Brown Publishers, 2002) the author elected to weave his extensive notes into a section following the main biographical storyline, in a job so well done, their inclusion seemed to be an additional bonus chapter that polished off the finished work.
And if that doesn't rank as one of the most remarkable and amazing things that ever happened on this planet, then I honestly don't know what does.
As opposed to placing his research notes toward the back of this work, Franz chose to include them at the bottom of each page, and while this might be far easier for the reader to reference, it does make for a somewhat disjointed undertaking.
There's little question as to just how much work went into the story, but with notes numbering in excess of the 800-mark, it becomes a bit confusing to continually scan the lower half of the pages to figure where his numerous sources originated.



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