Sleepy John Estes Biography

Born: January 25, 1899 in Ripley, Tennessee.

Died: June 05, 1977 in Brownsville, Tennessee.

American blues singer & guitarist.

Estes made his debut as a recording artist in Memphis in 1929, at a session organized by Ralph Peer for Victor Records. He later recorded for the Decca and Bluebird labels, with his last pre-war recording session taking place in 1941. 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.

Though only modestly skilled as a guitarist (he was frequently teamed with more capable musicians, like Yank Rachell, Hammie Nixon, and the piano player Jab Jones), Estes was a fine singer, with a distinctive "crying" vocal style. He 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 Robert G. Koester and Samuel B. Charters in 1962, he had become completely blind and was living in abject poverty. He resumed touring and recording, though his later records are generally considered less interesting than his pre-war output.

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