Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Sleepy John Estes performining his classic Drop Down Mama.
The Legend Of Sleepy John Estes, Sleepy John Estes, Delmark, 1993
I have spent considerable time in this space detailing the musical careers of a number of old time, mainly black, country blues musicians especially, like the artist under review, Sleepy John Estes, those who were “discovered” during the folk revival of the 1960s. Not everyone got the publicity of the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Son House and Skip James, but they at least got some well-deserved notice on “discovery.” Or, really the word should be rediscovery because most of them, like Sleepy John, had had musical careers back in the day. But you get the point.
That said, I have remarked elsewhere that some of these two-career stalwarts also had two musical voices. I always like to bring up the example of Mississippi John Hurt. If you hear him (and you should do so) on a recording from the late 1920s like you can with “Spike Driver’s Blues” (his version of the traditional “John Henry”) on Harry Smith famous “Anthology of American Folk Music” where he is both dexterous on the guitar and velvety-voiced on the lyrics and melody and then check out a folk revival production where his guitar is still smoothly worked but his voice had become raspy (although very serviceable) you will see what I mean. The same holds true for Sleepy John. But here is the kicker. In both cases they still give us that very deeply-rooted passionate voice in telling in song the lives of woe they have led and the music they have made.
Thus, as with Mississippi John, the only question left is what are the stick outs you should pay special attention to: “Divin’ Duck Blues,” the much covered, especially by Geoff Muldaur of the old Jim Kweskin Jug Band, “Drop Down Mama,” “Milk Cow Blues,” and the mournful and heartfelt spiritual-driven “I’ve Been Well Warned.