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Sleepy John Estes biography



John Adam Estes Career In 1915, Estes' father, a sharecropper who also played some guitar, moved the family to Brownsville, Tennessee. Not long after, Estes lost the sight of his right eye when a friend threw a rock at him during a baseball game. Estes made his debut as a recording artist in Memphis, Tennessee in 1929, at a session organized by Ralph Peer for Victor Records. He made a brief return to recording at Sun Studio in Memphis in 1952, recording "Runnin' Around" and "Rats in My Kitchen", but otherwise was largely out of the public eye for two decades. Estes was a fine singer, with a distinctive "crying" vocal style. He frequently teamed with more capable musicians, like "Yank" Rachell, Hammie Nixon, and the piano player Jab Jones. Estes sounded so much like an old man, even on his early records, that blues revivalists reportedly delayed looking for him because they assumed he would have to be long dead, and because fellow musician Big Bill Broonzy had written that Estes had died. By the time he was tracked down, by Bob Koester and Samuel Charters in 1962, he had become completely blind and was living in poverty. He resumed touring and recording, reunited with Nixon and toured Europe several times and Japan, with a clutch of albums released on the Delmark Records label. Bob Dylan mentions Estes in the sleevenotes to Bringing It All Back Home (1965). Many of Estes' original songs were based on events in his own life or on people he knew from his home town of Brownsville, Tennessee, such as the local lawyer ("Lawyer Clark Blues"), local auto mechanic ("Vassie Williams' Blues"), or an amorously inclined teenage girl ("Little Laura Blues"). "Lawyer Clark Blues" referenced the lawyer, and later judge and senator, Hugh L. Clarke. Clarke and his family lived in Brownsville, and according to the song let Estes 'off the hook' for an offense. He also dispensed advice on agricultural matters ("Working Man Blues") and chronicled his own attempt to reach a recording studio for a session by hopping a freight train ("Special Agent (Railroad Police Blues)"). His lyrics combined keen observation with an ability to turn an effective phrase. Some accounts attribute his nickname "Sleepy" to a blood pressure disorder and/or narcolepsy. Others, such as blues historian Bob Koester, claim he simply had a "tendency to withdraw from his surroundings into drowsiness whenever life was too cruel or too boring to warrant full attention". Death Grave of Sleepy John Estes (2008)Estes suffered a stroke while preparing for a European tour, and died on June 5, 1977, at his home of 17 years in Brownsville, Haywood County, Tennessee. His gravemarker reads: Sleepy John Estes ".. ain't goin' to worry Poor John's mind anymore" In Memory John Adam Estes Jan. 25, 1899 June 5, 1977 Blues Pioneer Guitarist - Songwriter - Poet Sleepy John Estes' epitaph ".. ain't goin' to worry Poor John's mind anymore" and in his song "Drop Down Mama", also recorded in 1935, Sleepy John refers to himself as "Poor John". Estes' grave at Elam Baptist Church Cemetery in Durhamville is located off a country road and at the far end of the cemetery. His grave is adjacent to a small grove of trees, secluded but not hidden. In 1991, Estes was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Albums Sleepy John Estes, 1929-1940 (RBF Records) Complete Recorded Works 1929-1941 Vols 1-2 (Document) I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More 1929-1941 (Yazoo) The Legend of Sleepy John Estes (Delmark) Broke and Hungry, Ragged and Hungry Too (Delmark) Brownsville Blues (Delmark) Down South Blues (Delamark) Sleepy John Estes In Europe (Delmark) Songs"Leaving Trunk" - a cover version of Estes' song "Milk Cow Blues" appeared on Taj Mahal's, 1968 eponymous album, Taj Mahal. It was also covered by The Derek Trucks Band on their concert album Live at Georgia Theatre. The Keef Hartley Band covered the song on their debut album, Halfbreed. "Diving Duck Blues" - was recorded by Taj Mahal. "Special Agent" - was recorded by Martin Simpson "Someday Baby Blues" - it appeared re-written by Muddy Waters as "Trouble No More" and further amended to "Someday Baby" by Bob Dylan. "Drop Down Mama" - was recorded by Tom Rush, Big Joe Williams and Led Zeppelin. "Floating Bridge" - appeared on the compilation album, The Blues, and on Eric Clapton's 1981 album, Another Ticket. "Milk Cow Blues" - was covered by The Kinks. "The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair" - was covered by Led Zeppelin on their live album BBC Sessions. "President Kennedy" - Estes performed this song for Ry Cooder's 1972 album, Boomer's Story