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Sleepy John Estes

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Ripley, Lauderdale County, Tennessee (1899 – 1977)

John Adam Estes (born in Ripley, Lauderdale County, Tennessee, January 25, 1899 — Brownsville, Haywood County, Tennessee, June 5, 1977) best known as Sleepy John Estes or Sleepy John, was a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist.

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. At the age of 19, while working as a field hand, he began to perform professionally. The venues were mostly local parties and picnics, with the accompaniment of Hammie Nixon, a harmonica player, and James “Yank” Rachell, a guitarist and mandolin player. He would continue to work on and off with both musicians for more than fifty years.
Estes made his debut as a recording artist in Memphis, Tennessee in 1929, at a session organized by Ralph Peer for Victor Records. His partnership with Nixon was first documented on songs such as “Drop Down Mama” and “Someday Baby Blues” in 1935; later sides replaced the harmonica player with the guitarists Son Bonds or Charlie Pickett. 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.

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