Personalities | Sleepy John Estes | Thirties | Jazz & Blues

(Guitar, vocals, 1899–1977)

John Adams Estes was born in Ripley, Tennessee. He teamed up with mandolinist Yank Rachell to work the area from 1919 until the late 1920s. His first recordings were made for Victor in 1929 and included his celebrated ‘Divin’ Duck Blues’. He left Brownsville for Chicago in 1931.

With harmonica player Hammie Nixon, Estes worked medicine shows, fish fries and hobo camps, touring much of the country in the late 1930s. He recorded six sides for Champion in 1935, including ‘Drop Down Mama’, and he later recorded for Decca from 1937–40. After two sessions for Bluebird in 1941 he returned to Brownsville and left the music scene, with the exception of two recording sessions for Sun in 1952. He had completely lost his sight by 1950. ‘Rediscovered’ in 1962, he recorded for several labels and began an extensive comeback, which included at least one album of electric blues with younger musicians. He toured the US, Europe and Japan steadily until his death.

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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