“The Sky Is Crying” is a slow-tempo twelve-bar blues notated in 12/8 time in the key of C. An impromptu song inspired by a Chicago downpour during the recording session, it features James’ slide guitar work and vocals. Accompanying James is his longtime backing band, the Broomdusters: J. T. Brown (saxophone), Johnny Jones (piano), Odie Payne (drums), and Homesick James (bass). James’ unique slide guitar sound on the recording has generated some debate; Homesick James attributed it to a recording studio technique, others have suggested a different amplifier or guitar setup, and Ry Cooder felt that it was an altogether different guitar than James’ usual Kay acoustic with an attached pickup.
WWII Chicago bluesmen are better known, but the work of Elmore James holds up as well as any of theirs. If he never had the technical accomplishment of, say, Earl Hooker, he did have as much depth of emotional expression as Muddy Waters; just listen to the sweetness of “I Need You” or the pain of “It Hurts Me, Too.” The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James contains some of the most important work of a man who still reigns as the king of slide guitar; anyone who wears a bottleneck today owes a debt to James.