'The Sky is Crying' with Three Legendary Guitarists

Aug 2, 2013

Elmore James is a giant of the blues. His work as a songwriter, singer and guitarist put him near the top of the short list of greats. The songs he wrote and revived—  “Dust My Broom”, “Cry For Me Baby” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” —are revered as blues standards.

He was a great singer, his vocals packed with urgency, emotion and not a little pathos. His searing, distorted electric guitar was revolutionary for the day, setting the tone for the rock revolution that followed. He recorded “The Sky Is Crying” in 1959, and it would go on to become another classic of the blues.

Apparently, no film or video exists of Elmore James performing.

Though Elmore James is considered the “King of the Slide Guitar”, his influence reached to non-slide players as well. What’s interesting about “The Sky Is Crying” is that it became a signature tune for two other notable non-slide guitarists, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Albert King is an originator of many of the guitar phrases that are required learning for any student of the blues. One reason he never sounded like anyone else is that he played left-handed, turning the guitar upside-down without re-stringing it. This gave him a unique sound – where other guitarists pushed to bend notes, he would pull. With a career that spanned 40 years, he would be a huge influence on rockers like Gary Moore and Eric Clapton. King recorded “The Sky Is Crying” many times, the version here is from 1969.

Stevie Ray Vaughan almost single-handedly brought blues to the mainstream in the 1980’s and 90’s with over a dozen Billboard singles and four Grammy awards. He was an astute student of the blues and built his vocal and guitar sounds around many of the Texas players he grew up with, like W.C. Clark and Larry Davis. An undeniable influence was Albert King—especially his crisp staccato and elegant phrasing. Stevie Ray recorded “The Sky Is Crying” in 1985, but it wasn’t released until 1991, a year after he died.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King did a wonderful recording session together in 1983, which was also filmed. Here they are blazing through “The Sky Is Crying”:

Here are the complete versions of “The Sky Is Crying” tracked through time: